Sometimes before the first game of the season, players get nervous and anxious to see how the team will come together.
The Santa Barbara softball team isn’t nervous at all. They want to prove something this season, and the time to do that is now.
On Saturday, the Gauchos will take on two very difficult teams. The results will foreshadow how the Gauchos’ season will pan out. With back-to-back games against Oregon State and Long Beach State, the team hopes to win both and this season off with a bang.
Defensively and offensively, the team is extremely young, but feels prepared and will look for senior outfielder Leslie Simien to lead the team and start off the batting order. Head Coach Kristy Schroeder looks for Simien to spark the offense and to give the Gauchos the speed and power they need at the plate.
“We have a lot of young talented players; [we] probably could be starting seven new players who didn’t play last year,” Schroeder said. “I think we are strong defensively and we have a lot of depth as far the at the plate goes. Our returned outfielder Leslie Simien can steal bases for us this year and lead us off offensively.”
Oregon State, who is predicted to finish eighth in the difficult Pac-10 division, will try its best to keep up with the Gauchos’ pitching and quickness. The Gauchos must be careful of dynamic senior pitcher Monica Hoffman, who brings speed and power off the mound against opposing teams. Hoffman threw eight complete games last season, and has improved tremendously in the offseason. At the plate, the Beavers have junior shortstop Kelly Petersen, who can single-handedly change the course of a game with her defensive intensity and wonderful skills at the plate.
“We’re here to dominate early, but we have a lot of young players, so hopefully we come out with a lot of power and show the league that we are here to win,” freshman outfielder Jessica Hejna said.
The second game of the doubleheader brings powerhouse Long Beach State, who will show the Gauchos what the Big West Conference will be like this season. The 49ers are predicted to finish first in the Big West and pose many problems at the plate and on the mound. Senior pitcher Lindsey Knoff will be the Gauchos’ main problem, as she throws difficult and sometimes un-hittable pitches.
“The conference is definitely very strong in the Big West right now. Long Beach State is probably one of the top teams, and Northridge looked very good this fall as well,” Schroeder said. “Those are the teams we are going to have to work on beating if we want to win the conference this year.”
The Gauchos are extremely young and talented and these games will be looked upon as barometers to test the team’s chemistry – to see who fits best in what position and in what spot in the lineup. With seven players who weren’t on last year’s team, many freshmen have been asked to fill huge roles for the Gauchos this season.
“I think we’ll be real strong this season. We’ll be young but we’ll be strong,” Schroeder said. “I think we have a lot of depth. Right now we have two freshman pitchers and two returning pitchers. We should be pretty strong because we have a lot to call on.”