This weekend the UCSB softball team hosted its annual Early Bird Tournament, but things didn’t go as planned.

Finishing in third place out of four teams and winning three of their scheduled six games, the Gauchos faced an array of talent, streaming from the best of the Big West and Pac-10 conferences. The tournament included the first games played by eight freshmen, who experienced their first look at college softball.

“We won three out of six and got third place, but we don’t really have a set lineup, and once we see how things are when we get settled, everyone will really see what we can do,” freshman catcher Shelby Hensler said. “Everybody was a little nervous at first, but we got more used to it as the games progressed, and I feel we will be a stronger team, once we play more games this season.”

In the Gauchos’ first match-up, the team faced the University of Illinois-Chicago, which is known for its stellar defense. Santa Barbara showed its true hitting power and amazing pitching from freshman starter Jennifer Davis, who fanned 10 batters, and the Gauchos cruised to a 5-0 win over the Illinois-Chicago Flames. Junior transfer and first baseman Lindsey Herrin led the Gauchos’ batting with a homerun, and Davis had a homerun as well.

“Lindsey did awesome this weekend, and coming out as a new player on the team, we were really surprised to see they way she can play,” Hensler said. “Hitting three homeruns in one tournament, she did great and was really comfortable with the team and the style in which we play.”

The second of the Gauchos’ four games was against a strong Santa Clara team which took the Gauchos to the final inning, beating them 3-2. Freshman shortstop Kendra Singley, who went 2 for 3, led Santa Barbara in hitting, but the powerful Santa Clara Broncos were too much late in the game.

“Our strength this weekend was when we came out pretty aggressive, though most players are freshmen,” Hensler said. “The pitching was great in most games, and we got a real surprise from Jennifer Davis, who really pitched excellently in the tournament.”

The third game was against a highly-ranked Oregon State team that showed the Gauchos a hard time, beating them 4-3 in a close game that came down to the end. Strong play by Herrin and senior Leslie Simien helped the Gauchos, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Beavers’ strength.

The fourth game was the biggest challenge of the tournament for the UCSB softball team as they faced Long Beach State. The 49ers are a very powerful team and look to take the Big West Championship this season. The 49ers beat the Gauchos 8-1 in a very disappointing effort by UCSB. Long Beach State will face the Gauchos in league play twice this season, and UCSB must figure out a way to beat them.

“The conference is definitely very strong in the Big West. Right now Long Beach is probably one of the top teams, and Northridge looked very good this fall,” Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “So those are the teams we are going to have to work on beating if we want to win the conference this year.”

The final two games were rematches against Santa Clara and Illinois-Chicago, both of which the Gauchos won. The team wasn’t satisfied with its play on Saturday, so it stepped up and got two quality wins on Sunday.

“Going out we need to bring the bats a little better. Most of those teams are a lot more experienced, and once we play more games together we will look quick to dominate,” Hensler said.

Overall, the team got two big surprises from their newcomers. Herrin, who finished the tournament with three homeruns and 18 RBI’s, and Davis, who finished the tournament not allowing a single run were the main contributors. The Gauchos will begin to look more to these players to help them in upcoming games.

On Friday, the team heads to Cal Poly, where they will play in the Cal Poly Mustang Round-Up, where they will face strong competition from Sacramento State, the University of San Diego, Cal Poly, Colorado State and Nevada.