It took them awhile, but eight games later the UCSB softball team (29-26 overall, 11-4 in the Big West) defeated UC Riverside (12-44, 2-11) to sweep the series in a previously rained-out make-up game.

In the heat of the Big West regular season, the Gauchos headed to Amy S. Harrison field in Riverside to finish up the series with the Highlanders.

“The more practice we get before we play top-ranked Long Beach is good for our team,” freshman left fielder Jessica Hejna said. “We needed to get this win to move into second place in the division and have a shot at regionals.”

Lately, freshman pitcher Jennifer Davis has been hot, and yesterday she was on fire. Davis went the stretch to improve her record to 13-13 on the season in the Gauchos’ 2-0 win. Davis had her command and power yesterday, leading the team on the mound by throwing a shutout for the sixth time this season.

Freshman catcher Shelby Hensler led the team at the plate going three for four, hitting two singles to left center and one to right field. Hensler scored when senior first baseman Heather Noble chipped her in on a single. The other run was scored by freshman second baseman Brittany Putich, when sophomore third baseman Karyna Wilkerson knocked her in with a single.

This is the Gauchos’ fourth straight win and is the most important stretch of the season, as the team will play only six more games this year.

“We played well today and feel that with good practices this week, we will be ready for Fullerton this weekend,” Hejna said. “Our pitching and defense has been amazing in the past two games and we need to focus on those two aspects. Batting will come to us as we feel more and more confident.”

The freshman force that has led the Gauchos this season has been a major factor in the past few games. Hensler, Davis and Singley led Santa Barbara in the game against the Highlanders and the series against Utah State.

“All the freshmen are doing so well and have proved so much. Their nerves are gone and now they can show on the field what they are really all about,” senior Leslie Simien said.

UCSB will face Big West big dogs Cal State Fullerton (3-2 in the conference) this weekend. This will be the most important series for the Gauchos, as they will try to fight for first place in the division and a berth at regionals.