Hey boys and girls. Thought pennant races were reserved for September? Well, you’re wrong. There’s actually two happening this weekend – one in our own back yard and the other just outside our beloved state capital.
Both the UCSB baseball and softball teams are fighting for their postseason lives, a situation not unknown to the baseball team, but unfamiliar to the females.
With just one series remaining – against Cal State Fullerton this weekend – the Gaucho softball team has a chance to earn a postseason berth for the first time in school history. This jubilant young bunch has embraced its own vitality, disregarded any notions that ignorance cannot equal bliss and won 12 of its last 16 when it mattered most.
It is the second year in a row that the Gauchos have reached the 30-win plateau, but that is where the similarities between this year’s team and last year’s end. Perhaps the only common denominator is senior Leslie Simien, the nimblest lil’ base thief in Santa Barbara and Big West history.
Simien has witnessed Head Coach Kristy Schroeder transform UCSB from bottom-dwellers into a reputable program. Three years ago, Santa Barbara struggled to stay out of the Big West cellar. Now it has already clinched its best finish in the Big West ever, and it is one sweep shy of registering its second-highest conference win total in school history. A postseason berth would all but solidify Schroeder as one of the top coaches in school history and mark the arrival of the Santa Barbara softball program to the national scene.
I guess the pressure is really on now.
Unlike Schroeder, Gaucho baseball Head Coach Bob Brontsema knows the pleasure, pitfalls and prayers of the home stretch all too well. While Santa Barbara has gone into hibernation early the past two seasons, the Gauchos of 2001 won a remarkable 40 games and advanced all the way to the NCAA Super Regionals at Notre Dame.
This year, the Big West will likely send its three top teams to the NCAA Tournament, and for the fourth-place Gauchos, this means urgency, urgency and a little more urgency to boot. With six Big West games remaining against teams at the bottom rung of the conference (Pacific at 3-12, Cal Poly at 5-10), Brontsema’s club does not technically control its own destiny, yet, it really does.
An NCAA Regional bid is there for the taking, especially considering that the four teams in front of or tied with the Gauchos all play one another this weekend. So while Santa Barbara does its best to bully the little guys, the pimps of the Big West will be slapping themselves around. If Irvine or Riverside should trip against Fullerton and Long Beach State respectively, then all UCSB has to do is take care of its own business.
Easier said than done? Yes. But boasting an eight-game win streak certainly does wonders for confidence – and in baseball, that’s half the battle.
Oh boy, two pennant races for the price of one.
Chris Trenchard has gone into hibernation until the Gauchos can pull off a Big West berth.