To be the best, you have to beat the best. The best comes to town this weekend in the shape of two-time defending NCAA Champion UCLA softball team.
The UCSB softball team returns 11 letterwinners including six All-Big West honorees, while the Bruins lost five starters, the most notable being All-American pitcher Keira Goerl. Goerl held the Gauchos to two hits and no runs last year at Easton Stadium when Santa Barbara dropped a doubleheader.
The two victories extended UCLA’s winning streak over UCSB to 15 games and the Bruins have kept the Gauchos scoreless in the last five matches.
“I think last year UCLA was much stronger than they are this year. They had a lot of senior leadership,” Assistant Coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “The game will be much closer because UCLA has the young team this year, whereas we have a little bit more experience.”
The Gauchos are coming off their highest conference finish last year of 14-7 and first trip to the post-season in program history. Senior Lindsey Herrin, who set UCSB’s single season home run record with 10 last year, is expected to start game one. Likely starting game two will be sophomore Jennifer Davis, who had a team-high 16 wins last year and 199 strikeouts.
“I think our freshmen pitchers were a little intimidated last year. I think this year they’re a lot more confident, they’re not as afraid — they’re ready for the challenge. It’s the first game of the year so they’re going to be excited,” Bredbenner said.
The Gauchos will look to the bats of sophomores infielder Brittany Putich and catcher Shelby Hensler who combined for 92 hits and 45 runs last season.
The Bruins will rely on the experience of All-American Second Baseman Caitlyn Benyi and the team’s only senior, Nicole Sandberg, to lead their team with sophomore Lisa Dodd and freshman Anjelica Selden on the mound.
The doubleheader begins Sunday at 11 a.m. at Campus Diamond.