The UCSB softball team is doing what many do in winter: heading south to Palm Springs in hope of sunshine. The Palm Springs Invitational, which kicks off today, presents some tough competition for the Gauchos, who face off against Ohio Stat, #10 Oklahoma, #19 Louisiana State, Kansas and #22 Oregon.

“I think we’re playing a lot of good competition out there so to pick any one team, I don’t think I can do that at this point but I think we have to go in to every game ready to go,” UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “I think all those teams are top teams in the country, as I think we are, too, but we have to make sure that we’re ready to play and be on task mentally throughout the whole weekend.”

Santa Barbara improved to 5-2 with victories over San Diego State and Rider University in last weekend’s Softball by the Beach Tournament. The Gauchos were slated to play five games, including two against Big West Conference teams Long Beach State and Northridge, but inclement weather washed out the last day of play, giving the team some extra rest.

“It’s always nice to get in games but the rest can never hurt either – we’ve been playing a lot and practicing a lot so if anything, we could benefit from the extra day off,” Schroeder said. “It was real nice to see both of our other pitchers throw a little bit and see what they were capable of doing, they did a real nice job.”

Junior hurler Jennifer Davis earned her fourth victory in the Aztec game and freshman Tami Weston and junior Ginger Gutierrez tag-teamed for the Rider victory, the first Santa Barbara win by a pitcher other than Davis. With the Gauchos slated to play five games this weekend against tough competition, all three pitchers will see time in the circle. An experienced staff of three offers UCSB a deeper bullpen than last year, which will prove helpful in tournament and conference play.

Sophmore catcher Ericka Hansen was a key contributor for the Gauchos last weekend, bringing around the game-winning run with two away in the bottom of the seventh and the scored notched at two. Junior centerfielder Kendra Singley, who is hitting a team-high .500 with 12 hits, led the Gauchos last weekend going 4-5 and helped to score the two runs in the Rider win with an RBI single and a solo shot.

“As far as hitting, the second game against Rider, I think it was the worst hitting game that we’ve had but I think we’re still seeing the ball and hitting the ball pretty well. I’m looking for us to do that again this weekend,” Schroeder said.

This weekend’s tournament will be no vacation for UCSB – three of the five teams the Gauchos will face are nationally ranked. Senior catcher Stacy Hibma leads Ohio State, Santa Barbara’s first game of the weekend, with a .465 average and has knocked in eight RBIs. The Gauchos continue Friday against #10 Oklahoma, posting a 9-1-1 record despite coming off a six-game week. UCSB takes on #19 Louisiana State – an intimidating force boasting a 12-0 record and a team ERA of 0.19 – on Saturday and will play Kansas (4-5 overall) on Saturday afternoon. Santa Barbara closes out the weekend against #18 Oregon (6-4 overall), whose senior shortstop Breanne Sabol has hit 12 out of the park in the first week of the season.

First pitch today against Ohio State is slated for 5:30 p.m.