The UCSB softball team returns to conference play this weekend, heading down to the San Fernando Valley for a three-game Big West matchup against Cal State Northridge.

On the road at UC Davis last weekend, the Gauchos dropped the series opener to the Aggies before picking up their offense to win the final two and take the series. A new lineup helped spark Santa Barbara’s bats, which have been lacking lately.

“I decided on getting our most offensive lineups, and that’s what I did at UC Davis and it paid off,” UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “[We’re going to] start sticking with that [same lineup] and see when we get into the late innings. If we’re up some, then we’ll switch it up; the kids that are producing at the plate need to be in the game.”

UCSB’s defense is nothing to shake a stick at – tied for first place in the nation with Penn State and Stanford with a .982 fielding percentage in 32 games. Gaucho defense and pitching had some difficulty in the first game at Davis, but pulled through to win the second two.

“We’re very strong defensively – we’ve worked on it a lot because I think defense and pitching eventually wins games for you,” Schroeder said. “If we have our defense and pitching at same time, we can beat anyone in the country, but it’s a matter of getting it all together.”

Pitchers junior Jenn Davis and freshman Tami Weston will again split time in the circle this weekend for the Gauchos. Davis, who has a 2.84 ERA, despite being 12-11 on the season, pitched in all three games last weekend and issued 17 strikeouts against the Aggies. Weston got her second win of the year against the UC Davis and has continued to improve with playing time.

“Jenn had a very nice weekend; we came back and talked about some of the things she needed to work on and made some of those adjustment,” Schroeder said. “Tami is doing a nice job – good quality innings – she needs to cut down walks. … She’s a freshman and hasn’t had a ton of experience, but she’s going to get better the more she gets out there.”

Northridge (12-18 overall, 1-8 Big West) sits in last place in the Big West, two spots below UCSB. The Matadors will most likely split time in the circle between their top two pitchers – junior Sam Schroeder and freshman Selena Salazar, who has a 3.91 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 105.2 innings.

“It’s important from here on out that we win every game we step out to play,” Schroeder said. “[The Matadors are] not slouchy – they have beaten some of the good teams in country and they had a pretty tough schedule in the beginning. Everyone in the Big West is capable of beating anybody; we’re not taking them lightly. If we can go out and play our game, then we’ll be successful.”

First pitch is slated for 12 p.m. on Saturday at Matador Diamond.