The UCSB softball team ended its regular season on both a low note – dropping the final Big West Conference series to Long Beach State – and a high note – earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Gauchos (24-20 overall, 8-9 in the Big West) dropped two games, 4-2 and 2-1, and won one 8-1 against the second-place Long Beach State (30-20, 13-5 Big West), which also received a nod.
“You never consider only winning one game out of a three-game series a high note. I think we have just as good a squad as Long Beach and I think we showed that we can play really well,” UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “We gave ourselves a chance today so that was positive. We didn’t make a ton of errors […] but at the same time, my expectations are still a little higher. It’s disappointing that we didn’t win more series.”
Neither team got on the board until the fourth inning in game one of Friday’s double feature when sophomore 49er infielder Lacy Tyler hit a two-RBI double into right field. The Beach plated two more in the top of the seventh after an infield throwing error allowed senior third baseman Melanie McCauley and senior left fielder Kourtnee Gervasi to score.
The Gauchos struck in the bottom of the seventh when junior center fielder Kendra Singley hit her eighth home run of the year over the right field fence, driving in junior left fielder Jessica Hejna, who reached on a single up the middle.
Long Beach junior pitcher Michelle Turner was almost flawless in the circle, earning her 24th win of the year, allowing two runs on five hits with no walks. Turner puzzled the Santa Barbara offense for most of the game, striking out six and facing just three over the minimum.
“We got on [Turner] late [Friday] and that’s kind of what we did again [Saturday],” Schroeder said. “There were a couple people who made some good adjustments up at the plate but a couple people continued to get caught on the same pitches and miss-hit the ball when we needed them to get a hit, when we needed runners on base.”
Game two was a different story for the Gauchos, who scored in the first inning with another round-tripper from Singley to plate two. The 49ers scored their only run of the game in the fourth when leadoff batter and freshman center fielder Breezy Goad hit a single to bring in sophomore catcher Brooke LeSage.
UCSB scored three runs in its half of the fourth, two of which came from pitcher Jenn Davis’ homer. Though Long Beach threatened with six base runners in the last three innings, the Gauchos brought around three more runs in the following innings to put the game out of reach. Santa Barbara’s offense excelled after game one, tapping starting pitcher Tyler for eight earned runs on 11 hits.
Game three Saturday was another pitcher’s duel between Turner and Davis, with neither team scoring until the sixth when LeSage drove in sophomore first baseman Jonae Perez. The 49ers added a much-needed insurance run in the seventh when a throwing error by Davis allowed McCauley to score.
“[Jenn] had a good series, she really shut them down [Friday] in the second game, [Saturday] she didn’t give them a lot of hits. I was real happy with her pitching – she did what she needed her to do to win the game,” Schroeder said. “She only gave up two runs but we have to score more than one run, have to help her out and we didn’t do that.”
The Gauchos make their second ever trip to the postseason and will travel to the double-elimination Evanston Regional. Santa Barbara will face off against University of Notre Dame on Friday and either play the Southern Illinois University or host Northwestern on Saturday.
First pitch is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Friday in Evanston, Ill.