Off to its best start in four years, the UC Santa Barbara softball team’s bats have just begun to wake up.
After hitting seven home runs this past weekend, the Gauchos (10-3 overall) will now head to Tempe, Ariz., for the Sun Devil/Wilson DeMarini Invitational. UCSB will have a chance to prove its worth facing host #2 Arizona State University among others in the squad’s first out-of-state tournament of the season.
“We’re taking one game at a time and the biggest thing is that we don’t want to focus on the jersey,” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “I think if we play our game, our pitchers play well and we play good defense, we can beat anybody. It takes a lot of pressure off when you score early and pitchers start throwing better when they have that lead.”
Houston (13-6) comes into today’s doubleheader having won six games in a row and the Cougars present no pitcher giving up over two runs on average. Senior right-handed hurler Jennifer Davis (1-2) will return to the team after an absence due to a death in the family last weekend, but the Gauchos have been relying on the strength of their two freshmen right-handers, MeLinda Matsumoto (5-0) and Lindsey Correa (3-1).
“When the freshman pitchers are getting into jams, they’re really bearing down and going after it,” Schroeder said. “It’s nice that we have MeLinda because she really offsets the other pitchers on our squad.”
The UCSB pitching staff will have their hands full in the second game against Arizona State (17-1). Sophomore centerfielder Kaitlin Cochran is the one to watch out for as she boasts a .603 on-base percentage and leads the team in both home runs with four as well as 30 hits on the young season.
Saturday features matchups with Utah Valley State (3-5) and Northern Florida (6-7) who both run pitching rotations that have given up over 75 hits, a statistic favoring the Gauchos’ lead-off hitters.
As a squad, Santa Barbara will look to rely on more dominant production from key players. Sophomore second baseman Christine Ramos ranks in the top four hitters, with a .308 batting average on the season. In 46 atbats, she has connected with 14 hits, plating three runs. In the top three offensively, Ramos is complimented by senior first baseman Jessica Hejna who in 32 atbats has found a .313 average, with 10 hits, two doubles and one triple in 13 games.
“Ramos is so aggressive out there and so fiery, she’s definitely a person you want leading off your team. She’s always going to battle and have a great at bat regardless of whether she gets on or not,” Schroeder said. “Hejna is an extremely unselfish player. She’s had to sacrifice a lot because Ramos gets on and she does it great every time.”
The Gauchos finish up with another team off to a hot start in Creighton (8-1) on Sunday. The Bluejays are highlighted by junior catcher TJ Eadus, who paces the group with five home runs along with 13 RBIs on the season.
First pitch of the double-header is set for 3:30 p.m. today at the Sun Devils’ Farrington Stadium.