Still in search of their illusive first conference win, the Gaucho softball team will have three more opportunities this weekend against Cal State Northridge.

UCSB (23-15 overall, 0-6 in the Big West) hosts the Matadors (14-18-1, 2-7 Big West) in a doubleheader on Saturday followed by the series finale on Sunday. The Gauchos will return from a six-game absence from conference play, and a week that included a win over #25 Fresno State and two hard-fought games to close out the series versus UC Davis.

“I think that with the teams that we’re beating, there isn’t a fear of losing because we’re the underdog, so we’re playing with more freedom,” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “We have to play like we’re the underdog in every game and go out there and believe in ourselves a little bit more.”

After being named Big West Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season, senior Jennifer Davis’s stellar right arm will be on display against the Matadors this weekend. Davis (7-10) fanned a season-high 14 batters against the Bulldogs (35-14) and currently leads the conference with a 1.31 ERA. In addition, she is just 32 strikeouts away from the Big West all-time career strikeout record of 798 set by Cal Poly’s Desarie Knipfer in 1998.

Northridge’s pitching rotation features junior right-hander Mercedes Lovato (9-9) and freshman righty Amanda Pitzenberger (5-6). The pair has combined to throw 13 complete games, but they have also given up 183 hits on the season. Although the Matadors have lost seven of their last eight games, their most recent win came in the form of a 7-6 victory against Cal Poly, one of the hottest teams in the Big West. Offensively, Northridge is headed by sophomore catcher Amanda Peek, who boasts a .383 batting average, nine homeruns, and 24 RBI on the year.

“Northridge is always good, we just have to keep playing our game,” Schroeder said. “We can’t get too high and we can’t get too low. We need to stay more light-hearted so we can’t get too upset at ourselves when we don’t [score]. We’ll be able to win some more games if we play like that.”

Getting on the board early continues to be crucial for the Gauchos’ success. Following the Davis series, UC Santa Barbara is now 17-1 when they are the first to score and 15-1 when a Gaucho scores in the first three innings.

Saturday’s first pitch is set for 12 p.m. at Campus Diamond.