After the dust settled and 25 innings had passed, the UCSB softball team stood proud against the best in the Big West.
The Gauchos (26-18 overall, 3-9 in the Big West) won a grueling series against Cal Poly (34-14 overall, 9-3 Big West) by taking two of three games over the weekend in San Luis Obispo. Senior pitcher Jennifer Davis’ 15 strikeouts pushed her four-year total to 801 and set the new Big West all-time career strikeout record as UC Santa Barbara got back on track in conference play.
“All Big West [season] long we haven’t played up to our abilities and we finally did that [this weekend],” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “I think we have good momentum and we’ll continue to pitch Jenn as long as she can go and see where it ends up.”
Davis (10-12) managed to shut out the Mustangs in their first meeting after she gave up four hits and struck out five. UCSB began a four-run rally in the fifth inning highlighted by junior third baseman Tisha Duran’s double to bring two Gauchos home. Duran added another RBI in the sixth with a single and – behind Davis’s pitching – the visitors would go on to win 5-0.
“The conditioning that we’ve been working on all season kicked in, but we haven’t played in this kind of heat since last season so it took a toll,” Davis said. “I was just trying to stay in the zone, throw hard and keep hitting my spots.”
Game two saw both teams battle through nine innings and several high-pressure situations before UCSB fell 6-5. Freshman hurler MeLinda Matsumoto (9-5) came in relief after the Gauchos went down by four runs early. Neither team would plate a run until the fifth, when sophomore second baseman Christine Ramos had an RBI single. Santa Barbara led off the sixth with a pair of singles and it rallied to bring home three runs to tie the game. The Mustangs answered back with a run of their own soon after, but Ericka Hansen hit an RBI double in the seventh. Cal Poly broke the deadlock and won the game when senior centerfielder Lisa Modglin singled with the bases loaded in the ninth.
“[Cal Poly] came out strong and they play well every year, but I think this game is more about self-reflection for our team,” junior catcher Ericka Hansen said. “It’s about having that will and belief that we can win. In our last couple of games we’ve been down, so for us to come out fighting like this it’s a real turn-around for our program.”
In Sunday’s finale the Gauchos got on the board first in the fourth inning when Hansen doubled and senior shortstop Brittany Putich singled her home. But UCSB wasn’t finished; senior first baseman Jessica Hejna then smacked a triple down the right field line with runners on the corners. Hejna was on base often; she finished the series batting 8-for-14 with three runs and two RBI.
“Coach has been telling me to get the ball on the ground, swing hard, and slap hard because that’s when you get your base hits,” Hejna said. “As many times as I do sacrifice bunt, when I do have the opportunity to get a hit I take advantage of it.”
Davis helped her own cause with a home run in the fifth, but a Mustang rally in the seventh capped off by a three-run double from sophomore shortstop Melissa Pura tied the contest. It was Hanson, however, who ended the game with an RBI single in the ninth to give Santa Barbara the 6-5 victory.
The Gauchos’ last nonconference game of the season is today at 12 p.m. when they take on #13 Oregon State at Campus Diamond.