The UC Santa Barbara softball team that many assumed was down for the count has the opportunity for a late-season comeback after going toe-to-toe with Big West offensive powerhouse Cal Poly last weekend.
UC Riverside (16-31 overall, 0-12 in the Big West) arrives at Campus Diamond this Saturday having lost their last 15 games and holding the conference’s worst record. On the other hand, the Gauchos (26-19, 3-9 Big West) are still contenders for a regional bid now that they have their first series win against a league opponent under their belt. However, UCSB will likely be without the services of senior shortstop Brittany Putich, who suffered a hairline fracture to her glove hand in the final game with Cal Poly last Sunday and had to miss the matchup with #15 Oregon State on Monday.
“Brittany is a great shortstop and she’s a valuable bat because she’s been sneaking up on people in that last part of the lineup,” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “We have to come out, play our game, and maybe shift our defense around a bit. We may put Tisha [Duran] at shortstop even though she has been doing a great job at third.”
Along with Putich, three other seniors will suit up for their last home game as Gauchos on Sunday. Pitcher Jennifer Davis, first baseman Jessica Hejna and right fielder Liz Walters all find themselves at the end of four exciting years together and shall say their final goodbyes to the Campus Diamond crowd when they will be honored for Senior Day.
After a season-high 15 hits in game three against the Mustangs and a high percentage of those coming from the first five players in the batting order all weekend, Santa Barbara will be looking to keep up the offense against Riverside. Davis (10-12) should find herself on the mound in the first game, but the entire Gaucho pitching staff has reason to be proud this year because they have allowed the fewest runs, hits, home runs and earned runs of any conference team.
If UCSB is a strong defensive team with streaky hitting, UCR is the exact opposite. None of the Highlander hurlers have a winning record or an ERA lower than 3.40, while their bats have been on the ball with five of the players hitting above .300 for the season. Freshman first baseman Marissa Alvidrez leads the team with a .359 average, 47 hits, and 31 RBI. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Stephanie Marshall (7-9) should get the nod in the circle since she boasts the most innings pitched and complete games on the team.
“We need to play hard and take all three against UCR,” Schroeder said. “Our team just needs to stay focused and we’re trying to keep it simple out there. We’re not doing 100-year warm-ups and we can’t exert energy unless it’s game time.”
The weekend series begins with a doubleheader on Saturday at 12 p.m. and the finale will be at the same time on Sunday. The Gauchos have never lost to Riverside and hold a 23-0 all-time series lead against the Highlanders.