Over the weekend the UC Santa Barbara softball team said an emotional farewell to four seniors who all had their share of highlights in the team’s last home series.
The Gauchos (29-19 overall, 6-9 in the Big West) took care of UC Riverside (16-34, 0-15 Big West) without much trouble and achieved their first conference sweep of the season. Senior pitcher Jennifer Davis improved to 12-12 after throwing in all three games for the second series in a row and amassing 17 strikeouts. She also tied the UCSB career shutout record (23) in her final game at Campus Diamond on Sunday.
“We had a lot of confidence coming off our wins last weekend and knowing that [Riverside hasn’t] done that well in conference, but we knew we couldn’t take them for granted,” Davis said. “We knew we had to come through with runs and play solid defense. Everybody was going up there not stressing, just having fun, and making good solid contact.”
The first game saw the Highlanders strike in the second inning when junior second baseman April Murray hit an RBI double to put them on the board. UCSB’s bats were hot in last weekend’s Cal Poly series and continued to thrive against Riverside as the home team answered back with one home run in each of its next three innings highlighted by a three-run blast to center from senior right fielder Liz Walters. Junior third baseman Tisha Duran and sophomore designated player Adrienne Anderson each followed with solo shots to put Santa Barbara in front 5-1. The Gauchos then increased their lead in the sixth when sophomore second baseman Christine Ramos doubled two runners home and senior first baseman Jessica Hejna scored her leadoff counterpart with a single to secure the 8-2 final.
“It was good to see Adrienne hit that line shot and Tisha go long,” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “Liz can drive it when she hits it. She’s capable so it’s nice to see her do that again. I think hopefully we’re coming around, we just have to stay focused and try to keep the ball in play.”
Freshman hurler MeLinda Matusmoto (9-6) started off game two with a solid performance, but after an RBI single in the third was followed by an RBI double in the fourth, Schroeder called upon Davis to step to the mound for her second game in a row. The right-hander’s 2.2 hitless innings stopped Riverside cold while UCSB plated nine runs in the final three innings to earn a 10-2 mercy win. Junior catcher Ericka Hansen drove in four runs on three hits and junior left fielder Nicole Churnock contributed two RBI with two singles.
“I liked the way Jenn was able to come back and work well by throwing hard in the second game; she shut them down,” Schroeder said. “Everyone is coming out wanting to win these games and we know we should be able to since they have been struggling.”
Sunday was “Senior Day” and featured a tearful pre-game sendoff for Walters, Hejna, Davis and shortstop Brittany Putich, who was put into the starting lineup for the first pitch. Davis threw a seven-inning gem, shutting out the Highlanders while allowing only four hits. The game was scoreless through four before a pair of singles from Duran and sophomore centerfielder Tiffany Wright put the Gauchos up for good 2-0. When the final out was made, a large cheer erupted from the crowd thanking the players for all they had done this year and in the three preceding it.
“As hard as it was for the seniors, I think it was just as hard for the rest of the team because those girls are so loved by everyone,” Hansen said. “It’s tough for us, but at the same time, they are going on to bigger and better things so it’s exciting for them.”