A season of ups and downs now reaches its most critical point for the UCSB softball team this weekend when it faces Long Beach State in a three-game series at the 49er Softball Complex.
Following a sweep of Riverside last weekend, the Gauchos (29-19 overall, 6-9 in the Big West) encounter the 49ers (26-24, 9-6 Big West), who are currently tied with Pacific for third place in the conference standings. UC Santa Barbara continues to push for a shot at Regionals, given its recent success and the quality of teams in the Big West this year.
“It’s going to be our last conference series, and I think we all feel pretty confident going in because we did play them in preseason and we were able to get them pretty well,” senior right-handed pitcher Jennifer Davis said. “It should be a good series, and we’re going to look to win all three of those games to give us a shot at postseason.”
When the two teams met for a nonconference affair earlier this season at Campus Diamond, junior third baseman Tisha Duran went three-for-four with four RBI, as UCSB took an early 6-0 lead before a five-run sixth inning brought the 49ers back into the game. The late-game surge was quickly halted, however, when Davis (13-12) blanked the visitors for the final one and two-third innings after she stepped in to relieve freshman hurler MeLinda Matsumoto (9-6).
“Hopefully we’ll play well this weekend and give us a chance for postseason,” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “We have to take one game at a time and we can’t think ahead. There are no guarantees, so we just have to play as hard as we can and cross our fingers.”
UCSB comes off another strong weekend after taking all three games against the bottom-dwelling Highlanders. The series featured offensive production throughout the order as Santa Barbara posted 29 hits in the two-day span and three Gauchos each went deep in the first game. Davis also pitched lights out, allowing only two runs in 16 and two-thirds innings of work.
“I think this is a good momentum builder,” junior catcher Ericka Hansen said. “After Cal Poly last weekend and then these games [against Riverside], it’s a huge momentum builder going into Long Beach.”
Despite their success in conference, the 49ers come off a difficult series with future Big West foe UC Davis. The Long Beach offense is led by junior shortstop Jessica Beaver and her .373 batting average and team-high nine homeruns. However, she was only available to pinch hit against the Aggies, due to a recent injury. And while UCSB has a workhorse in Jenn Davis, the 49ers possess freshman right-hander Bridgette Pagano (18-10), whose 1.60 ERA and 18 complete games make her dangerous in the circle.
“Long Beach is scrappy and they’ve beaten teams, so we just have to come out and play our best,” Schroeder said. “If we do that, then we set ourselves up pretty good, but if we don’t, then they’re a tough team.”
The Gauchos’ final series of the season kicks off tomorrow, with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. and the final game on Saturday.