The NCAA Regionals have simply not been kind to the UC Santa Barbara softball team over the years.
Despite playing well enough to win both games this weekend, the Gauchos (30-23) watched their season come to an end Saturday after a 5-3 loss to Loyola Marymount University (47-18) eliminated them from the postseason.
UCSB, the third seed in the Los Angeles Regional, opened the tournament against the University of Hawaii (48-11) with an incredible ten-inning pitcher’s duel, but a 2-0 defeat put the team in a must-win situation. The Rainbow Wahine were unable to get a hit off senior right-handed pitcher Jennifer Davis (14-16) through five innings in game one, as neither she nor Hawaii sophomore Justine Smethurst (18-8) gave up a run until the bottom of the 10th.
“This [performance] would definitely rank up at the top,” Davis said. “I went out there focused, ready to keep my team in the game, and give ourselves that chance to score some runs.”
Santa Barbara began the game with a double from sophomore second baseman Christine Ramos, but a sacrifice bunt and two strikeouts later she remained stranded on third. UCSB was not without its opportunities, as ten Gaucho runners were left on base in the contest.
“Jenn’s pitching was exceptional today,” Ramos said. “The whole game, I felt that every player was on the same page. I was really proud of our team for getting all the runners on and I felt throughout the game we were going to get momentum.”
Smethurst prevented a Santa Barbara run on several occasions after allowing no runs and striking out 12 batters in nine innings of work. Her shutout eventually paid dividends when sophomore right fielder Tanisha Milca launched a two-run home run over the fence in the 10th inning to end the game.
“When we get the hits, we win, and most of the games that we’ve lost have been close games,” Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “When the bats are going you can’t beat us and we’ve proven that by beating big teams, but when the bats are silent it’s hard to win.”
Saturday, UCSB registered its first run of the 2007 postseason against LMU when Davis singled home junior third baseman Tisha Duran in the bottom of the first inning. The Gauchos built on their lead in the fourth after sophomore centerfielder Tiffany Wright blasted a solo home run to left. Up 2-0 at that point, Davis was in her rhythm and had thrown four shutout innings.
“It makes it easier as a pitcher to go out knowing you’re ahead, but it takes more than just that,” Davis said. “I think it was good that we came out and scored early, but with teams this far in the tournament they’re going to put up a fighting chance so you need to keep scoring.”
Two singles helped the Lions load the bases in an ominous sixth inning before a bases-loaded walk put them on the board 2-1. Sophomore shortstop Melissa Ackerman then proceeded to break the Gauchos’ hearts with a grand slam homerun to right field. Santa Barbara was able to get one run back in the bottom half after three Lion errors, but they could not completely close the gap.
“I was proud of the way the team played and I thought Jenn pitched a heck of a tournament,” Schroeder said. “She shut down the teams and I was really proud of our defense. We just have to pull it all together. If we would have had her performance [on Friday] and our hitting today it would have been great.”