With the exception of a pair of losses to UCLA, UCSB softball has been loading up in the win column these past two weeks.
Following their conference-opening three-game sweep of UC Riverside this past weekend, the Gauchos are now 20-14 overall and 3-0 in the Big West. UCSB has won five consecutive games, including two against Cal State Bakersfield and all three in the series with the Highlanders (14-22, 0-3 in Big West). Santa Barbara took a 7-6 triumph in eight innings and a 6-2 win on Saturday before besting Riverside 3-1 on Sunday.
At the LMU Tournament two weeks ago, the Gauchos earned two victories over Illinois-Chicago, 6-3 and 6-4, as well as a 5-4 win over Bucknell and finished with a loss to host Loyola Marymount 11-4.
UCSB exploded for six runs in the first inning against Illinois-Chicago (11-21) on the tourney’s opening day of action. Homeruns by both freshman shortstop Jessica Beristianos and junior centerfielder Tiffany Wright highlighted the offensive display. Sophomore pitcher Lindsey Correa (9-4) would sit early after the Flames responded with three runs in the second, but sophomore hurler MeLinda Matsumoto (4-8) maintained the lead. Matsumoto would pick up another win in the second game of the day versus Bucknell (8-20) when she came in relief to help Santa Barbara out of the sixth inning as the team trailed 4-2. UCSB then rallied under pressure with two runs coming from heads-up base-running and junior left fielder Nicole Churnock hit a walk-off single to end the game.
Game two against the Flames saw senior third baseman Tisha Duran knock a two-run homer out of the park in the seventh to break a 4-4 tie and give the Gauchos another dramatic victory. Junior pitcher Tami Weston (7-2) earned the win after throwing two scoreless innings in relief. The fourth and final game of the tournament was rough for UCSB’s rotation as the three hurlers combined to give up 11 runs (six in the first) to the Lions of LMU (24-11). Senior catcher Ericka Hansen hit her first homerun of the season as a pinch-hitter during a three-run Gaucho fourth, but it was not enough.
Top-ranked UCLA (31-3) visited Campus Diamond for a doubleheader this past Tuesday, defeating the Gauchos on both occasions: 7-2 and 8-1. In the first game, Duran went deep for a two-run blast in the sixth, however, Santa Barbara could not get any closer to the seven-run lead the Bruins had established. UCSB got three of its five hits in the first two innings of the second game, but failed to score against freshman pitcher Donna Kerr until the sixth. Sophomore first baseman Jessica Ziegler accounted for the only Santa Barbara run after a triple and a passed ball while Weston took the loss. UCSB did manage 10 hits on the day, despite 25 strikeouts coming at the hands of the Bruins rotation.
“Our mindset going in wasn’t really different from any other game,” Head Coach Brie Galicinao said. “We had a tough, heart-breaking loss to [the Bruins] earlier in the year, but our defense still played hard [in this doubleheader]. UCLA strung things together and we didn’t make adjustments as quickly as they did. And it wasn’t as if we were blanked, because our offense was able to score on them.”
After UCLA, the Gauchos stayed at home for a two-game sweep of Cal State Bakersfield the following day. Game one was a 7-0 rout of the Roadrunners (14-18) with Wright, Beristianos and Hansen all hitting homeruns and UCSB’s lineup was 13-for-26. Correa pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing five hits and three walks. Bakersfield finally got on the board early in the second game with one run in the first, but Weston responded by pitching six consecutive scoreless innings. UCSB took the win 4-1 after Hansen hit a solo shot, followed by a two-run double from Beristianos in the fourth.
“We had strong performances against Bakersfield especially making the comeback [in game two],” Galicinao said. “We’ve just been sticking to the process and eventually we were able to bounce back.”
Santa Barbara scored early and often in Riverside this past Saturday, as Wright hit four singles in the game and a two-run homer in the third. After the Highlanders rallied back, the teams were tied at six heading into the eighth, where Beristianos singled in the game-winning run. Wright continued her day’s success in the second contest, where she launched another two-run homerun to left field in the third. Although the game was close late, Duran drove in three on her own homer to left in the seventh, giving UCSB its 6-2 final score.
“We had a clutch hit in game one by Jessica, and Tiffany was five-for-five,” Galicinao said. “We just try to win every inning, and the team knows that no cushion is enough, so we have to keep pushing runs across.”
In Sunday’s finale, Duran was again the hero with a two-run double in the fourth, while Weston’s second win of the series came after six scoreless innings of relief.
Santa Barbara continues conference play this weekend, when it faces Cal Poly in a three-game series beginning on Saturday.