With its postseason hopes still alive, the UC Santa Barbara softball team hits the road for its final weekend of the regular season play and a crucial one at that.
Beginning with a doubleheader this afternoon, Cal State Fullerton is up next for a Gaucho squad that is 28-23 overall and 11-7 in the Big West and currently sits in second place behind #17 Long Beach in the conference standings. UCSB comes off a series win against Pacific while the Titans (26-24-1 overall, 10-8 Big West) currently hold a 15-11 record at Anderson Family Field and have won three of their last four contests there including two victories over the 49ers .
“[Last Sunday] was a tough environment because [the Gauchos] had to focus on the game and it being ‘Senior Day,'” Head Coach Brie Galicinao said. “So whether it’s ‘Senior Day’ for us or for them, we just have to focus on the job that needs to get done. I don’t think their environment will affect us too much.”
On Monday, junior center fielder Tiffany Wright earned her second Big West Player of the Week honor this season after helping Santa Barbara defeat Pacific (24-32 overall, 6-12 Big West) in two out of three games over the weekend. She went six-for-11 with one home run, two RBIs and five runs scored in the series. With 10 long balls on the season, Wright is now just two homers shy of tying the UCSB single season record-holder, – her teammate, senior third baseman Tisha Duran.
Game one against the Tigers, however, was highlighted by the heroics of another Gaucho. Senior catcher Ericka Hansen blasted a three-run walk-off homer in the seventh inning, breaking a 4-4 tie. Santa Barbara had been down 4-0 after a grand slam, but UCSB rallied back in the sixth inning with four consecutive hits including a two-run double by freshman shortstop Jessica Beristianos.
“It was great to have everybody string it together,” Galicinao said. “I mean Ericka had the dramatic home run to seal the deal, but all of our other runs came through singles and everybody working together. They did the little things. That’s when we’re most successful; timely hitting and timely grounders to the right side.”
The Gauchos got solid pitching performances from sophomore MeLinda Matsumoto (8-10) in game one and junior Tami Weston (10-6) in the second contest. Besides allowing the grand slam, Matsumoto threw six scoreless innings in her first outing and Weston limited Pacific to just one run on five hits on Saturday.
Cal State Fullerton will send senior hurler Jessica Doucette (13-12), the Big West Pitcher of the Week, to the mound against the Gauchos this weekend. In the Titans’ previous series, Doucette shut out #17 Long Beach State (37-14 overall, 13-5 Big West) on Sunday and held the 49ers to just one extra-base hit in her two starts. On offense, Fullerton is guided by senior designated player Kiki Munoz, boasting the conference’s second-best batting average at .421 and paces her team with six home runs and 95 total bases.
After committing five errors this past weekend, UCSB fell ever so slightly into second place behind Long Beach State in Big West fielding percentage. Hansen, however, caught her 10th runner stealing on Saturday to solidify the Gauchos as the conference leaders in that category with 23 runners caught on the season.
“We have an assistant coach this year named Shelby [Hensler] and this is the first year I’ve had a coach who has really worked with me on just my catching,” Hansen said. “She’s been such an asset and she’s taught me so much that I feel like my level of play has increased tenfold just having her there to teach me. And it’s nice to see those things that you’ve worked on materialize on the field.”
Today’s doubleheader kicks off with a 4 p.m. start while the Saturday finale, which can be heard on KCSB 91.9 FM in Santa Barbara or on www.kcsb.org, begins at noon.