Last weekend, it turned out that the only force capable of stymieing UCSB’s softball team wasn’t any opposing team, but the weather. Freshman Krista Cobb threw a perfect game in her first collegiate start and the Gauchos (4-0 overall) tore through lesser opponents like Oregon, Wichita State, McNeese State and Wagner during the first two days of the Kajikawa Classic, but when it came to the third-day matchups against Penn State and #7 Arizona, the clouds above Tempe, Arizona opened up, forcing the games to be canceled due to rain.
“We’re pretty excited about the start,” junior outfielder Priscilla Perez said, “but we do wish that we could have played the two games [on Sunday] because we’re playing really well right now, so it would have been nice to face Penn State and Arizona, two teams that people don’t expect us to beat.”
While meteorologists might have a different say, perhaps it was the abundance of one-sided Gaucho affairs that elicited tears from up high. UCSB buried the competition under runs that seemed to come from everywhere, outscoring the opposition 28-9 to kick off the 2009 regular season. Santa Barbara batted .364 as a team, posting 40 hits on opening weekend compared to the opposition’s 21. Central to this offensive outburst for UCSB was freshman shortstop Keilani Jennings, the Newbury Park High School product who hit .417 with three home runs and eight RBI in 12 at-bats.
In the first game against Oregon (3-2), a team that had been receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Top-25 Poll, the Gauchos took a narrow 2-0 lead at the bottom of the third after sophomore infielder Jessica Beristianos ripped a two-RBI double off freshman right-hander Samantha Skillingstad. The Ducks answered quickly with a two-RBI double of their own, but junior hurler MeLinda Matsumoto regained her composure and did not allow another run en route to her first complete game of the year. UCSB broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fourth as a result of infielder Courtney Kivitt’s error at second base, allowing pinch runner Jackie Conlin to score from second. Beristianos slammed her first home run of the year in the fifth, giving the Gauchos a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.
Against Wichita State (2-2), it was the freshmen’s turn to shine. After three innings of scoreless softball, Jennings slugged the first homer of her career to dead-center field, scoring junior infielder Jessica Ziegler from second for two of her game-high five RBIs. After watching her sister score, freshman Amanda Ziegler made made back-to-back homers for a career first, giving the Gauchos a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth. The Shockers roared back, scoring two runs in the fourth and three in the fifth, taking a 5-3 lead heading into the sixth. Not content with just one dinger, the younger Ziegler made it two, scoring Jennings from first and tying up the game at 5-5. However, it would be Jennings who provided the late-inning heroics, clocking a three-RBI bomb with two outs in the top of the seventh, posting what would be the final margin of victory at 8-5.
“[Jennings] basically won the game for us against Wichita State,” Perez said. “She had a really good battle in her last at-bat, the first and second base coaches even said ‘watch this, something might happen,’ and sure enough, she battled and hit the home run to the opposite side of the field, which you don’t see often in softball.”
Pitching highlighted UCSB’s second day at the Kajikawa Classic, with senior Tami Weston throwing her first complete game of 2009 en route to a 9-2 win over McNeese State (0-5). With Weston bringing the heat, UCSB stepped up on offense as well with Beristianos and Jennings combining for seven RBI on four hits. While Weston certainly impressed with her performance, Cobb stole the show against Wagner (1-5), throwing a perfect game in her first start for Santa Barbara in what would be a 7-0 win over the Seahawks.
“It was pretty amazing,” Perez said. “She threw an awesome game… literally our whole infield and outfield didn’t notice that she was throwing a perfect game, just because we were in the moment of the game. In the seventh inning, the Wagner fans started getting really loud saying, ‘We just need a walk, a little hit!’ and we were wondering why they were so into it. Then at the end of the game, Coach was screaming ‘Get the ball, get the ball!’ and told us that [Cobb] had just thrown a perfect game.”