The month-long season-opening road show continues for the UCSB softball team, taking them this weekend to Cathedral City to participate in the aptly named Cathedral City Classic. In sharp contrast to the first two weekends, Santa Barbara (5-4 overall) is scheduled to play neither creampuffs nor champions during the four-day classic, but mostly unranked squads with definite potential to contend. Of the six teams UCSB will see, only #17 Nevada is ranked, while Ohio State received 32 votes in the latest USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll.

Going into their third consecutive invitational, freshman pitching has surprisingly been the strength of the Gaucho squad. Everyone by now has heard about freshman Krista Cobb’s perfect game, and while no one expected her to throw no-hitters the rest of the year, she hasn’t exactly disappointed since. In a team-high 21 innings pitched, Cobb leads the team in strikeouts with 19, her 2.33 ERA ranks second among UCSB starters, and opponents are batting .181 against her, the second lowest average on the team. Of pitchers who have thrown 20 innings or more, Cobb’s 13 allowed hits are the fewest given up in the Big West.

While Cobb’s numbers have impressed many, fellow freshman hurler Jenny Liepman has flown under the radar as perhaps the Gaucho’s secret weapon out of the bullpen. In six and a third innings, Liepman’s ERA still stands at zero with no hits allowed, due in part to her masterful performance against Long Beach State last weekend in which she picked up her first win.

“[Liepman] did a really good job shutting [Long Beach] down,” said junior outfielder Priscilla Perez. “She got a lot of ground balls, produced outs, and that’s what we want as a team, to be defensively solid. She came in knowing we were strong that way and allowed us to play our type of game.”

On offense, a combination of youngsters and seasoned veterans have been posting league-leading numbers in almost every category. Senior infielder Christine Ramos leads the Gauchos and the Big West with 13 hits, and is now just 13 hits away from breaking Tonya Dias’ school record for career hits. In the leadoff spot, Ramos has batted .406 (good enough for fifth in the Big West) with a conference-leading three stolen bases. Two underclassmen have also shown a knack for the bat, as infielders Jessica Beristianos and Keilani Jennings occupy the conference’s top spots in runs scored and RBI, while Jennings is tied for first in home runs with four.

The Ziegler sisters haven’t disappointed either, with freshman Amanda already credited with two homers and junior Jessica second on the team with 11 hits.
UCSB will begin the classic today at 1 p.m against North Carolina State (2-1), before completing the double-header with winless Maryland (0-5). The two ACC schools have allowed 36 runs combined over only eight games.

“I expect our team to come out and play ball there like we know how,” Perez said. “We’re going to forget about the weekend before because it’s always a new weekend, new weather, new attitude. We can only get better from here.”