After suffering its third series sweep at the hands of a Big West opponent, the UCSB softball team returns home to Campus Diamond this weekend to entertain Long Beach State in a three-game set. The Gauchos (10-33 overall, 1-11 in Big West) currently sit eight games out of first place with only nine left on the schedule, and have been outscored 67-22 in their 12 conference games.

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Sophomore outfielder Brooke Putich gets ready to run the bases in a game earlier this season. Putich has the second best average on UCSB this season, batting .310 with a home run and 10 RBI. Senior first baseman Jessica Ziegler leads the team in hitting, batting .324.

Long Beach State (21-22, 5-7), like UCSB, has fallen on hard times this year after just last season winning 35 games, finishing third in the Big West and earning an invite into the NCAAs. The 49ers have only earned one series win in conference this season (a road series against Northridge), and recently dropped two of three against Cal Poly. Sophomore ace Taylor Petty’s team-best ERA of 2.50 is one of only three in the Big West under 3.00, and her 119 strikeouts are a league best. With a record of 9-12, Petty (who competed regularly against Gaucho sophomore pitcher Krista Cobb in high school) has kept Long Beach in games despite defending an offense that only averages just over three runs per game. As for that 49er offense, freshman infielder Nalani St. Germain leads her team with 25 RBI and a .274 average with an impressive eight home runs.

As for the Gauchos, UCSB saw its 13-game losing streak snap against the Highlanders two weekends ago — only to see that momentum snapped by a Northridge series that saw them lose on walk-offs twice. Despite the disappointing results, Santa Barbara did see its pitching staff perform better, posting a 2.90 ERA over the series.

Regardless of recent events, the Gauchos will need to continue that excellence if they are to stay competitive with Long Beach. UCSB’s pitching ranks seventh out of eight teams with a team ERA of 5.21, and has allowed 242 runs on 346 hits. Cal State Fullerton is the only Big West team with worse numbers in those categories, and the Titans swept Santa Barbara (in a series that included two mercy-rule victories) to open Big West play. Despite the UCSB pitching staff’s struggles, Cobb showed some of her old brilliance in their 4-1 win over Riverside. Then in the two games she pitched against CSUN, she allowed only seven runs on 12 hits. It remains to be seen if seniors Lindsey Correa and MeLinda Matsumoto — whose ERAs are both around 4.60 — can improve along with the sophomore.

Key to improving the pitching staff will be the Gaucho’s offense, which has been anemic at best. UCSB has been outscored 242-101 this year and displays only three hitters with averages above .240. Best among those three has been senior infielder Jessica Zeigler who, with her .324 average, leads the team with 47 hits in 145 at-bats. Junior infielder Jessica Beristianos leads the team with 14 RBI, and sophomore outfielder Brooke Putich, who is tied for second on the team with hits and runs with 31 and 15 respectively, has shown flashes of greatness at times.

UCSB begins the weekend against Long Beach with a doubleheader that starts Saturday at noon. The teams will conclude their series with another noon game on Sunday. UCSB will then stay at home for a three-game hosting of Pacific. As always, admission is free for students.