The 2019 campaign for the UCSB Gauchos softball team was laden with struggles and growing pains as the young team navigated their way through a difficult season. However, the Gauchos will only lose three players to graduation after this year and the others will return next season after learning from their experiences and improving on the field.
With a 10-42 overall record and a 4-17 conference record, UCSB rounded out the bottom of the Big West, finishing just a game back of seventh place Cal Poly in the standings.
The season started off strong for the Gauchos, as they emerged victorious in three of their first four games, scoring double-digit runs in two of them. It was after this point that things took a downhill slide as they went on to lose eleven of their next twelve games, and over this stretch they only managed to plate three runs in a game once. This trend of a lack of run support from the offense continued throughout non-conference play as the Gauchos sported a record of 6-25 through their first 31 contests.
Heading into conference play there was some cautious optimism that going head-to-head with their Big West foes might jumpstart the Gauchos and get them rolling again. However, the struggle continued for Santa Barbara as they only managed to grab one win in their first nine Big West matchups. Again, it was the offense that sputtered, as their only win during that time came in the form of a 3-1 win against UC Davis.
The Gauchos were nipping at their first series win but they ultimately let it slip away in heartbreaking fashion against a very good Long Beach State team. After taking the first game of the three-game set, Santa Barbara dropped the next game before letting the series finale slip through their fingers as they surrendered four runs in the bottom of the seventh before ultimately losing the game by a single run.
That loss proved tough to recover from as Santa Barbara suffered back-to-back sweeps at the hands of Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside before they bounced back for the highlight of their season, a series win on the road in SLO against Cal Poly. The Gauchos pulled out all the stops in order to record their first series win of the year in their rivals’ backyard, winning the series-clinching game 9-1 in five innings due to the eight-run mercy rule.
UCSB was lead by their undeniable star Sammy Fabian, as the super-sophomore rode her .404 season average and nine stolen bases to an All-Big West First Team selection, the second All-Conference selection of her young career.
Catcher Teah Thies also took home All-Freshman honors for her work behind the plate and team-leading 17 RBI’s.
The Gauchos also got significant contributions from junior Devan Sperry, possibly the most consistent UCSB hitter on the season who finished with an outstanding batting average of .308.
Senior Melanie Menor also proved to be a major contributor for the Gauchos, one who got better as the season went along. Menor’s breakout was one of the best stories of the season as she was only batting .116 through 31 non-conference games before she hit her stride in conference play and batted .328 against Big West opponents.
The UCSB pitching staff was anchored by junior Felisha Noriega, who lead the team with 125.2 innings pitched, a 3.63 ERA, and 81 strikeouts.
While the record might not jump off the page the UCSB softball team has many reasons to be encouraged heading into next season. Some new emerging players coupled with the already-established players easing into their roles as upperclassmen is a recipe for improvement and the hope is that this season is just a necessary bridge to cross before this team is able to consistently compete with the best of the best.