Softball 2nd at Mt. Dew Classic

    After getting off to a slow start in pool play at the Mountain Dew Classic in Bakersfield, Calif., the UCSD softball team roared back on the tournament’s final day to earn a second-place finish.

    Guardian file photo

    The low point of the nine-team tournament came quickly for the Tritons when they dropped their opening game to California Collegiate Athletic Association rival Cal State Dominguez Hills. The Toros could muster only five hits off UCSD starter Leea Harlan, but with the help of four Triton errors, Cal State Dominguez Hills was given four unearned runs and won 6-1.

    At the plate, Harlan was the only Triton who could solve Toros starter Patrina Smith. Harlan’s two hits were the only ones Smith surrendered in the complete-game win.

    UCSD had little chance to recover from its opening game bumblings with a game later that day against another CCAA opponent: the Gators of San Francisco State University. As has been the case many times recently, UCSD found itself in a must-win situation.

    Despite a wealth of hits, including five from sophomore third baseman Amy Mettee, the Tritons were held scoreless through the first three innings. When the Gators struck with three runs in the bottom of the third, UCSD found itself in an unfamiliar place against a San Francisco State team it had beaten soundly in each of the teams’ two prior meetings.

    Clawing their way back into the game, the Tritons scored a run in the fourth and two runs in the fifth inning to tie the game. Pitcher Christi Martinelli kept the Gators from any further scoring and the game headed into extra innings. In the eighth inning, UCSD finally asserted itself as the better team, pushing across four runs and holding off a late Gator charge to win 7-4.

    Afterward, Triton head coach Patti Gerckens stressed that her team had been lucky to escape with a win.

    “”We let many opportunities pass us by that game,”” she said. “”We had our backs up against the wall and we are very fortunate that we came back.””

    The tournament was far from over for the Tritons, however, because Saturday’s first game brought in the West Region’s top-ranked team: Western New Mexico University. UCSD could muster only two hits against Mustang ace Angela Slaugh, and the Tritons gave up two more unearned runs when they lost 4-1.

    The loss dropped UCSD to 1-2 on the tournament and set up yet another crucial game, this one against Hawaii-Hilo. This time, freshman Keri Hanley pitched four solid innings, allowing only one run for the 3-1 win. The Tritons got all the offense they needed from a three-run, fourth-inning outburst.

    Harlan continued her strong performance with three perfect innings in relief, and later praised the Triton pitching staff for its work throughout the tournament.

    “”As a staff, it was a really impressive weekend,”” Harlan said.

    Despite their inconsistency in the first four games, the Tritons still found themselves in a good position Sunday with a single-elimination date in the brackets with Cal State Dominguez Hills. The teams squared off for the sixth time this season and the second time of the weekend with UCSD looking to avenge the earlier loss in pool play. In order to be successful, the Tritons wanted to formulate a better game plan against the Toros.

    “”I think we just came [into the weekend] expecting to win all of our games and we weren’t really focused,”” said UCSD left fielder Kristina Anderson. “”We changed our focus and we broke down what [Cal State Dominguez Hills does] and what we needed to do to stop them.””

    Gerckens said that plan involved shutting down the Toro bunts and minimizing errors. The Tritons executed the game plan well, and Michelle Leisen’s second-inning RBI brought Samantha Hayes home to give UCSD all the scoring it needed to hold onto a 1-0 win. Hanley and Martinelli combined on a seven-hit shutout and propelled UCSD into the tournament semifinals.

    In their second of three rematch games on Sunday, the Tritons rode Martinelli’s stellar pitching, and scored a timely run in extra innings to top Hawaii-Hilo 2-1 and advance to the final against Western New Mexico.

    In the last game of the tournament, the Mustangs reminded everyone why they are the class of the conference. Martinelli pitched her third game of the day and was slightly less sharp than in the first two, giving up three runs in four innings — more than enough for Western New Mexico’s Slaugh, who gave up just five hits en route to a 5-1 win.

    Despite the loss in the final, the Tritons were pleased with their performance.

    “”I would say that during pool play we didn’t play anywhere near our potential, but when it was sink or swim, we starting swimming,”” Gerckens said. “”We’re in a good place, but we have to finish strong. Right now we should be peaking, and in a lot of ways I think we are.””

    UCSD goes confidently into its final weekend in conference with doubleheaders against San Francisco State University and Sonoma State University on May 3 and May 4.

    “”Out of the weekend we got momentum pushing us toward the rest of our regular season and postseason,”” Mettee said.

    UCSD will need all the momentum it can get as it heads down the stretch and fights for the sixth and final berth in the West Regional tournament to be held May 11 and May 12.

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