Softball Selected for NCAA Tourney

Despite a disappointing showing at the inaugural California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Tournament, the UCSD softball team earned the third seed in the NCAA Division-II Softball West Regional behind fellow CCAA competitors Humboldt State and Cal State Stanislaus, respectively.

Erik Jepsen/Guardian
The Triton bats faltered in the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament but UCSD has a chance to redeem itself with a successful run in the NCAA tournament.

The Tritons open up the first round of play today at 2 p.m. in Turlock, Calif. against sixth-seeded Sonoma State, a team that UCSD split the regular season series with 2-2.

Playing a team prior to a postseason matchup comes with its benefits. The Tritons have pored over pitching charts, checked batter tendencies and noted which runners steal in preparation for the game.

“”It’s a comfort to know that we’ve seen [Sonoma State] play, but we’ve lost to them twice so we know we can’t take them lightly,”” junior southpaw Melissa Ward said. “”[The CCAA tournament] was a learning experience for us. We had an easy schedule those last two weeks of the season and now that we’re playing competitive teams, we need to step up as a team.””

Leading UCSD to its second West Regional Tournament since moving up to D-II is CCAA Coach of the Year Patti Gerckens and CCAA Freshman of the Year catcher Nicole Saari. Gerckens has turned last year’s 24-28 program into a contender after a 34-25 regular season, while Saari has batted a stellar .329 and driven in 19 runs as she has split time behind the plate.

This year’s players are all rookies to the collegiate postseason, but believe in the camaraderie they have built.

“”We made a conscious effort to get to the postseason this year,”” senior first baseman Sara Robinson said. “”We have a lot of young talent and a combination of skill and desire. We’ve worked hard and put in the time and now it comes into play.””

The road to the West Regional was a little shorter than expected as the Tritons lost their only two games in the CCAA Championship Tournament.

UCSD dropped game one to seventh-ranked Cal State Stanislaus, 2-6. The Warriors popped out to a quick 6-0 lead after three and a half innings. The Tritons finally got on the board on senior second baseman Dallas Hernandez’s home run to center field and then tacked on another run in the bottom of the fifth inning on freshman designated hitter Amanda Eliades’ second home run of the season.

The Triton bats were silenced over the next two innings and UCSD tumbled into the loser’s bracket. Junior ace southpaw Melissa Ward took the loss, which dropped her to 26-11 on the season. The UCSD offense again failed to string hits together, stranding eight runners on base.

“”We always feel like we’re coming back and there’s never any doubt,”” Ward said. “”We’ve done it before and proven that we’re capable of doing it. The biggest thing they were able to do was string hits together. We’d get base runners but couldn’t string. We’re hitting well but they’re just not falling.””

Something Gerckens preached after game one ignited the stagnant offense, as UCSD built a 3-0 lead after three innings in game two against the Gators. Senior catcher Nikki Palmer hit a two-run home run in the second and senior centerfielder Brittni Carino scored on Eliades’ two-out double.

Ward allowed only one hit over the first three innings before giving up a home run to the Gators’ Kristin Bartholomay in the fourth. The Gators then loaded the bases on three straight singles and Ward walked a run in to make the score 3-2. She got out of the jam, however, as San Francisco State stranded all three runners. But the Gators came back and put the Tritons on the brink of elimination, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth. UCSD couldn’t muster any runs in the top of the seventh, ending any CCAA title hopes.

“”It’s always tough to take a loss like that when you’re feeling good and confident,”” Robinson said. “”We got a couple base runners in that last inning but couldn’t get them across the plate.””

Even with the early exit, UCSD expected a berth to the tournament.

“”We knew we were pretty high seeded before [the CCAA tournament] and we had a strong regular season record,”” Ward said. “”No doubt crossed our minds that we would miss the regionals. It was just a matter of seeding.””