Softball Finishes Best D-II Season

    The most successful season in UCSD softball history at the Division II level came to a close on May 12 at the NCAA West Regionals.

    Erik Jepsen/Guardian
    The Tritons have reason to celebrate their 2007 season, their best in Division II history, as they finished the year with a program-best 35-27 record and made it to the NCAA West Regional.

    The Tritons finished with a 35-27 overall record, tied for the most wins in program history and concluded the season in second place in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, a far cry from the predicted sixth-place finish.

    Scoring runs was a riddle that head coach Patti Gerckens tried to solve all season long. The inability to string hits together and provide run support to strong outings by junior pitching ace Melissa Ward continued to pester the Tritons at regionals.

    “”People deal with pressure differently and some put more pressure on themselves with runners in scoring position,”” Gerckens said. “”[Ward] made a couple of mistakes, but when you don’t have any runs on the board, those mistakes get magnified.””

    Sonoma State held UCSD hitless through the first six innings in the tournament opener, UCSD’s first regional game since 2002. Only two runners reached base during the span. Ward kept the Tritons close as she pitched into the bottom of the seventh, striking out eight batters and allowing only three hits.

    Freshman shortstop Amanda Eliades notched the Tritons’ first hit singling down the left field line. Senior second baseman Dallas Hernandez followed with a single up the middle before junior third baseman Jenny Maze ripped a single of her own to left center, scoring Eliades and giving UCSD the 1-0 victory.

    The thrilling win got UCSD started off with a bang and boosted the confidence of a team made up of playoff rookies.

    The Tritons’ next game was against Cal State Stanislaus, the team that helped knock UCSD out of the CCAA championship tournament just a week earlier.

    The Warriors had UCSD’s number all season, winning four of five contests all in dramatic fashion, and the duel on May 11 was no different.

    The game started with both teams remaining scoreless through six innings, until the conclusion of the thriller was postponed to the next morning.

    “”We left, ate and slept,”” Gerckens said. “”They didn’t need to be motivated and they were ready to go at 6:30 a.m. when we got on the bus. It definitely wasn’t the most beneficial thing.””

    Play resumed at 9 a.m. on May 12 and after two more scoreless innings, tensions began to rise, as each proceeding hit could be the winner.

    In the top of the ninth, Cal State Stanislaus catcher Jessica Scholl blasted a three-run home run off Ward that would prove to be the game-winner, as UCSD pinch hitter and CCAA Freshman of the Year Nicole Saari flied out to center field to end the game with the Warriors on top, 0-3.

    Dropped into the losers’ bracket, the Tritons faced what most would consider their toughest test – CCAA champion and third-ranked Humboldt State. The Lumberjacks had faltered in their opening game to Seattle University, which dropped Humboldt State to the losers’ bracket, setting up the matchup with UCSD.

    The Lumberjacks took three of four from the Tritons during CCAA play, but the team remained confident.

    “”I really felt we were going to win if we scored runs, but we didn’t,”” Gerckens said. “”We had our chances with runners on second and third with less than two outs in two different innings and couldn’t get them across.””

    Humboldt State got on the board in the bottom of the first and added another run in the bottom of the fourth on a solo home run to take a 2-0 advantage. The Triton bats remained cold, as UCSD managed only four hits off of Humboldt State’s CCAA Pitcher of the Year Lizzy Prescott, who struck out 12 Tritons and knocked UCSD out of the tournament.

    Despite the disappointment of not winning the tournament, Gerckens is still proud of the vast improvements that the team has made in only a year’s time.

    “”The seniors decided last year that they were going to the postseason,”” Gerckens said. “”They committed themselves and fueled us to get there. Melissa got another year under her belt and really helped us out. We haven’t won big all season, but we’ve found ways to win.””

    The Tritons will lose four seniors from this year’s squad but they’ve left the knowledge and drive to make it back to the postseason.

    “”The seniors wanted to start a tradition and instilled that desire in the underclassmen,”” Gerckens said. “”The underclassmen know that feeling and like that feeling and want to go back.””

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