Softball Stifles Field in Phoenix Tourney

    Junior first-baseman Jenni Habib has started all 14 games for the Tritons and leads the team in batting average and RBIs, hitting.412 and driving in 11 as UCSD is off to a fantastic 11-3 overall start. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian file)

    SOFTBALL — After a disappointing weekend split against
    conference rival Chico State,
    the UCSD softball team used a week of quality practices to regroup and refocus.
    The Tritons’ back-to-basics approach paid off as they placed second at the
    Schutt Sports Leadoff Classic in Phoenix.

    UCSD stormed through the pool and bracket play with a
    perfect 5-0 record before falling to Barry
    University
    in the championship
    game. The successful weekend puts the Tritons’ overall season record at 11-3,
    but even with such a commanding win-loss record, the Tritons feel like they
    have yet to play to their full potential and are expecting to continually
    improve.

    “We still think that we didn’t have our strongest weekend
    again [in Arizona],” junior
    first-baseman Jenni Habib said. “But it was good for us to know that we can get
    the runs when we need them and back up the pitchers and give them the support
    that they deserve.”

    The tourney’s opening game pitted the Tritons against Grand
    Canyon
    University
    .
    After scoring only six runs the entire previous weekend versus Chico
    State
    , UCSD matched that total in
    one game in a shutout victory.

    Senior pitcher Melissa Ward threw her second complete game
    shutout of the year while allowing only five runners to reach base. Pacing
    UCSD’s offense was sophomore catcher Nicole Saari who hit her first collegiate
    homerun, a solo shot in the second inning.

    Senior southpaw Melissa Ward led UCSD to the title game but couldn’t muster enough to win it all. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian file)

    UCSD picked up a second win later that evening with a clutch
    7-4 win over Missouri Western
    State
    . After squandering a four-run
    lead in the fifth inning, the Tritons got back-to-back hits from Saari and
    sophomore shortstop Amanda Eliades with the bases loaded to seal the win.

    UCSD finished off the last round of pool play with another
    shutout, this time thanks to the right arm of junior starter Lauren Chastain,
    as she took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against New Mexico Highlands.

    Habib picked up three RBIs while going 3-3 at the plate in
    the team’s 5-0 win, guaranteeing them a top seeding for the next round of
    bracket play.

    The Tritons entered their Feb. 15 game needing to go
    undefeated in bracket play to make it to the championship.

    The southpaw Ward again took the mound, this time against Eastern
    New Mexico University
    ,
    and again threw a complete game shutout. Whereas her earlier shutout was given
    plenty of offensive breathing room, this victory was made possible by a bizarre
    play that would have left even Abbot and Costello confounded.

    Leading off the bottom of the seventh in a scoreless game,
    senior third-baseman Jenny Maze singled to right. Employing the small-ball
    strategy, head coach Patti Gerckens called for the sacrifice bunt to move the
    winning run into scoring position.

    Senior second-baseman Danielle Lukk placed a perfect bunt
    down the first base line but the crashing first-baseman overthrew the bag and
    sailed the ball down the right field line, allowing Maze to try third base on
    the initial error. The right fielder picked up the loose ball and fired it
    across the field to get the lead runner out, but once again the throw sailed
    wide, this time allowing Lukk to advance from first to second. Against all
    odds, the opposing fielder tried to nail Lukk at second and, sticking with
    tradition, overthrew the bag, allowing Maze to easily trot home from third as
    the winning run.

    “Once the throwing errors began, I really wasn’t thinking,
    but instead just running on instinct and adrenaline,” Lukk said. “Of course,
    once I realized Maze had made it home I was stoked. We had played a great game
    and it was good to get a great team win.”

    In the semifinal game on the morning of Feb. 16, Gerckens
    once again gave Ward the nod and the veteran team leader responded with her
    first career no-hitter.

    The Tritons used Lukk’s fourth inning homer and Ward’s six
    strikeout no-no to beat Dixie College
    State
    1-0, sending them to the
    championship game versus Barry University.

    “[The no-hitter was] exciting,” Ward said. “I’ve gotten
    close a couple of times so it felt great to get a no-hitter in before I
    graduate.”

    In a cruel twist of irony, UCSD witnessed the second
    no-hitter of the day, but this time from the losing end. Just hours after
    Ward’s gem, Barry’s Megan Young handcuffed the Tritons to win the tournament
    championship.

    “It was good to play well but it’s unfortunate that we
    couldn’t take the whole thing,” Gerckens said. “Our bats kind of cooled down
    toward the end of the tournament. [Young] was a good pitcher, but we just need
    to learn how to make adjustments quicker.”

    A second-place finish in a tough tournament is nothing to
    scoff at, but the Tritons are aware that a more balanced attack will bring them
    first-place success.

    “We were able to have a great weekend with a few clutch
    hits, but there is even more offense in this team that is ready to bust out in
    the future,” Lukk said. “All we have to do is stay relaxed, stay confident, and
    play like we have nothing to lose.”

    The Tritons took on Division-I cross-town rival University
    of San Diego
    in a doubleheader on
    Feb. 20. UCSD lost the first game 1-4 but responded and came back from a
    four-run first inning hole to beat the Toreros 6-5 in the nightcap. More
    details were unavailable at press time.

    Next, the Tritons will host Cal State Dominguez Hills in a
    four-game series over the weekend before hitting the road for another four-game
    series against Cal State San Bernardino as they hit the heart of their
    California Collegiate Athletic Association schedule.

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