Softball Team Slides into April With Series Split Against Dominguez Hills

John Hanacek/Guardian

SOFTBALL — UCSD launched into a four-game series against Cal State Dominguez Hills from April 2 to April 3, playing the best ball they’ve played all season — and possibly in program history.

The Tritons got April off to a good start, fresh out of an equally successful March that saw the team win 15 of their 18 games and rocket to third place in the California Collegiate Athletic Association.

Moreover, the team’s 23-11 March record marked the best start to a season in the program’s short history at the Division-II level. The Tritons achieved a 29-13 finish in 2000 during their final season competing in Division-III.

“We showed what were capable of, and what we expect to be doing,” senior captain Nicole Saari said. “We finally started hitting toward the end of the year. The end of the lineup started getting it together.”

Despite their superior NCAA regional ranking, however, the No. 4 Tritons were only able to manage a series split against the No. 10 ranked Toros — sharing the spoils in both Friday’s and Saturday’s doubleheaders.

On Friday, the Tritons picked up right where they left off last month, pummeling the Toros 7-0 behind a career performance from sophomore right-handed pitcher Camille Gaito.

Gaito was stingy on the mound for her 12th win of the season, striking out a personal best of nine Toro hitters. She allowed only two hits and walked none.

Gaito received ample run support from a fiery Triton lineup that poured in seven runs from 10 hits. Freshman infielder Katie Belanger launched a three-run shot to left field in the fifth inning to seal the UCSD win, and finished the game two-for-three at the plate with four runs-batted-in and one run scored.

In their second game, however, sloppy Triton defense allowed the Toros to mount a lopsided lead. The opposition capitalized on five Triton errors for a 9-1 victory to even the series.

Saturday’s play followed a similar pattern. In game three of the series, UCSD earned a hard-fought 4-2 victory over Dominguez Hills before losing 10-1 in the series finale.

In Saturday’s first game, Gaito was again dominant, throwing a complete game six-hitter and allowing only two earned runs while striking out two. The performance improved her personal season record to 13-6.

For the second straight day, Belanger provided the big hits for the Triton offense. Her three-run homerun in the fifth inning broke a 1-1 tie, giving th team a 4-1 lead it would not relinquish.

However, in the series finale, the Toro offense rebounded from their Gaito beatdown to tag two Triton pitchers — senior Christine Zankich and sophomore Tess Granath — for nine runs in the first three innings, coming out with a 10-1 victory.

The Tritons, still in third place after the series split, now sit at 25-13 overall and 15-9 in conference, with three league series remaining. They return to action on the road against Humboldt State on March 9.

“We can’t take them lightly,” Saari said. “We know every team in our conference is capable of winning any given game, so we need to come out strong — play like we did in the first games of our last series.”

Readers can contact Vishal Natarajan at [email protected].

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