A Second Chance

     

    The UCSD softball team earned its first at-large bid in program history last Monday, May 6 to advance to the NCAA Division II West Regional.

    The Tritons lost their shot at the automatic qualifier after falling to first-seeded Humboldt State in the championship game of the California Collegiate Athletics Association conference tournament, last Sunday, May 5. UCSD goes into the West Regional with the No. 8 seed in a rematch set against No. 1 seed Humboldt State, in Arcata, Calif., May 10.

    “We’re excited,” UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens said to the UCSD athletics department. “I think that playing Humboldt for the sixth time will prove to be our best game yet. I thought we played a real tough game against them in the championship of the CCAA Tournament. It really showed that, as a team, we really have a lot of confidence to go and play them.”

    This Friday will mark the Tritons’ third consecutive appearance at the NCAA championships. UCSD won the program’s first national title in 2011 and advanced to the title game the following season.

    The Tritons have just two four-letter seniors on their roster, but they still have an abundance of postseason experience, as the core group that propelled them to back-to-back title games remains intact. Gerckens says that UCSD’s postseason exposure will help down the stretch.

    “These kids want to win,” Gerckens said. “They know how to win. They enjoy pressure, and I think that the veteran club of girls really paves the way for the younger girls.”

    UCSD is 0–5 against CCAA champions Humboldt State this season. In seasons past, the conference had been dominated by two or three teams, floating near the top of the rankings within two or three games of each other. This season, Humboldt State has absolutely shifted the dynamic of the CCAA. In 2012, two games separated third-place Chico State from first-place Cal State Monterey Bay. In 2013, first-place Humboldt State (31–5) ended seven games in front of second-place UCSD (24–12). 

    This season, the Lumberjacks are certainly the proverbial giants of the CCAA — and arguably of the West Region on the whole. Batting leadoff for Humboldt State is CCAA Most Valuable Player Chrissy Stalf, who leads the nation for home runs (24). The Lumberjacks also have All-CCAA selections Dani Randall, batting in the three hole, and Courtney Hiatt, batting cleanup. In the circle, Humboldt boasts Freshman of the Year Katie Obemma.

    Interestingly, the only team to match Humboldt in All-CCAA appointments was UCSD. The Tritons have seven All-CCAA selections: senior Nicole Spangler, juniors Caitlin Brown, Mya Romero, Kirsten Willmon and Emily McQuaid, sophomore Taylor Sepulveda and freshman Callie Grant. If anyone can bring down Humboldt, it could be UCSD, a team that — over the past two seasons — has proven its resilience in postseason play.

    When asked by the UCSD Athletics Department what it will take for the Tritons to win regionals, Gerckens says the key comes down to execution.

    “Just doing the little things right — executing, playing as a team and playing with a lot of heart and a lot of resiliency,” Gerckens said.

    Regardless of how the Tritons fare against Humboldt, UCSD will face the winner of the game between No. 4 Grand Canyon University and No. 5 Saint Martin’s University the following day. The winner of the double-elimination tournament will advance to the best-of-three Super Regional, to be held May 17 to May 18.

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