By SEAN LEWIS News-Press Correspondent
Brie Galicinao claims that when she first saw a pink-haired sophomore at Elk Grove High School, she knew she needed her on the roster.
Galicinao, then in her second year at the helm of the UCSB softball program, thought there was something special with the girl affectionately known then as "Wild Thing," Shelby Wisdom.
"Through the recruiting process we knew she was going to be a program-changer," Galicinao said.
Her instincts were right, as Wisdom is one win away from setting a new record for career wins by a Gaucho pitcher, and the Gauchos themselves are just two wins away from claiming their first-ever Big West Conference crown.
"She's doing what we expected her to do, and more," Galicinao said. "Just performance-wise, we've been able to lean on her a lot, especially in conference. She's thrown every inning in conference except maybe seven - not too many."
Wisdom, a junior, turned 21 on Sunday - the same day she and UCSB (33-18 overall, 13-5 Big West) swept UC Riverside to move into a tie for first place with Long Beach State. The wins in the Sunday doubleheader also bumped Widsom's career total to 62 - tied for the all-time mark for a Gauchos pitcher.
And while just one win over the 49ers (36-16, 13-5 Big West) - who finish the regular season at Campus Diamond with a three-game series that begins today with a doubleheader at noon - would give Wisdom the record, UCSB needs two for the title.
For Wisdom, that's all that matters.
"The only thing that's on my mind is to beat Long Beach," she said. "How our team chemistry is, I know we can do it. By how close we are and how we've been working, I know we can do it. That's what I'm focused on.
"I'm just overly excited about the fact of how close we are. The record is awesome, but if we don't win, then it doesn't mean anything to me. It's about getting first place for the team. That's what I'm focused on."
The chunk of pink hair in the back of her head is gone, and the only hints of any wildness left are the numerous piercings in her ears.
And, yes, that includes a couple of pink earrings as well.
"Pink is my favorite color," Wisdom said with a laugh as she recalled the hairstyle choices of her teenage years. "My nickname was 'The Wild Thing,' but I've settled down. I'm more mellow and shy more than anything, but when I'm on the field I'm not shy."
Nor should she be. Wisdom understands that when she's in the circle, it's her opponents who should be timid.
"I have the ball, and I'm good at it," she said. "I have confidence in myself, and I think that makes me more open."
Thus far, Wisdom owns a 21-13 record and a 3.17 ERA. She has struck out 105 batters in 234 innings pitched, and she's thrown virtually every inning for the Gauchos in the Big West season.
And while those numbers are strong in their own light, what makes Wisdom truly special is her versatility. She leads the team in home runs with six and hits in the third or fourth spot in the lineup.
"It just gives our lineup a lot of flexibility," Galicinao said. "In softball, there are different things you can do on offense. We have a DH, so it helps our team in general."
According to Galicinao, one of Wisdom's biggest hurdles as she developed into the player she is today was harnessing her competitive drive.
"People's biggest strengths are often their biggest weaknesses," Galicinao said. "With her, I knew I'd have to work on that mental aspect and on harnessing that competitiveness. She's really worked on her composure and with challenging situations when things don't go her way. That's things that have thrown her off in the past."
Wisdom's toughness and composure will be tested in this series, especially after she works through the Long Beach lineup a couple of times.
"It's a mental game, figuring out how to beat the same batters three times in a row," Galicinao said. "It's not only that, but it's just trying to stay ahead of the hitters. She has really good stuff and has had some really good performances this year.
"I tell her all the time that we don't need her best performances of the year for these games, we just need her to do what she does. When she focuses on keeping things small and not trying to do too much, that's when she has her best performances."
The Gauchos may not need Wisdom's best efforts, but it couldn't hurt. And if those efforts are good enough, Wisdom and UCSB will come out of this series with some historic accomplishments.