January 31, 2009

Softball Season Preview Part II: The Outfield

Jan. 31, 2009

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Today we continue the four-part preview of the 2009 UC Santa Barbara Softball season with an outlook on the Gaucho outfielders.

One cannot begin a discussion of the UC Santa Barbara outfield without bringing up center fielder senior Tiffany Wright, who parlayed a standout junior season into 2008 Big West Field Player of the Year honors.

Prior to the 2008 season, Wright had been a solid presence in the Gaucho lineup. She started every game as a freshman and sophomore and had a cumulative .272 batting average during her first two seasons with the program. Last season she transitioned from a solid contributor to a star in the lineup.

Wright ranked second on the squad with a .350 batting average and led the team for runs (40), doubles (15) - a single season UCSB record - and total bases (113). It was during Big West Conference games, however, that she made her mark, posting a .487 batting average, 23 runs, 37 hits, eight doubles, nine home runs and 26 RBI. She also tied the Gaucho career home run record during the last contest of the season at Cal State Fullerton.

"Tiffany did a good job anchoring the outfield last year and she will be our senior leader in center field this season," head coach Brie Galicinao said. "Last year she put up offensive numbers, but she also was one of the best outfielders in the conference defensively. It will be nice to have her in center field."

Another veteran returning to the outfield is junior Priscilla Perez, who started 37 contests last season, including all 21 Big West games. Perez hit .235 during the season and posted 23 hits, seven runs and 10 RBI. Defensively, she collected a .982 fielding percentage, making just one error in right field.

"Priscilla has been looking consistent in the outfield so far," Galicinao said. "She has been working well with the right side, which is all returning with Ziggy (first baseman Jessica Ziegler) and Ramos (second baseman Christine Ramos). The communication that she has with the infield is going to be a huge plus for her.

"Offensively she has been working a lot on her swing," Galicinao continued. "She is a smart player and anything she lacks in speed, she makes up for with her reads on the ball. She has a lot of knowledge of the game and that is also true for her on the offensive side. She mostly hits for power, but she can also hit a bunt in the right situation. Wherever she is in the lineup, she will be good and she will make something happen."

While both center field and right field have veteran coverage, there is still competition for the left field position, which was left vacant by the graduation of Nicole Churnock last spring.

Sophomores Mary Episcopo and Katie McWhirter got valuable experience during their rookie seasons and will both be looking to see time on the left side.

Episcopo played in 20 games as a freshman, starting 15 mostly at the beginning of the season.

"Mary is showing a lot of improvement, so it will be exciting to see her get her shot in the outfield or up to bat," Galicinao said. "She has been a lot more aggressive in the outfield and at the plate. She is one of our power hitting lefties so it gives us some options as far as we have our short game slappers and we have our power lefty in the lineup. So, if she is not in the outfield, she will be competing for the DP (designated player) spot."

McWhirter started 28 contests - most commonly as the designated player - and played in 33. She posted a .259 batting average along with 21 hits, 11 runs, three doubles and eight RBI.

"Katie is another power hitting lefty, but she can also slap. She has a different style of game than Mary so the upside with her is that there are just more options. In the outfield, she is also competing for the left field spot. She gets pretty good reads and she has been communicating well," Galicinao said.

Senior Jackie Conlin returns for her final season in the blue and gold. The San Pedro, Calif. native saw limited action in 2008, mostly entering the game as a pinch runner.

"Jackie is also competing for a spot. Like Tiffany, she is a very speedy outfielder. She gets good reads, good jumps and covers a lot of ground out there. She is someone else who adds depth to the left field spot and the right field spot," Galicinao said.

"Offensively, if she gets on, I know she is going to find a way to score because she is very smart on the bases and very quick. Just like in the outfield, she gets good reads on the bases."

New to the Gauchos outfield crew are freshmen Brooke Putich, Allison Taylor and Amanda Ziegler.

Putich comes to UCSB from La Serna High School. If her name sounds familiar, it's because she is the sister of former Gaucho shortstop Brittany Putich (2004-07). Putich was a First Team All-Del Rio League as well as First Team All-CIF selection for La Serna.

"Brooke is a very athletic player and she is a gamer. That was evident during our fall games," Galicinao said.

Taylor, who splits her time between the outfield and behind the dish, comes from El Modena High School where she was a three-time All-Century League selection, earning the honor in a different position each season. Following her senior season, she was named the Century League MVP.

"Alli has great talk out there," Galicinao said. "She just knows the game very well and is a player that asks questions and is continually improving. She has the added challenge of working behind the plate and in the outfield, but she adds a lot of power to the lineup. In the fall she was always making something happen whether she was the leadoff hitter or up when other people were on. She is the type of batter you want to have in the box and somewhere in the lineup"

Ziegler rounds out the freshman outfielders. Sister of first baseman Jessica, she comes to UCSB from Westview High School where she was a tri-sport athlete competing in field hockey and soccer in addition to softball. In softball, she was a four-time All-Palomar League selection.

"Amanda has been working out in the infield, but may be looking to compete for the outfield spot just because of her bat. She knows the game well, so whether she is on the dirt or on the grass. Anything she lacks for in speed she makes up for in athleticism, so she is able to get to the ball. If she is not on the field, she will be competing for the DP spot as well.

"(We have) a lot of options," Galicinao continued. "There is going to be a lot of depth and it is going to come down to who makes that left side the strongest and who works well with the infield and adds to our lineup."

With the combination of veteran knowledge and freshman talent, the Gaucho outfield should be well covered in 2009.

The Gaucho season gets underway on Feb. 6 when UCSB heads to the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Santa Barbara will face Oregon, Wichita State, McNeese State, Wagner, Penn State and No. 7 Arizona during the three-day tournament.

For a chance to catch all of the Gauchos' games at Campus Diamond this season, the UCSB Athletics Department is, for the first-time, offering season tickets. Ticket prices are $50 for adults, $40 seniors (55 and over) and $24 youth (13 and under) and include all 16 home contests. With the purchase of a season ticket, you will also receive a free UCSB visor. To purchase tickets, click here.

The 2009 UCSB softball season preview will continue on Monday with a look at the Gaucho infield.

Season Preview Part 1: The Journey Ahead

UCSB - a nationally recognized university in both academic and athletic excellence - is located on the central coast of California in a picturesque campus and community setting on the Pacific Ocean. Each year over 450 Division 1 Gaucho student-athletes compete for national championships, succeed in the classroom and give back to the community.

- UCSBgauchos.com -

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