February 3, 2010

Softball Season Preview Part 1: The Infield

Feb. 3, 2010

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After nine months of tireless offseason training on the field and in the weight room, the UC Santa Barbara softball team will finally hit the field for the start of the 2010 season in just eight days. This is part one of a three-part season preview of the 2010 Gaucho softball team.

UCSB, which finished the 2009 season with a 26-25 record and a 9-12 mark in Big West play, has been picked to finish fourth in the Big West this year in a preseason poll of the conference coaches. Fourth place, of course, is not where the Gauchos plan on finishing their season.

"The goals are basically the same as last year, but while they are the same, there is a much different feel," head coach Brie Galicinao said. "I think last year when we were talking about postseason and winning the Big West, obviously we believed what we were saying, but this year, those are our goals - period. There is a feeling of `we have to get it done' not `yay, it would be exciting'."

The key to achieving this season's goals, according to Galicinao, will be consistency and the ability of the team to remain focused on the game in front of them.

"We have the countdown of how many days until our first game, but once those games happen, regardless of what the outcome is, it's on to the next thing," Galicinao said. "The biggest thing this year is `let's plan on making it to the postseason and doing what it takes and continuing to get better throughout the course of 14 weeks of play'."

Over the next 14 weeks of play, the Gauchos will once again be facing some tough competition. UCSB is scheduled to play five teams that are currently ranked in the preseason top-25 national polls across eight games, and will be playing 14 games against six teams that are receiving votes.

Santa Barbara will open the season at the Red Desert Classic next week where they face Northern Colorado, Tulsa, BYU (which is receiving votes in the national polls), Maine and Utah Valley on Feb. 11-13. The following week the Gauchos will return to Campus Diamond for their home opener against sixth-ranked UCLA.

Highlights of the UCSB pre-conference schedule include a Feb. 19 pairing with top-ranked Washington at the San Diego State Campbell/Cartier Classic, two games against No. 5 Arizona State (Mar. 4 and 6), a pairing with No. 10 Stanford at the Stanford Invitational (Mar. 27) and a home doubleheader with No. 24 Fresno State (Mar. 3).

The return of several talented infielders will be a key to the Gauchos' success against every team they take on in 2010.

"I think about the infield and I think that that is just a lot of athleticism in such a small amount of space," Galicinao said.

The most experienced infielder this season is senior first baseman Jessica Ziegler. The two-time All-Big West Honorable Mention has started 105 consecutive games at first base and is as talented defensively as she is at the plate and on the base paths. In 2009, Ziegler was second on the team batting .335 while also scoring 32 runs off of 60 hits.

"Ziggy is the senior leader on the team. She just closes the gap because she has such a good glove," Galicinao said. "First base is one of those positions that sometimes gets overlooked but she makes a lot of plays that other first basemen can't."

Second base will be covered by one of two freshmen: Tiffany Corder or Jackie Sweet.

Corder, who hails from San Clemente High School, was a First Team All-South Coast League Selection and helped lead her team to the CIF playoffs.

Sweet comes to UCSB from Santiago High School where she was a four-time all-league pick and a 2009 All-CIF and All-State honoree. She helped Santiago to the 2006 CIF Division I Championships and three subsequent CIF appearances.

"They are both athletic," Galicinao said. "They both are fitting into the infield well and the system."

In 2009, it was UCSB's intention to start Jessica Beristianos at third base and Keilani Jennings at shortstop before a season-ending injury took Jennings out of the rotation and moved Beristianos back to shortstop, the position she had occupied during her freshman season in 2008. With Jennings back and healthy, the left side of the infield will be back to where it started in 2009.

Before she was forced to use a medical redshirt year, Jennings played nine games for the Gauchos in 2009. In those outings she recorded an impressive .391 batting average with eight runs scored on nine hits and she also posted four home runs and 10 RBI. Galicinao is expecting Jennings to pick up where she left off.

"Keilani doesn't look like she lost a step after being gone eight or nine months and she has had the benefit of watching a year of good college softball," Galicinao said.

Beristianos will round out the infield at the hot corner. The junior has started 105 consecutive games since joining the Gauchos two seasons ago and has recorded a .265 career batting average. In 2009, she led the team with 13 doubles and was second on the team 32 RBI.

"Jess did a great job again at shortstop last year, but I think the putting her at third base is really going to showcase what a good glove she has and it just looks like her spot," Galicinao said.

"I know that if I were a pitcher in the circle against a batter with a high on-base percentage, when I turned around and looked at the infield, I would feel like there was nothing to worry about just because they cover so much ground," Galicinao said. "They have strong arms and they are so athletic. Just in practice they have been doing a lot of athletic things and I catch myself going into spectator mode. They are exciting to watch."

If you would like to catch the Gaucho infield, and the rest of the team, in action, tickets are now available for all of the UCSB home contests. The Gauchos are scheduled to play 21 games at home, including the four-day Gaucho Classic being held Feb. 25-28. For more information or to purchase tickets for Gaucho softball, click here.

The 2010 softball season preview will continue on Friday with a look at the UCSB outfield.

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