February 8, 2011

2011 Gaucho Softball: Season Preview

Feb. 8, 2011

In just three days, the UC Santa Barbara softball team will open its 2011 campaign on its very own Campus Diamond as the team hosts the Gaucho Classic I.

Those outside of the program may not expect much from UCSB this year. The Gauchos are coming off of a disappointing 2010 season in which they finished 15-37 overall and went 6-15 in Big West play - finishing last in the conference standings. In a preseason poll of the league's coaches, released last week, UCSB was chosen seventh out of eight teams, finishing six votes ahead of last-place UC Riverside.

The Gauchos aren't upset with their underdog status. The last time a preseason poll had them at seventh was in 2008, head coach Brie Galicinao's first year at the helm of the program. That year, UCSB finished second in the league for just the second time with a 13-8 record and a 30-24 overall mark.

While UCSB's goals have remained the same during Galicinao's tenure - to win the Big West and compete in the postseason - the process they will use to get there has been modified.

"Our focuses this year are the every day tasks and the small details," Galicinao said. "We have mentioned that our big goal is to win the Big West and move on through the postseason, but that is just so far away from what we are working towards each day: just evaluating each drill and each practice.

"I think it's a good change from last year. I think we are on the right track. Everybody is getting better - the attitudes, the work ethic - it seems to be a good focus for us."

UCSB will rely on several talented returners and a deep crop of incoming freshmen to achieve its goals in 2011. The strength of the team, Galicinao believes, lies in each and every player and the team's adaptability.

"It will be interesting to see how it plays out from game to game, because I think there are going to be a different stars," Galicinao said. "One game it will be the offense, one game it will be the defense, one game it will be in the circle and one day we are going to scrap for runs."

When asked to sum up the Gauchos' style of play, the word that came to mind was "aggressive."

"I think everyone on our team is going to be good at finding ways to score, whether that is on small ball or stealing bases," Galicinao said. "We certainly have a variety of power. There is good gap-to-gap hitting, so we have a pretty good mix. No matter who is in the line up, we will have both speed and power."

Here is a position-by-position look at the 2011 Gauchos:

Pitchers
UCSB has three pitchers on its roster this season: juniors Krista Cobb and Jenny Liepman as well as freshman hurler Andriana Collins.

Cobb, the veteran of the group, was the 2009 Big West Co-Freshman Pitcher of the Year and a 2010 All-Big West Honorable Mention. She started 44 games for UCSB in her previous two seasons and has made 63 appearances. She is already tied for 10th in the UCSB record books with her 26 career wins and is seventh with 11 career shutouts.

Following the graduation of pitchers MeLinda Matsumoto and Lindsey Correa last spring, UCSB will be relying more on Liepman this year. The junior has appeared in 13 games, starting two in her previous two seasons at UCSB.

Rounding out the group is Collins, who hails from Fairfield, Calif. The graduate of Rodriguez High School was a four-time All-SCAC First Team pick, earned Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American accolades and was a First Team All-West Region pick.

"They have been working really well together," Galicinao said of her bullpen. "They have thrown a lot of live during practices, so they are figuring out different combinations that are effective for them. They are really, really trying to figure out what their best games look like or their best pitch combinations, and what they need to do to be successful."

Catchers
Behind the plate for UCSB will be junior Lainey DePompa or freshman Kendall Gill.

"We have depth back there both defensively and offensively," Galicinao said. "They are very different in their style of play; it is just going to depend on what our team is going to need in that moment."

DePompa has appeared in 93 contests for the Gauchos, starting 90. She has posted a .982 career fielding percentage and has caught 20 batters stealing and picked off 13 runners.

Gill hails from Wilton, Calif. where she attended Capital Christian High School. She helped lead her team to the 2010 section title and was the two-time Golden Empire League MVP.

Brittany Grier, a freshman out of Corona, Calif., has also joined the Gauchos this season, but will be unavailable to join the lineup on the field for several weeks due to an injury.

Infield
Leading the team and the infield this season is one of just two Gaucho seniors: third baseman Jessica Beristianos.

Beristianos was a 2010 All-Big West selection and has started all 157 games in the infield since joining the Gauchos in 2008. She led the team last year in RBI, walks and doubles. She ranks fifth all-time in the UCSB record books with her 33 career doubles and ninth with 76 RBI.

"She is even better than last year," Galicinao said. "I think she has really done a good job of taking on her role as the team captain and being the senior leader - not just in the infield, but for the team in general."

At shortstop will be sophomore Keilani Jennings, who is actually in her third season with the team having taken a medical redshirt year in 2009 after breaking her leg early during her freshman campaign.

Jennings started all 52 games in 2010 and led the team in homers and sacrifice bunts. She was second on the team in runs and walks.

"This is Keilani's second year back and she is moving a lot better," Galicinao said. "I think she will be able to cover a lot of ground."

UCSB will have two options at second base: freshman Kathryn Pilpil and sophomore Tiffany Corder.

Pilpil hails from Oxnard, Calif. and was the All-Pacific View Player of the Year, All-County Player of the Year, All-County Female Athlete of the Year, First Team All-State and First Team All-CIF Division I at Oxnard High School in 2010.

Corder, meanwhile, started 26 games at second base in 2010 and led all freshmen with her .214 batting average.

Freshman Lauren Boser will round out the infield at first base. The Valencia, Calif. native was an All-Santa Clarita Valley First Team pick and All-Foothill League First Team honoree as a senior at Valencia High School.

Boser may miss the first few games of the season due to an illness, so stepping in at first may be Allison Taylor or Amanda Ziegler.

Outfield/Utility
The Gauchos are not short options in the outfield.

Freshman McKenzie Kane will bring natural athleticism and speed to the lineup. The Anaheim Hills, Calif. native was a three-time All-Trinity League selection at Orange Lutheran High School and First Team All-County honoree.

Brooke Putich, Amanda Ziegler and Allison Taylor all return for their junior seasons. Putich parlayed a standout sophomore season into 2010 All-Big West Honorable Mention accolades. She was second on the team with her .294 batting average, .365 slugging, 17 runs, 37 hits and eight stolen bases in 2010.

Ziegler has started 76 games across the past two seasons and has posted a .269 career batting average. Her arm will once again be an asset to the Gaucho defense this year.

Taylor has played in 38 games for the Gauchos across the past two seasons and in 2010, she posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in the outfield.

Rounding out the Gaucho lineup are sophomore Kelly McDonald and senior Katie McWhirter, who will both likely be used as the designated hitters this year.

"Their biggest strengths are going to be their bats," Galicinao said. "They have both been seeing the ball really well and hitting the ball really hard."

McDonald started 29 games as a freshman and was third on the team with her 13 RBI and three home runs. McWhirter, a 2009 All-Big West First Team pick, has compiled a .251 average during her three seasons in the blue and gold.

UCSB opens the Gaucho Classic I with a game against Western Kentucky on Friday, Feb. 11 at 8:30 a.m. The three-day, four-team tournament will mark the first time since the 2004 season that the Gauchos will open the year on their home diamond.

For the complete tournament schedule, click here.