SFT: Gauchos open promising season

UCSB's MeShalon Moore

UCSB’s MeShalon Moore is one of four Gauchos on College Sports Madness Preseason All-Big West teams.

 

UCSB’s softball team opens its 2015 season on Friday in Tempe, Arizona at the Kajikawa Classic. The Gauchos are coming off their best winning percentage in school history and return a bulk of their lineup including All-Big West Conference first-teamers Shelby Wisdom and Kristen Clark.

Last season, UCSB made history in finishing with the best winning percentage in program history (.630) with a 34-20 record. Those 34 wins were also tied for the most wins in a single season by a Gaucho team. Despite the history that was made, UCSB’s season ended earlier than what the team had wanted. The Gauchos dueled with Long Beach State for the Big West title and league’s sole bid into the NCAA Tournament in the final series of the season. After splitting the doubleheader, the teams battled in a nine-inning rubber match where the 49ers clinched the 9-8 win with an RBI single.

One of the biggest players in last year’s campaign was Kristen Clark. Then in her freshman season, Clark had one of the best statistical years in UCSB lore in setting the program single season records in batting average (.437) and hits (90). She also picked up 25 steals on the season for the sixth-most ever by a Gaucho. Clark came away with plenty of hardware following the season, as she was named the Big West Freshman of the Year, First Team All-Big West, Big West All-Freshman, and Third Team All-Pacific Region. She became the first Gaucho since Krista Cobb (2009) to be named all-region.

In becoming the first UCSB pitcher to record two 20-plus-win seasons, Shelby Wisdom finsihed her junior year as the program’s all-time winningest pitcher with 63 career victories. Wisdom picked up 22 wins in 2014 and set UCSB’s single-season record with 24 victories as a freshman in 2012. While she had a dominant season overall, Wisdom stepped up her game in the conference schedule in tossing Big West-leading figures of 14 wins and 18 complete games.

As dominant as she has been in the circle for UCSB, Wisdom has also been one of the team’s leading power hitters. Last season, she earned her second First Team All-Big West accolade in coupling her pitching accomplishments with her team-leading 30 RBI, seven home runs, and 19 extra base hits. In conference play, Wisdom hit for .381 in Big West play and was fourth in the league with her .667 slugging percentage. UCSB’s cleanup hitter also paced the team with both a .512 on-base percentage and 22 walks (fourth in the Big West).

Wisdom, Clark, Emily Brucelas and MeShalon Moore were all named to the College Sports Madness Preseason All-Big West teams. Clark was voted to the first team, while the others were named second teamers. Together, the four combined for 51 percent of the team’s hits in 2014, as well as 48 percent of its runs.

The Gauchos were voted to finish in fourth place this season according to the Big West’s annual preseason poll. UCSB secured 40 votes, as it finished behind reigning conference champion Long Beach State (59), Cal State Fullerton (56), and Cal Poly (50). The 49ers also yielded the most first place votes with four. Coincidentally, UCSB was selected fourth in last year’s preseason poll in earning the same number of votes. The Gauchos would go on to finish second, as they came up one game shy of Long Beach State.

UCSB’s first game of the season on Friday is against Texas, followed by a night-cap contest with Northwestern. On Saturday the Gauchos will meet Ole Miss and UTEP; on Sunday it’s New Mexico.

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