Entering their regular season finale against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Riverside softball had prime opportunity to move into the top three of the Big West standings as their conference record placed them just one game behind the Mustangs.
Yet, that one game seemed to separate the teams by mountains as Cal Poly soundly swept the Highlanders over the weekend to send UCR on a five-game skid to close out the season.
The series kicked off on Friday, May 13 with a double-header and the Mustangs got out of the gates early in game one, racking up three unanswered runs in the first two innings. Two of these runs came in the first by way of two Highlander errors which brought Sierra Hyland and Stephanie Heyward home. Heyward returned to the plate in the second to drive a single up the middle, bringing Courtney Tyler home.
Cal Poly’s starter, Hyland, held UCR scoreless until the top of the fourth, when Chelsea Holley managed to drive the first pitch she saw over the centerfield fence, cutting it to a 3-1 deficit. That would be the most noise the Highlanders would manage to make, though, as they were retired in order in the game’s final two innings.
Hyland earned the complete game victory for her 14th win of the season and UCR’s Taylor Misfeldt dropped to 21-15 on the year.
This led to another low-scoring affair in game two as UCR fell, 2-1. The Highlanders managed to get on the board first courtesy of a Holley triple to bring Maddie Richard home, but the turn of the inning saw the Mustangs respond with a run of their own by way of a Breana West double. As the UCR offense once again fell quiet for the remainder of the game, Cal Poly managed another run on the board in the bottom of the third, to notch a 2-1 lead and eventual victory.
This culminated into a hotly contested, 10-inning season finale as Cal Poly looked to close the year with a sweep and UCR hoped to salvage a win to end what was a four-game skid. In the end, the Mustangs prevailed on top, 1-0, as senior Breana Stewart notched a walkoff single down right field with two outs in the bottom of the 10th. The loss was a heartbreaker for UCR and starter Taylor Misfeldt, who closes her sophomore season with a 21-17 record.
After a 2015 season in which the team achieved unprecedented success and suffered only 17 losses on the year, the Highlanders close out 2016 at 33-22-1. Head Coach Linda Garza emphasized to the Highlander last week that her goal is to sustain the success of this program. And, while relative to last season’s historic campaign this year can be viewed as a disappointment, it is undoubtedly a positive development for a program that struggled to make it above .500 for the majority of their Big West tenure.
Even better, the Highlanders are expected to return all but three seniors (Courtnie Ploesch, Natalie Sanchez and Erika Campbell) for the upcoming season and one can presume the experience gained this season can be one to help them grow and improve entering 2017.