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Topsy-Turvy Schedule Lies Ahead For Big West Softball

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A week after regional rivalries headlined the Big West softball slate, this week's schedule has the early leaders taking on the lower tier, as well as a matchup between the middle clubs.  There will also be a historic non-conference matchup as Pacific hosts Santa Clara in the first home night game in Tiger history Tuesday.

Tri-leaders Pacific, UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton, who are all 4-2 in the league, take on Cal State Northridge, UC Riverside and Cal Poly, respectively, who all sport 2-4 marks in conference action.

That leaves a big matchup in the middle as UC Davis comes to Southern California to battle Long Beach State. Those two clubs sit at 3-3 in the league standings.

Cal State Fullerton head coach Michelle Gromacki is just the fourth coach in league history to win 350+ overall games and 150+conference outings during Big West membership. This season, Gromacki has a chance to add to her legacy as the 12th-year coach is just four wins from 400 for her career. She would become just the fourth coach, and just the second active, to reach that illustrious milestone in conference history.

Pacific has been adding bits and pieces to the argument that it is back amongst the Big West elite this season, but the most tangible bit of evidence has come in it’s current win total. The Tigers come into this week with 24 wins, matching their total from last season and just one win shy of their highest total from the 2008-10 seasons. If Pacific can continue it’s current pace, it will cross the 30-win barrier for the first time since 2007, which was also the last time the club reached the NCAA Tournament.

The Central Coast rivalry matchup between UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly had several interesting subplots coming into it. UCSB had lost six in a row to its rival and had dropped it’s opening conference series to Cal State Fullerton, while the Mustangs reversed a its non-conference luck with a series win over UC Riverside during the opening Big West weekend.

So what happened? The Gauchos exploded for 27 runs over the three games, sweeping the Mustangs at Bob Janssen Field in San Luis Obispo. It marked the first series win for UCSB over Cal Poly since 2008, which was a sweep at the friendly confines of Campus Diamond in Santa Barbara.

The 27 runs is the most for UC Santa Barbara in a Big West series sweep since 2003 when it scored 34 runs in a sweep over former Big West member Utah State. Additionally, the Gauchos scored 10+ runs against a conference foe in back-to-back road games for the first time since that Aggie series.

An interesting trend has developed from the Big West Player and Pitcher of the Week awards, underclassmen have ruled them. Of the 21 honors handed out at this point in the season, 12 of them have gone to freshmen or sophomores. It hasn’t been a trend relegated to the early weeks of the season either as underclassmen have won seven of the 10 awards handed out since March 21.

 • Cal Poly's Kim Westlund has recorded the longest hitting streak so far this season in the Big West, an 11-game run. The longest curenty streak in the league belongs to Pacific’s Amy Moore, who has hit safely in nine straight contests.

 • Pacific's Nikki Armagost and Megan Hom are the only pair of teammates in the league with 10+ multi-hit games with 14 such contests. That number is the best in the league. The Tigers also have a Big West-high 77 multi-hit games.

 • Long Beach State has had its leadoff hitter reach base safely 107 times in 244 chances, a 43.9% success rate which ranks tops in the league. The 49ers and UC Santa Barbara (40.7) are the lone clubs in the league to have their leadoff hitters get on at least 40% of the time.

The second edition of the RPI report was released and the Big West continues to strengthen its case for multiple bids. Long Beach State continues to lead the pack at #26, while Pacific climbed up to the #42 slot. Cal State Fullerton stayed pat at #69, with UC Santa Barbara coming in at 109. Throw in UC Davis (117) and Cal Poly (122) and the Big West has six teams in the top 125.

UC Davis' Jessica Gonzalez may only have 68 at-bats this season, but she has struck out only three times all season. That comes out to a strikeout every 22.7 at-bats, a number that is good for 33rd in the country. On the flip side, three UC Santa Barbara players pace the Big West in strikeouts as Lauren Boser (32), Keilani Jennings (29) and McKenzie Kane (28) are a part of that strikeout trifecta.

Cal State Fullerton's 3-2 win over Oregon State on March 6 was not only the clubs' second victory over a Pac-10 school this season, but also delivered a bit of history. The win was the 1,000th in the history of the program as a member of the Big West, the first school to reach that illustrious number is league history. The Titans now stand at 1,009-556-3 all-time.

The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America has selected its initial watch list for the 10th annual ASA USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award and two Big West players have made the exclusive preseason list.

Cal Poly's Anna Cahn and UC Davis' Alex Holmes are among the 50 names on the preseason list, the first leg of the process for what is considered the most prestigious honor in Division I women’s softball. The ASA will announce the 25 finalists on April 13. A player does not have to appear on the initial watch list to be considered as a top 25 finalist. However, once the top 25 finalists are named the winner of the award will come from that list. Freshman qualify for the top 25 list once they have competed at the collegiate level.

Tairia Flowers, who has enjoyed success as an outstanding collegiate player, an Olympic gold medal winner and as a successful collegiate assistant coach, is the new head coach of the softball program at Cal State Northridge. Flowers begins her new duties at Cal State Northridge after serving the past four seasons (2007-10) as an assistant softball coach at Big West rival Long Beach State.

As a member of the 49ers coaching staff, Flowers helped the team to two NCAA Tournament appearances and Top-25 rankings on numerous occasions. Flowers helped coach 29 Big West All-Conference selections and six Academic All-Americans. As a team, Long Beach State set numerous and individual school records including batting average, runs batted in, doubles, triples and walks.