After almost two months worth of non-conference play, the Utah Valley University softball team makes its WAC debut this weekend in a three-game series at fellow conference newcomer Bakersfield. The series gets underway with a single game on Friday at 3 p.m. MT, and concludes with a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m.
CSUB (9-25-1) is also making its WAC debut, and like UVU (7-19), spent its past four seasons as a member of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference. In that time, the Wolverines and Roadrunners met just once in conference play with the Wolverines winning the four-game series by a 3-1 count last season. Utah Valley closed its final season in the PCSC in third place while Bakersfield was fifth out of seven teams.
"Bakersfield will definitely be a challenge for us as we get conference play started," UVU head coach Nikki s said. "We're neck and neck with them in the standings so we won't take them lightly. They always put a good product on the field and we're going to go in with the attitude of this being a crucial series for us."
The 'Runners, coming off a loss and a tie against Cal State Northridge on Tuedsay, are led by senior outfielder Karissa Veiga, holding a .364 batting average and 12 RBIs on the season. Leading the team in RBIs is senior infielder Amy Ricciardi with 15, all the while batting .295 on the year. Three more players have manufactured double-digit runs on the season with sophomores Sydney Raeber (14 RBIs) and Jessica Castaneda (13), as well as junior Madison Bundy (10) all sitting near the top of CSUB's RBI list. The quintet has combined to drive in 71 of the 'Runners' 95 total runs thus far.
Friday marks the first trip for Wolverine softball to Bakersfield since the start of the 2010 season. The 'Runners prevailed in that series, 3-1.
After winning seven of eight at the Rebel Spring Games in Florida, the Wolverines have lost their last five games heading into WAC play. Most recently, UVU held a two-run lead heading into the top of the seventh inning, but visiting Idaho State roared back with a pair to force extra innings where it went on to claim a 9-8 victory. Freshman Brianna Gatlin went 3-for-4 with three RBIs — her fifth multi-RBI game of the season — while Debra Lovell drove in another trio of runs in the defeat.
Gatlin continues to lead the Wolverines in batting during her rookie campaign, owning a .347 average just past the midway point of the season. That figure ranks eighth in the WAC thus far. The La Quinta, Calif., native also paces the squad in RBIs with 22 to her name. Behind Gatlin comes another freshman in Hailey Kofler. The utility is second on the team in batting average (.317) and RBIs (15) but is tops in total home runs with five. Kofler's five long balls rank in a tie for fourth among the WAC's home run leaders.
This weekend's series also kicks off a seven-game road trip for the Wolverines who will travel to Utah State for a single game next Tuesday. From there, Utah Valley continues WAC play with another weekend series at Seattle University. UVU will return home to Wolverine Field on Tuesday, April 8, to face BYU.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.