After a long off-season of batting practice, fielding and endless drills, the UCR Highlander softball team set sail to the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. for a five-game, season-opening tournament. After dropping their first two games, they marked their opening victory against Western Michigan, 7-1.
On Friday, Feb. 6, UCR faced Pacific University with junior Chelsea Ponce on the mound for the Highlanders. Despite losing the game, Ponce performed remarkably well, striking out nine batters and allowing one hit through eight innings. UCR’s softball team has only achieved this feat eight times in the program’s Division I era.
Seven scoreless innings later, an international tie breaker was held, which means the last batter in the line-up is placed on second base, giving the offense more innings and a chance to score. The Tigers batted first and scored after a passed ball, putting one run on the scoreboard.
The Highlander’s Taylor Wright jogged to second base to start off the bottom of the eighth, and made it to third after a sacrifice bunt. UCR would then ground out to shortstop, and fly out to left field, finishing the game scoreless, 1-0.
On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 7, the Highlanders continued the tournament, losing to the Creighton Blue Jays, 5-2. Freshman Rebecca Faulkner made her college debut for UCR, pitching for five innings. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays scored early, racking two runs in the first inning.
UCR would attack offensively in the third, with Jenna Curtan and Shylene Helms both scoring, bringing the game to a 2-2 tie. Faulkner would allow six hits and five runs before reliever Marcilena Valenzuela stepped in. The Highlanders swung their way to nine hits but could not stop the Blue Jays victory.
Shortly after their loss, UCR switched gears and defeated Western Michigan, 7-1. Ponce started off the game, pitching four innings until another freshman, Kaylynn Pierce, filled in for Ponce. Pierce gave up two hits and recorded four strikeouts.
UCR would then score six of their seven runs in the first two innings. Western Michigan did not score until the seventh and final inning, but could not dig themselves out of a six-run deficit.