The two winningest softball programs in the Big West renew their rivalry in a promising three-game series this weekend at the 49er Softball Complex.
Long Beach State (18-22, 5-4) takes on Cal State Fullerton (27-17, 5-4) on Saturday at 1 p.m. and again on Wednesday for a chance to take sole possession of second place in conference.
Freshman infielder LT Torres, who will participate in her first series against the Titans, said she’s heard about the intensity of the rivalry.
“We just want to go out there and give it our all,” Torres said. “We don’t want to lose.”
LBSU has a bit of confidence and momentum after taking two out of three games to win its series against Hawaii. Head coach Kim Sowder called the trip to Honolulu a success and praised her hitters and pitchers for coming through in clutch situations.
“Our pitchers did a nice job,” Sowder said. “Christina [Clermont] is pitching real well, we just did what it takes to win games. We had really good pitching when we needed it, and we had key hits when we needed them.”
Clermont continued her excellent season against Hawaii. The right-hander pitched two complete games and totaled 24 strikeouts over the weekend, including a 15 punch-out effort on Sunday that tied Brooke Turner’s school record for most in a seven-inning game.
“She’s getting stronger and stronger as we go,” Sowder said. “She’s learning to close games out better. She’s in really good shape. She’s healthy. She’s just been very efficient going right after hitters. She’s giving our team a lot of confidence right now.”
The sophomore’s performances over the weekend earned her the Big West Pitcher of the Week award for the third time this season. She enters the series against Fullerton’s heavy-hitting lineup with a 2.38 earned run average and 147 strikeouts in 129.2 innings pitched.
LBSU’s next rivals share a similar record to Hawaii’s, but the Titans endured a tougher schedule that included wins against ranked opponents Notre Dame and Auburn.
Senior outfielder Leilani Tupua-Tautalatasi has three years of experience when it comes to playing the Titans, but she sums up the rivalry as just another series.
“[The Fullerton series] is not something I’m afraid of,” Tupua-Tautalatasi said. “And I don’t think anyone else [on LBSU] is after we took [the series] in Hawaii.”
The Titans are near the top of almost every offensive category in the Big West. They lead the conference in runs batted in (308), walks (137) and on-base-percentage (.396), and rank second in hits (367), runs (229), doubles (55), triples (9) and team batting average (.311).
Fullerton boasts a formidable lineup of talented hitters, three of whom are hitting over .400. Junior infielder Missy Taukeiaho, the reigning Big West Player of the Year, is hitting .404 and leads the Titans with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs.
Torres said she is confident the 49ers can slow down the Fullerton slugger.
“I think we can stop [Taukeiaho],” Torres said. “Our pitching is good right now and I think we have a lot of momentum going into this weekend. I think we’ll be fine.”