After months of practicing and preparing for the start of the season, the Long Beach State softball team finally got to hit the field and put its skills to the test in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge.
The five-game series in Mexico saw Long Beach nearly record a full sweep, winning four out of five games and narrowly losing the fifth after 10 innings against No. 21 James Madison University, (3-2) 6-4.
In the debut game of the season against Louisiana Tech (1-5), Long Beach engaged in a close pitching battle as sophomore pitcher Cielo Meza allowed only one run in the first inning and two hits throughout the entire game. Though she threw two walks in her seven innings pitched, Meza shut down Louisiana Tech with a strong 12 strikeouts.
Head coach Kim Sowder was very impressed with Meza in her first outing, noting that she went up against some “very good offenses.”
“In those tight situation games, three in a row, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Sowder said. “She really led the way for us in the circle.”
While Meza shined in the circle with 27 strikeouts in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, freshman outfielder Naomi Hernandez crushed home plate with 12 hits out of her 19 at-bats, starting her college career with a batting average of .632 and earned the honor of Big West Field Player of the Week.
“It was really exciting getting out there and being able to start games, it was a really good experience,” Hernandez said. “I was taking it pitch-by-pitch and in college you can’t let too many good pitches go by, so I was trying to attack anything that was close.”
Following its strong pitching in game one of the season, the team would come back the next day for a double header against Nevada (2-3) and James Madison University, in which it recorded another two victories. The first game against Nevada saw Long Beach rack up huge numbers, recording 18 hits and 16 runs while Nevada was only able to earn 11 hits and eight runs against sophomore pitcher Devyn Magnett.
In the first game against James Madison University, the team encountered its first close battle of the weekend as the two teams duked it out in extra innings. After seven strong-played innings, Long Beach was able to put the bat on the ball and earn four key hits to put runners on base and earn the three runs to push for the 4-2 win.
On the final day of the tournament, the 49ers went back up against Nevada and James Madison University, in which they recorded another win in a close match-up with Nevada, narrowly earning the 7-6 win over the Wolf Pack. The score was close with Long Beach up 2-1 going into the bottom of the fifth inning, and after getting two batters on base, junior infielder Tierra Falo belted a homerun to left field, earning her three RBIs and her team a key increase in their lead late in the game.
“I just saw that there was runners on and I wanted to do my job and get them in,” Falo said. “The home run just put the icing on the cake, so it felt good.”
In the final game of the series, however, the 49ers would lose a close battle to James Madison University in the heated 10-inning matchup, in which the opponents ultimately earned three runs in the 10th inning to take the 6-3 lead. Though Hernandez was able to record one final RBI in the bottom of the tenth, it would bring her team just short of reaching the Dukes with the final score 6-4.
When the team wasn’t on the field playing during the series, they were enjoying their time together in the hotel and at a youth camp where they spent time with an elementary school.
“It was a very great, humbling and amazing experience,” Falo said. “My favorite part was going to Ipsac [Elementary]…we showed them some drills that we do, throwing, Devyn Magnett did a pitching demo and we had a little dance party with them afterwards.”
Despite one loss, the team feel very positive about its play during the series and have “a lot of energy” going into the next weekend series.
“After that last game that we lost to James Madison in extra innings, it just made us hungrier even more to come out strong against the teams in Nevada,” Falo said.
The 49ers will hit the road again this weekend as they travel to Las Vegas to face off in the Easton Desert Classic, playing Iowa State (2-3) on Friday, followed by a double-header against BYU (1-4) and Boise State (3-3) on Saturday and a final double header against the University of Buffalo (1-3) and Idaho State on Sunday.