Long Beach softball travelled to Las Vegas for the Easton Desert Classic series, demolishing the competition through all five games Feb. 16-18 to earn its first clean sweep of the season.
Sophomore pitcher Cielo Meza took to the circle in the first game against Iowa State (6-4), holding them to four hits and one run and leading Long Beach to a 3-1 victory in its first game. Though Iowa State was a strong offense going into the game, Meza’s biggest hurdle proved to be the 50-degree weather.
“The first day was really really cold,” Meza said. “I had the mindset of, ‘Alright, it’s cold. I know it’s cold, but I’m here to do work.’”
Meza felt confident in the debut outing of the series, recording 15 strikeouts against Iowa State, but feeling slightly frustrated as she “was so close to breaking the school record.”
On Feb. 17, Long Beach played a double-header against both BYU (4-6) and Boise State (5-6), narrowly defeating BYU 5-4 in a close rally.
After six close innings in which BYU gained the upper hand with a one-run lead, Long Beach came back with two key hits that put runners on bases and gave them the tying run. Sophomore infielder Taylor Rowland then stepped up to the plate and hit a single to bring in senior pitcher Jessica Flores for the walk-off run that won the game.
Junior infielder Nichole Fry shined with a double and a triple, going 4-for-4 at the plate. The effort earned her Big West Conference Player of the Week, marking the second week a Long Beach player has earned the title.
Head coach Kim Sowder credits Fry’s at-bats as being “timely” throughout the series, during which Fry would record 13 hits and two home runs.
“I loved seeing it, she works extremely hard and has put in a lot of extra work this summer to get faster and stronger and stays after every day at practice, so you just love seeing that,” Sowder said.
After feeling as though she “didn’t really come through” for the team during the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, Fry, who only recorded five hits of her 20 at-bats, knows that every play has a time to break out from the pack.
“I know that each individual on this team will come through at a certain point in time, and I was just fortunate enough to come through this weekend,” Fry said.
Long Beach played another double header Feb. 18 against Buffalo (1-7) and Idaho State (0-5) to close out the tournament. It was the biggest offensive day for the team, scoring a combined 37 runs between the two games.
In the first game against Buffalo, the 49ers had 24 hits and four home runs, two of which came from sophomore infielder Taylor Rowland. After Fry hit a double to start the game and junior infielder Tierra Falo took a walk, Rowland smacked the ball over the right field wall to give her team an early 3-0 lead.
Long Beach would follow it up with three high-scoring innings including two more homeruns to seal the 23-1 victory.
Long Beach rallied back from being down 6-3 in the final game of the tournament against Idaho State. The 49ers went on to win 14-6 in its final victory of the trip.
Over 14.2 innings pitched in the series, Meza recorded 27 strikeouts and brought her season total to 54 with a 0.95 ERA.
“It feels so refreshing from previous years,” Meza said. “Even throughout high school, I always had [my ERA] under one, so it’s just amazing.”
Long Beach is on the road again for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs from Feb. 23-25. Opponents will include No. 1 University of Washington (12-0) and No. 19 California (10-0).