With two outs and two strikes on the board, Maddy Ruffin sent a walkoff single through the infield in the bottom of the seventh that brought in two runs and earned the win for the 49ers in the final game of the UCSB series.
Long Beach State (19-22, 7-11 Big West) fell to UCSB (8-35, 2-10 Big West) 2-6 in the first game, but took the series in the last two games with 6-1 and 6-5 wins.
With runners on all bases in the top of the first inning, Long Beach junior pitcher Kellie White walked three batters and brought the score to 3-0 early on. The unearned runs prompted a pitching change, and junior Devyn Magnett was subbed in for White.
“We gotta be better in the circle,” head coach Kim Sowder said. “We’ve been giving up a lot of free passes which has really hurt us. I feel like we are beating ourselves a lot instead of other teams beating us.”
Frustration began to build up within the Long Beach State coaching staff after multiple questionable calls were made by the home plate umpire while the 49ers were on offense. Associate head coach Panita Thanatharn was ejected within seconds after shouting about a strike that was called.
UCSB continued to fight, and brought the score to 5-0 by earning runs in the third and fifth innings.
The seventh inning saw a defensive error for Long Beach when the ball bounced off of Salazar’s foot at second base. The error allowed senior infielder Melanie Menor to reach second and eventually score the sixth run for the Gauchos on a single by sophomore infielder Maci Fines.
The 49ers attempted to make a comeback in the fifth and sixth innings with a bases-loaded walk by senior left fielder Jamie Wren and an RBI by junior first baseman Taylor Rowland, but the game ended with a score of 6-2.
“I thought we hit the heck out of the ball in the first game,” Sowder said. “It was one shot after another with the wind blowing in. We hit the ball much better than the other team, but we just didn’t find the holes.”
Things began to look up for the 49ers in the second game when senior shortstop Nichole Fry blasted a home run in the first inning, scoring the first run of the game.
UCSB scored its only run of the game when freshman infielder Thea Thies scored on a single by junior designated player Genesis Ramirez.
The 49ers had an explosive offensive inning in the sixth when Ruffin and Rowland both homered. With the solo home run, Ruffin earned the first of her college career, and Rowland drove in two runs with her second of the season.
“It being my first one in college was a really cool experience,” Ruffin said. “To be able to have support … the girls were super hyped up and it was just so cool and an amazing feeling.”
UCSB started off the scoring in the second inning of the third game when Menor hit a grounder to right field that was met by a “do or die” play from sophomore right fielder Alyssa Gonzales, who scooped the ball and fired home, but pinch runner Alyssa Lazatin found her way to the plate a split second before the tag. The bases loaded quickly after, and Fines hit a shot to the right center gap that brought in two runs and made the score 3-0.
An important inning for the 49ers was the fifth, when junior pinch hitter Breezy Wise stepped up and earned the first run for the team with an RBI single through the right side of the infield.
“[Wise] doesn’t play much. She came here because she wanted to play more and she works harder than anyone on the team,” Sowder said as she fought back tears. “For her to hit our first run in and get the team going … that was a long time coming.”
Slowly but surely, the 49ers began chipping away and earned their second run in the sixth inning with a shot down the right foul line by Gonzales that brought junior third baseman Sydney McCollum home.
Long Beach continued to put runners on base, but its attempts were shot down with calls from the home plate umpire. With two outs, sophomore infielder Katelyn Hanson raced to first base on a dropped third strike, and the throw from the catcher was dropped by the first baseman. The umpire called Hanson out, and the call brought out argumentative remarks from Sowder and insults from angry people in the stands.
The 49ers’ offense in the seventh inning ultimately decided the outcome of the game. McCollum started the rally when she scored sophomore outfielder Naomi Hernandez on a fielding error. With bases loaded, Gonzales hit a hard shot into right center and Fry tagged up at third and brought the score to 5-4.
Ruffin stepped up to the plate with two outs and two strikes on the board, and sent a grounder through the middle infield to bring in two runs and end the game 6-5.
“It’s been a rough go for me, so to have this opportunity to do this for my team is just the best feeling in the world,” Ruffin said. “I love these moments, these are the best moments in softball… this was our first comeback win of the season so I’m just really glad that I was put in the position to be able to help that out.”
The 49ers will travel to the Central Coast to take on Cal Poly in a doubleheader 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.