With a young pitching staff building confidence and a top of the order scorching at the plate, the Cal State Bakersfield softball team is starting to make its mark.
After winning three of four against Santa Clara at home this weekend, the fourth-place Roadrunners (10-23 overall, 6-6 Pacific Coast Softball Conference) trail first-place BYU (16-20, 6-2 PCSC) by two games in the standings.
"I think it boosts the confidence of the girls," second-year coach Crissy Buck said of the team's recent play. "It proves what we've said all along: 'We have a shot to win this conference."
CSUB has been led by the recent play of its top three hitters -- leadoff batter Karissa Veiga, No. 2 Laura King and No. 3 Shay Fryer. All three are batting over .320 on the season and continue to give Buck "quality at-bats," a statistic she meticulously tracks.
In the last two games of the Santa Clara series, Veiga, King and Fryer produced nearly half of the team's quality at-bats, which generally include reaching base, advancing runners and striking the ball hard.
The team's pitching staff, led by sophomore Kelsie Monroe (8-13 record, 3.53 ERA), is performing well after taking its lumps in the preseason. With freshmen Amber Mills (2-9, 4.12) and Sydney Raeber (0-1, 8.71) rounding out the staff, CSUB has allowed four runs or less in five of its last six games.
"She does a great job of mixing up her pitches and keeping hitters off-balance," Buck said of Monroe, who went 2-0 and allowed three runs over 14 innings in two starts this weekend.
CSUB has gone just 4-17 in the nonconference, but has played tough competition and even knocked off Oregon State, ranked No. 24 at the time, in late March.
"Even though we weren't getting wins it was giving us a lot of confidence," said Buck, referring to the nonconference schedule.
That confidence resulted in a recent four-game win streak (spanning the final game at Utah Valley and first three against Santa Clara), the program's longest since April of 2011.
The Roadrunners play host to Fresno State on Wednesday at 3 p.m. in another nonconference game. CSUB then travels to San Diego (17-19 overall, 2-6 PCSC) to play crucial doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.
The team closes its conference schedule with four games at first-place BYU on April 26-27.