Cal State Bakersfield was one strike away.
Starting pitcher Brianna Sanchez had made it 6 2/3 innings without allowing a run, escaping several jams with the help of a resurgent Roadrunner defense. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, she had UC Santa Barbara's No. 9 hitter, Sam Denehy, in a 2-2 count with Lauren Lewis on first base.
Denehy took a ball to bring the count full, then slapped a line drive to center field, advancing Lewis to second but more importantly turning over the order. That was where the trouble began for the Roadrunners, because the Gauchos' lineup opens with the top two hitters by batting average in the Big West Conference.
Madelyn McNally singled to right field to score Lewis, Denehy came home on a wild pitch and Ashley Donaldson sent an RBI double to deep to left-center field. Camryn Snyder, who had weathered a challenging day in the circle, stranded a pair of Roadrunners in the bottom of the seventh inning, sealing a come-from-behind 3-1 win for UCSB Friday afternoon at the Roadrunner Softball Complex.
"We knew they wouldn't go away," CSUB coach Dan Sperl said, "that they were going to fight us to the very end."
Part of why they didn't go away was that CSUB struggled to bring runners home. Karissa Munsey homered to center field in a 10-pitch at-bat in the second inning, and the Roadrunners managed to load the bases in that same inning but came away with nothing. Savanna Montoya walked, Maya Molina-Villareal reached on a fielder's choice and a throwing error and Jordan Head got just her second hit of the year with two outs, but the Roadrunners' most reliable hitter, Maya Williams, struck out looking on an inside fastball.
That was one of five looking strikeouts on the day for CSUB. Seven hits and a walk against Snyder amounted to just the one run.
"It was just a little bit sporadic for us and not strung together like you would like to see it," Sperl said.
Sperl was encouraged by where those hits came from in the lineup. Lauren Randle, Jocelynn Molina and Head got on base from the bottom three spots.
"We didn't have the timeliness of the hits we wanted," he said, "(but) we did get those contributions from everybody, and we had some kids grind at-bats and get on base, and so that's going to help us moving forward."
With Shaylene Fuimaono in concussion protocol following an injury sustained in last Friday's doubleheader against UC Davis, Molina got another start out of position at third base. She made the best defensive play of the day when she dove to her left to snag a line drive from Jazzy Santos that would have been a surefire hit in the sixth inning. Sanchez also helped her cause by corralling a comebacker from Korie Thomas with two runners in scoring position in the fourth.
"We challenged the team earlier this week because we haven't been super happy with how we've been playing, but today I thought we really responded and played very well," Sperl said. "You can see the difference, especially defensively."
But despite so much going the Roadrunners' way, it wasn't enough. McNally and Donaldson posted 2-for-4, one-RBI outings, as the rest of the Gauchos combined for just two hits total.
CSUB, which got its seven hits from seven different players, brought Ciara Jensen to second base in the third inning on a single and an error and pinch-hitter Samantha Martinez there in the fifth on a double to the wall in center field. Both hits were followed by back-to-back outs.
In the sixth, pinch-hitter Randle's single to right field led to pinch-runner Jay Reeves' stolen base, but Molina flew out to end the inning.
The Roadrunners came back admirably after losing their lead in the seventh, with Williams and Kaia Johnson coming aboard with one out. But Jensen popped out to the pitcher on an infield fly and Munsey struck out as the Gauchos wrapped up their comeback.
UCSB continued its climb up the Big West standings, improving to 20-11 (7-3 in conference) as CSUB fell to 6-27 (1-9). Both teams have first-year coaches, although the Gauchos', Jo Evans, is a National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Famer who spent 27 seasons at Texas A&M.
The two teams will battle in a doubleheader beginning at noon Saturday.