After a difficult preseason schedule where they played six top-25 teams, the Aggies have exploded into conference play.
With three wins against Cal State Northridge over the weekend, UC Davis moved into first place in the Big West Conference with a 5-1 conference record and a 15-22 record overall.
Starting pitchers freshman Justine Vela and junior Jessica Thweatt dominated the now 7-27 Matadors as they combined for 34 strikeouts and no runs allowed in the Aggies’ three shutout victories.
On the other side, Cal State Northridge’s pitching was also outstanding. In the first two games of the series, both teams were held off the board through seven innings. Fortunately for the Aggies, clutch hitting in the eighth innings allowed UC Davis to squeak out victories.
In the final game of the weekend, the Aggies were able to avoid needing late-game heroics as their three runs by the fourth inning were enough to comfortably put them ahead for the rest of the game.
Friday — UC Davis 1, Cal State Northridge 0 (eight innings)
The first game of the series was a true pitcher’s duel. CSU Northridge starter Mia Pagano and UC Davis starter Vela battled back and forth in the eight-inning game as each only allowed four hits on the day.
With both pitchers dominating, neither team was able to score in the first seven innings, and the game was forced to go to extra innings.
In the eighth inning, following a one-out single by sophomore Chandler Wagner, junior JJ Wagoner provided the biggest hit of the game with a triple to give the Aggies a one-run lead going into the final half-inning.
The Matadors would not go down without a fight, however, as three Vela walks loaded the bases with one out left in the game. With little room for error, Vela was able to stay calm and force the final batter to foul out, sealing the Aggie victory.
Friday — UC Davis 2, Cal State Northridge 0 (eight innings)
After the brilliant pitching in the series opener, UC Davis starting pitcher Jessica Thweatt and CSU Northridge starter Brianna Elder combined for yet another pitching duel. In an eerily similar game, both Thweatt and Elder had no hitters through five innings and shutouts going into the eighth.
The Aggies would again come up with clutch performances in the extra inning as singles by Wagoner and senior Heather Zimmerman set up senior Kelly Harman’s two-RBI single.
With a 2-0 lead in the bottom half of the inning, Thweatt slammed the door on the Matadors by striking out the last three batters to give UC Davis another win.
Saturday — UC Davis 3, Cal State Northridge 0
After an exciting day of play on Friday, the Aggies carried over their momentum to the final game of the series with a 3-0 win to finalize their sweep of the Matadors.
This time UC Davis did not need to wait until the eighth inning to get its offense going as the Aggies combined an unearned run and an RBI single by freshman Amy Nunez to take a two-run lead in the first.
“Amy has driven the ball really well,” said coach Yoder. “I think she has huge potential.”
Harman added a third run to UC Davis’ lead in the fourth inning after scoring on a CSU Northridge throwing error.
On the mound, Vela was even better than her previous outing as she blew past the Matadors with 14 strikeouts and only one hit allowed in her seven shutout innings.
UC Davis returns to action this Saturday against Long Beach State in a home game at noon.
DOUG BONHAM can be reached at email@example.com.