The Long Beach State softball team has been picked to finish second in the Big West Conference (BWC) in a preseason poll by conference coaches. New BWC member Hawai’i was picked to win the 2013 crown.
The 49ers and Hawai’i each earned four first-place votes, but Hawai’i edged out the 49ers in overall voting 76-73. Pacific also garnered one first-place vote and is picked to finish third. Hawai’i enters the season ranked No. 23 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I Top 25 rankings.
Long Beach State returns seven of its top nine hitters to a club that finished 29-25 overall and won the BWC regular-season championship with a 16-5 mark in 2012. The 49ers won 20 of their final 26 games to secure their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance during head coach Kim Sowder’s tenure.
Senior Cya Neal, an All-Big West First-Team selection, spearheads the 49er offense after hitting .319 with a team-high tying 24 runs scored. Junior Karli Sandoval nabbed second-team all-conference honors on the strength of a team-best .337 average and tied for the team lead with 11 doubles.
Two-time All-BWC first-team standout Erin Jones-Wesley returns for her junior campaign as the leader of the 49er pitching corps. She posted a 21-13 record with a 2.02 earned run average, fanning 176 hitters in 229.0 innings pitched.
UC Santa Barbara amassed 54 points for fourth place in the poll, finishing just ahead fifth place UC Davis, which totalled 51 points. Rounding out the conference poll was Cal State Fullerton in sixth place with 33 points, Cal Poly (24), UC Riverside (22) and Cal State Northridge (16), respectively.
The 49er women will open up their 2013 season this week at the UCLA Tournament, playing Wright State and Texas A&M on Friday, Feb. 8, at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively; then facing CSU Bakersfield on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.