Hoping they hit the jackpot right off the bat, the UC Davis softball team opens its season Friday with games against Arkansas (3:45 p.m.) and UNLV (8:15 p.m.) in the Sportco Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas.
After the Aggies went 25-27 overall and 11-13 in the Big West last year, conference coaches apparently didn’t think much of UCD returning six position starters and two workhorse pitchers from last year’s team. In a preseason coaches poll, UCD was picked to finish fifth in league, exactly where it was a year ago.
Defending champion Hawaii was chosen to repeat, but Long Beach State — in the coaches’ views — will be a close second.
With junior pitcher Justine Vela and sophomore Christa Castello — both All-Big West selections in 2013 — locked and loaded, the Aggies hope to make a statement in this weekend’s five-game tournament.
On Saturday, UCD meets San Diego (11:15 a.m.) and Baylor (3:45 p.m.) before closing things out with Washington on Sunday at 12:15 p.m.
Vela, a transfer from Hancock College, went 15-10 for the Aggies in 2013 with a 2.03 earned run average.
Castello, who led the Aggies with a .308 batting average as a freshman, scored 15 runs and drove in 15. The shortstop played her prep ball at Carondelet High in Concord.
UCD sophomore outfielder Jasmine Lee of Esperanza High (Anaheim), joined Vela on the College Sports Madness All-Big West team. Lee played in all 46 games as a freshman and hit .266 with a team-high 19 runs scored.
Chandler Wagner of Tesoro High, a four-year Aggie starting infielder, led the locals with 23 RBI last spring.
Upon return from Nevada, UCD hosts Pacific on Tuesday and Sacramento State on Wednesday. Both games start at 1:30 p.m.
On the nonleague home schedule for the Aggies is Stanford (Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m.) and St. Mary’s in a March 26 twinbill.
UCD also meets UCLA and Western Kentucky twice each and Robert Morris once in the Wionsburg Memorial Tournament in Westwood (Feb. 14-16), then gets Syracuse, Oregon and Notre Dame in the Mary Nutter College Classic in Cathedral City starting Feb. 21,
The Aggies also play in tournaments at Stanford, Nevada and Santa Clara.
Big West competition begins March 29 when Long Beach State is in town for a three-game series.
UCD head coach Karen Yoder starts her 10th year at the helm.