Through the early part of the season, the UCLA softball team was seemingly in cruise control.
They’d won games at home; they’d won games on the road. They’d won by large margins; they’d won games by larger margins.
It wasn’t until the Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego that the Bruins were finally challenged in close games and coach Kelly Inouye-Perez came away impressed with the way her team responded.
“I’ve been asking and hoping the team would be challenged and those are the things we want to learn early in the preseason right now so that we can prepare,” Inouye-Perez said. “We had some great games, some close games that they were able to battle and come out on top.”
With five wins in the tournament, the No. 8 Bruins improved to 10-0 on the year, extending their longest win streak to open a season since 2004. That year, the Bruins, under then-coach Sue Enquist, won 25 straight to start the season and finished off the year with the team’s 10th NCAA championship.
“This team is just a different team and we have so much chemistry on the team that fall ball was extremely difficult but it was something that we all worked so hard for,” redshirt senior Katie Schroeder said. “Now that we’re 10-0, it’s like you can just see that everything we worked for is coming out on the field.”
Tied at one heading into the seventh inning against the University of Central Florida in the third game of the tournament, UCLA was able to pull away on the strength of back-to-back home runs by junior B.B. Bates and redshirt senior Samantha Camuso.
After beating UC Santa Barbara 8-0 in the first game of a doubleheader on Sunday, UCLA found itself in a dogfight against tournament host San Diego State. The Bruins pushed across a run in the fifth inning on an illegal pitch and sophomore Jessica Hall (4-0) made that run stand, striking out six in a complete-game 1-0 shutout victory.
“When I walk away from this tournament, the thing I’m most impressed about with the Bruins is their defense,” Inouye-Perez said. “We played great defense that allowed us to stay in games long enough to get that timely hit, and they did the little things to be able to manufacture a run and then hold them on defense, so we learned a lot about ourselves in that area.”
During the tournament, Hall picked up two wins as a starter and one in relief of freshman Ally Carda during the Bruins’ 3-1 win over UCF. In three starts, Carda (5-0) picked up two wins pitching 16 innings and striking out 19 batters, including a career-high 10 in the team’s 4-1 win over Boise State on Friday.
“I think it’s great what she is doing,” Hall said of fellow starter Carda. “She dominates girls that are four years older than her sometimes, and she just makes some of the girls look stupid the way she attacks them on the mound. She does a great job and has a lot of potential.”
In five starts, Schroeder extended her team-high in hits to 21 with 11 during the tournament, and the outfielder leads the team with a .538 batting average.
“We’re so excited to keep this train rolling because we’re just playing one pitch at a time and that’s how you win ball games and I think that’s what we’re doing a really good job of,” Schroeder said.
Like the 2004 team on which Inouye-Perez was an assistant coach, the Bruins are determined to win a national championship.
“We’re on a journey to be able to be our best at the end of the season,” Inouye-Perez said. “Our goal is to be able to learn as much we can, stay in the win column as part of doing the little things right, and then learning as much as we can so we can be ready for Pac-12 and toughen up so we can be ready for postseason.
“Our goal is to get to postseason (ready) so we can play great softball by then.”