At some point in the season, most teams will eventually receive a reality check. A game or moment that reveals something about the team that it had not known until it happened.
In dominant form to open the season, 10 wins in 10 games, the UCLA softball team came away with a sobering reality check for the team in the Cathedral City Classic. The No. 5 Bruins lost four of five games in the tournament, including losses to three teams within the top-15 before gutting out a come-from-behind 6-3 win over Syracuse in the finale.
“I thought it was just a real great experience to learn where we’re at right now,” said junior outfielder B.B. Bates of the tournament. “It really was an eye-opener for us to see where we were at.”
Off to their best start to a season since 2004, the Bruins’ struggles in the tournament came as a bit of a surprise to everyone involved.
“I think it’s important to deal with adversity and to have to suffer a loss is very unfortunate to learn those lessons, but as a result they also learned that they are beatable and they have to respect the game,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez of the team.
The team had committed just six errors in their first 10 games, but struggled defensively during the tournament. UCLA (11-4) committed nine errors in the five-game tournament, including three errors in their six-inning, 7-5 loss to No. 11 Missouri on Sunday.
“That was something that was a real big reality for this team against teams that I think are good teams, but teams that we could’ve easily had beaten if we had played our game,” Inouye-Perez said of the Bruins’ miscues.
“We didn’t play our game the entire weekend. We didn’t play our level of UCLA softball so we walk away knowing one thing: If we don’t play our game, if we give them extra outs, if the pitchers aren’t able to execute then we will lose and that’s something we walk away being very clear about that.”
Despite the four straight losses to open the tournament, the Bruins continued to hit the ball well at times. Freshman Stephany LaRosa tied a team-record for triples in a game with two during the Bruins’ 13-4 loss to No. 13 Georgia on Friday. LaRosa finished with a team-high eight hits during the tournament.
“Going into this weekend, everyone talks about how it’s a “˜mini-World Series,’ but I was just trying to have fun and that’s what it’s about,” LaRosa said of her play at the plate. “You can’t go in there wanting to do too much because your outcome is not as good so I just wanted to have fun and play like it was any other day.”
Trailing 3-1 to Syracuse heading into the sixth inning of their doubleheader on Sunday, the Bruins pushed across three runs, including a two-run single by redshirt senior Samantha Camuso to take a 4-3 lead. UCLA added two more runs in the seventh on RBI singles by LaRosa and senior Andrea Harrison.
“I’m very proud of their ability to bounce back and I had no doubt they would,” Inouye-Perez said of her players. “I was hopeful they’d do it a little sooner, but we just physically fell short. We, physically, did not execute and as a result we didn’t have the outcome we had wanted.”
Sophomore Jessica Hall (5-2) picked up the only win for the Bruins with a complete-game effort against Syracuse.
Inouye-Perez and the Bruins felt fortunate to have suffered their reality check so early in the year. For a program that has won 11 NCAA championships, the goal is always the same each year.
“With every season, it literally is a journey and you are going to have some good days and some bad days, but our plan is to be our best at the end,” Inouye-Perez said. “Our goal is to find the consistency so at the end we are playing our best softball.”