In a matchup featuring perhaps the biggest rivalry in college softball, No. 19 UCLA (30-15, 7-11 Pac-12) turned what in the past has been a heavyweight bout against No. 25 Arizona, into a relatively one-sided affair.
The Wildcats showed fight in Game 1, winning Thursday’s 10-inning affair 8-6, but the Bruins took the final two games in decisive fashion, including a mercy-rule 9-1 victory on Saturday – the Bruins’ first in Tucson since 1999.
Arizona got off to a fast start in the series, scoring five runs in the second inning, but UCLA responded with five of their own in the fourth, capped off by senior outfielder B.B. Bates’ third grand slam of the year.
The two squads remained tied at five until the 10th inning.
In the top half of the frame, sophomore pitcher Ally Carda hit a solo home run to give the Bruins the 6-5 advantage. The lead would be short-lived, however, as Arizona sophomore first baseman Hallie Wilson swung at the first pitch she saw from Carda for a three-run game-winning homer.
“I was mixing a lot of change-ups with her the whole time, she had grounded (out) every time I had seen her,” said Carda, who struck out a season-high 11 batters in relief.
“I threw a change-up first pitch and she just got a hold of it, she just made an adjustment.”
It was the adjustments that the Bruins made in the following two games, however, that would prove to be the difference in the series.
Following the loss on Thursday, the Bruins emphasized the need to come out aggressively on offense. Whereas Game 1 saw the Bruins repeatedly chase balls out of the zone, UCLA responded in the following two games by waiting for their pitch. The adjustment would have immediate results, as UCLA crossed the plate over a dozen times Friday in the 13-3 victory, hitting a season-high seven home runs.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” said freshman catcher Brittany Moeai on Friday, after hitting her first career home run. “We just flipped everything around today. We were just seeing good pitches, we just did better at being aggressive at the right times.”
UCLA turned in an equally impressive performance in Game 3’s mercy-rule win. But where the story of Game 2 was the home run, the Bruins won Game 3 with small ball.
The Bruins routinely took advantage of what Arizona gave them by displaying patience at the plate.
UCLA forced the Arizona pitching staff to throw 162 pitches over six innings, knocking in nine runs on eight hits. The Bruins would add two more home runs Saturday, raising their weekend total to 11. While that stat may raise eyebrows, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez was pleased with what her team did even when the ball wasn’t leaving the yard.
“I was impressed with their approach at the plate. Today was really more about us dialing into the strike zone and getting some good cuts on some balls,” Inouye-Perez said. “We did a lot of the little things well today. That’s a big reason why we were able to be so successful.”
After taking two of three against No. 10 California a week ago, the Bruins have won back-to-back Pac-12 series for the first time all season.
UCLA is riding high after turning in what was arguably its best performance of the season; the victories proved even sweeter since they came against a long-time rival.
“We needed this right now; we needed something to build that confidence back as we go into postseason,” Inouye-Perez said.
“To play like this at their house, it’s always awesome to silence their crowd, and there is no better place to be able to do that.”