Yellow, white and blue balloons filled the room and congratulation signs lined the clubhouse walls. Twenty women sat crowded on the soft, beige couch, fixedly staring at the giant television screen in anticipation.
As team after team was announced, region after region revealed and balloon after balloon slowly lost helium, UCLA softball still had no postseason destination to call home, only knowing that wherever it did end up wouldn’t be home. And though there was never any doubt as to their inclusion in the NCAA postseason tournament, when the Bruins were finally placed in the Louisville regional well into the selection show on Sunday, the celebration could finally, officially start.
“(Sunday) was awesome for all of us to be together and have a little party, celebration at the clubhouse,” said senior outfielder Devon Lindvall. “We were excited with wherever we were going, we got called pretty late into the selection, so anticipation was building up and we were really excited and narrowing down the places we were going.”
Despite entering last weekend ranked No. 15, and finishing the season by winning three of its last four Pac-12 series, UCLA was not selected as one of the 16 teams to host a regional. However, if the Bruins were at all bothered by their destination they didn’t show it during Monday’s practice.
Late ’90s rock blared out of the outfield speakers, as batters swung free and easy and pitchers rifled throws in the bullpen. Laughter and chants of encouragement filled the air, as players ran crisply through drills. When coach Kelly Inouye-Perez finally broke the team huddle down, signifying the end of practice, the team that ended the season winning 11 of its last 16, ended practice with a water fight.
“We just tried to stay loose, not do too much different, get our reps in and get used to the hot out here too going into Kentucky,” said sophomore pitcher Ally Carda.
“(We’re) just trying to stay loose and have fun out here, it’s what we do best and when we play well we’re having fun so we’re just trying to keep that same kind of mental (approach) out here in practice.”
Make no mistake – the Bruins, who leave for Louisville today, are well aware of the seriousness of their situation and the rarity of this opportunity. It’s why Inouye-Perez said she had the team practice stringing together base hits, laying down bunts and manufacturing runs.
In going through drills that generated a sense of urgency, and in trying to perfect the fundamental aspects of the game, UCLA is hoping to ensure it remembers that even the biggest stages are still just the same game.
“As Chip (freshman outfielder Allexis Bennett) said, ‘It’s going to be the same game with a party dress on.’ It may feel a little different but it’s still the same game,” Inouye-Perez said. “We came out here and we did what we’ve been doing all year and that’s to the credit of this team, that their mentality is: ‘Coach, we are so ready to go.’”