Following a four-day, six-game stretch in which UCLA went 4-2, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez seemed unfazed and even optimistic by the lackluster result.
“I’m inviting adversity this year,” Inouye-Perez said.
It’s not hard to see where Inouye-Perez is coming from, following a season in which her team coasted through the regular season, only to end up at the wrong side of an upset at the hands of No. 14-seed Kentucky in the NCAA Super Regionals.
“We would take all of that back – (last year’s) winning percentage – if we could put ourselves in a position to be more prepared for the year,” Inouye-Perez said.
Per Inouye-Perez’s request, this weekend series brought plenty of adversity for the Bruins to deal with. The team scheduled for four pitchers, but that figure decreased to three because of an injury limiting junior pitcher Paige McDuffee to only two innings. As a result, two freshman pitchers – Johanna Grauer and Selina Ta’amilo – had to carry a majority of the pitching workload for the Bruins. These freshmen have struggled early on, allowing their opponents to hit .320 through the first six games of the season.
Additionally, senior ace pitcher Ally Carda ended up logging more innings than Inouye-Perez would have liked, causing an increased overall strain on the pitching staff. All of these rotation woes are amplified by the fact that the team is without former pitcher Jessica Hall, who posted a 2.19 ERA in 2014 as the team’s No. 2 starter.
Nonetheless, No. 12 UCLA seems to believe that the struggles it felt early in the season will ultimately help the team moving forward.
“I can remember my freshman year like it was yesterday,” Inouye-Perez said, empathizing with the struggles of her freshman players. “There is a level of experience that kicks in where you just realize that it’s just softball.”
Inouye-Perez said she anticipated that her inexperienced players were going to face some growing pains before they reached their maximum potential as ballplayers. The UCLA coach added that she believes this early adversity will help them going forward, thickening their skin for the stiff competition to come in Pac-12 conference play.
Sophomore outfielder Gabrielle Maurice noted how the team’s reigning top pitcher, Carda, has made herself an asset to the freshman class as it acclimates to Division I softball.
Maurice also agreed with her coach about the benefits of their slow start.
“I think it’s kind of like a blessing in disguise that this happened earlier on in the season,” Maurice said. “Rather than last year when we were kind of blindsided.”
The team views this weekend’s dent on the winning percentage as an investment. The feeling is that the team has traded a win or two for the lessons that losing can bring, which could possibly pay off in a deeper postseason run this May.
“We want to focus on being the best at the end,” said senior infielder Gracie Goulder. “Facing adversity now will just make us stronger.”
The Bruins travel to Nevada for a five-game tournament this weekend, where they will potentially show what they’ve learned from last week’s adversity.
Contributing reports by Matthew Joye, Bruin Sports senior staff.