Friday morning in Las Vegas, UCLA softball’s work will be winding up just as the work week is winding down.
The No. 12 UCLA (4-2) starts a five-game weekend set at the 2015 Wilson/DeMarini Desert Classic hosted by UNLV with a 9 a.m. game on Friday against Northwestern (2-3). UCLA will go on to play New Mexico (3-2) Friday at 1:30 p.m., Utah State (0-4) on Saturday at 11:15 a.m., Hawai’i (3-3) on Saturday at 6 p.m., and Boise State (3-2) at 11:15 a.m on Sunday. The Utah State game will be played at the Stephanie Lynn Craig Complex in Henderson, Nev., with the remaining games taking place on UNLV’s campus at Eller Media Stadium.
UCLA has the on-paper advantage in each game of the five-game set, as none of those five teams are ranked in the nation’s top 25, while USA Today/NFCA has UCLA ranked No. 12 overall going into the tournament.
UCLA finished the last weekend with a 4-2 record. The Bruins handled their unranked opponents well, going 3-0 against Idaho State, Purdue and San Diego State, but they also went 1-2 against ranked opponents, losing to No. 20 Notre Dame and splitting a doubleheader with No. 23 Texas A&M.
“We try to treat every single team as if it’s a top 10 team,” said sophomore outfielder Gabrielle Maurice, but the team might be better off treating these upcoming games as the opportunities that they are.
Earlier this week, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez attributed some of her team’s issues on the lack of experience of some of her freshman pitchers. These games could serve as a good environment to offer young pitchers like freshmen Johanna Grauer and Selina Ta’amilo a chance to gain college game experience at the Division I level.
The defense is also struggling with a lack of experience, highlighted by the four-error performance in UCLA’s loss to Notre Dame.
“We have a young infield,” said senior second baseman Gracie Goulder. “Just settle everyone down and we’ll play like we know how to play.”
All five teams of this weekend’s opponents are unranked, and UCLA has outscored unranked opponents 26-7 so far this season. Therefore, the team will receive an opportunity to field an inexperienced team in games that are more likely to have a larger margin of error.
“This team is very talented and they’re very capable,” Inouye-Perez said. “But they came out a little inconsistent with their routines and their communication and it showed.”
This weekend set could end up being a decisive one for the Bruins. If their play is sharper and more tempered, it could be a strong sign of success to come, displaying how they rebounded from last weekend’s adversity.