For a team that was favored going into the NCAA Regional, No. 7 seed UCLA softball did not disappoint.
UCLA swept its three opponents, Cal State Northridge, Texas and San Diego State, to win the Los Angeles regional in decided fashion, outscoring the competition 21-2 over the weekend and advancing to the NCAA Super Regional.
“I’m most proud for our team because this is step one on our mission,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “They came to play and we’re on a mission to be able to not just be the last team standing, but it starts with this first round of regionals and I’m proud that they played their game.”
The Bruins were able to capitalize on a revitalized batting order that is finding its groove at the right time. Coming off the Arizona State series from last weekend that saw UCLA hit 12 home runs, the team once again hit double digits with 10 home runs in this three-game stand.
“I think against any opponent at this point, you can never put too many runs on the board,” said senior catcher Stephany LaRosa. “So that’s our mentality every inning when we step in the box. We’re trying to win every inning as a team, whether that’s taking balls or swinging at good pitches.”
Even when plays went awry, they ended up working out for the Bruins, as they did on two separate pitches from senior pitcher Ally Carda to LaRosa.
The first instances occurred in the second inning of the game against Texas, and with runners on second and third, the Bruins were clinging to a 2-0 lead when LaRosa was unable to handle one of Carda’s pitches.
“It kinda hit my glove and it tipped off,” LaRosa said. “So, recovering from there, I saw the ball get away, tried to be as quick as I could and look back. (Carda) did a great job getting there, so it was kinda like we were on the same page.”
In a bang-bang play that ultimately saved the team a run, LaRosa was able to corral the ball and toss it to Carda, who blocked home as Texas third baseman Randel Leahy charged in.
“We pride ourselves for framing. I just give her credit for trying to get the ball to strike for me,” Carda said. “I kinda saw it out of my hand into her glove, so I was already jumping, running off the mound, and trying to hustle to try to get the out.”
The mistake-turned-success happened again in the first inning of the matchup against San Diego State, with the duo saving yet another run.
“That’s not a play that you ever really want, but they’re so athletic,” Inouye-Perez said. “You don’t see that play. The ball gets by the catcher like that, the run scores.”
Although plays like those are unlikely to occur often, the Bruins said they know their defense cannot have a letdown if they continue to advance.
“Defensively, we have to get the job done and Ally’s doing her job in the circle,” said sophomore shortstop Delaney Spaulding. “We just have to be right behind her. We just try to be there for her, and she doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what we really try to pound on.”
The Bruins were in a similar situation last year. At the time, No. 3 UCLA had just dominated the regional, only to fall then ranked No. 14 Kentucky 2-1 in the NCAA Super Regional. Despite this, Inouye-Perez said she is excited about the opportunity to make amends.
“That’s what this postseason is all about. So we’ve been preparing for the whole year,” Inouye-Perez said. “They’ve put a lot of time and effort in, and … it’s time for this team to kinda get a payback.”
UCLA will get that opportunity when it hosts No. 10 seed Missouri on Saturday at 5 p.m. for its first game of the NCAA Super Regional.