The UCLA softball schedule has been relentless since the season began in mid-February.
The Bruins started the year with a string of five-game weekend tournaments that included nine double-headers. During the regular season, they played midweek nonconference games in between several of their Pac-12 series. The team never had more than a five-day rest until after its final regular season series earlier this month.
After last weekend’s bye, No. 12 UCLA (35-13-1, 16-5-1) utilized a 12-day break to recover and prepare for its next challenge: the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s perfect timing for us,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “We’re (rested) up and ready to get to the most exciting part of our season.”
The Bruins earned home field advantage and will host the Los Angeles Regional after winning 13 of their final 15 conference games.
UCLA kicks off the tournament on Friday against Cal State Bakersfield. The Roadrunners’ 16-32 overall record is not only the worst in the regional, but in the NCAA field as well. They finished in fourth place in the Western Athletic Conference, but secured an automatic bid by winning the WAC tournament.
Cal State Bakersfield has a few impressive bats despite its losing record. Outfielder Julea Cavazos and outfielder/pitcher Sydney Raeber had 60 and 47 hits this season, respectively. Still, it will be difficult for the Roadrunners to overcome what has evolved into a consistent Bruin pitching staff in the latter half of the regular season.
UCLA’s dominance on the mound contributed to two mercy rule-invoked victories over Utah two weeks ago, including a shutout gem pitched by sophomore Selina Ta’amilo. She allowed only three hits in the six-inning win and improved her season record to 17-5.
“When (Selina) works ahead in the count, she’s been very successful,” Inouye-Perez said.
UCLA will face either Cal State Fullerton (43-14, 17-4 Big West) or Fresno State (41-10-1, 22-1 Mountain West) on Saturday, depending on the outcomes of the two Friday matchups. Both teams pose potential threats to the Bruins after dominating their respective conferences this season.
UCLA beat Fullerton in a come-from-behind win earlier this year that arguably marked the end of its early-season slump. After the late-inning victory, the Bruins went on to win two of three games against the then-No. 4 Oregon Ducks and then swept the Stanford Cardinal.
The game marked a turning point for the Titans as well: They began a 13-game win streak the following weekend, and have only lost four games since the start of April. Cal State Fullerton has outscored its opponents 294-144, while their two starting pitchers – Sydney Golden and Desiree Ybarra – have ERAs below 2.
Fresno State will provide a worthy opponent for UCLA as well. Despite losing their last game of the season, the Bulldogs rattled off 23 straight wins from the end of March through mid-May. The power-driven team has amassed a total of 58 home runs.
The Los Angeles Regional begins Friday afternoon at 3 p.m., when Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State go head-to-head in Easton Stadium. UCLA hosts Cal State Bakersfield in the following game at 6 p.m.