UCLA softball will head into a defining slate of five games this weekend.
The No. 7 Bruins (13-3) will discover their place among the country’s best – facing off against No. 3 Florida (15-1), No. 14 Michigan (9-4-1) and No. 22 Baylor (14-3). South Carolina (14-2) and Cal State Fullerton (7-8) round out the five-game stretch.
“I created the schedule this year to be a good challenge, so we’re playing everyone that we can,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “You put yourself in a position to find out just where you stand at the end of it.”
The Gators’ pitching staff is No. 1 in the nation with a 0.58 ERA. Sophomore Kelly Barnhill heads Florida’s circle – boasting a 0.19 ERA and a scoreless inning streak of 34 innings.
Florida’s streaking offense complements its pitching staff. In the past seven games, the Gators have outscored their opponents 39-1.
Michigan’s offense – owner of a .341 batting average and 15 home runs – will pose a challenge for the Bruins’ circle. Senior center fielder Kelly Christner leads the Wolverines with a .600 batting average and 1.000 slugging percentage through 14 games.
Baylor is riding an eight-game win streak into this weekend’s Judi Garman Classic.
“Now, we respect every opponent that we play, but we don’t focus on it,” Inouye-Perez said. “We’ll go to school on them, but it’s really about how we execute our game that will, I truly believe will, determine the outcome.”
The Bruins hope to maintain their momentum in the circle and batter’s box this weekend.
With 22 home runs and a .583 slugging percentage, UCLA will rely on its highly ranked offense through the stretch. Junior catcher Madeline Jelenicki leads the Bruins with five home runs while senior shortstop Delaney Spaulding is posting a .451 batting average and .843 slugging percentage.
Sophomore second baseman Brianna Tautalafua believes the offense’s simple mindset will be key to this weekend.
“Get on base, move them over and get them in,” Tautalafua said.
In the circle, UCLA possesses a 1.86 ERA and 115 strikeouts through 16 games. A significant part of the Bruins’ success lies in the arm of redshirt freshman ace pitcher Rachel Garcia. Garcia leads the circle with a 1.66 ERA and 56 strikeouts through 46.1 innings.
“Five straight weekends, five to six games a weekend, high-level opponents, and it’s game after game after game, so it’s a mental and physical grind,” Inouye-Perez said.
Up first, the Bruins will square off against the Wolverines on Thursday night.