Oregon Ducks softball has a chance to set a new NCAA softball record for most wins to start a season Friday at Easton Stadium.
UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez has a different idea.
“I want to sweep them,” Inouye-Perez said.
One way or another, a record will be broken this weekend. Either No. 2 Oregon (35-0, 8-0 Pac-12) will set the new record, or No. 9 UCLA (26-9, 2-4) will stop them just short at 35.
The Ducks are in Westwood for a three-game series beginning Friday and continuing through Sunday. They are the highest-ranked Pac-12 opponent the Bruins have faced.
UCLA was swept by No. 15 Utah in their first series of Pac-12 play before rebounding with a series win against No. 10 Washington this past weekend.
Freshman third baseman Bubba Nickles said she believes the biggest challenge from the Ducks could come on the defensive side of the ball.
“I really feel like they’re going to be very aggressive defensively,” Nickles said. “Their pitching staff is pretty aggressive, and I feel like they’re going to be a bit more challenging to face than other teams because their pitchers throw more strikes than balls. So I feel like we’re going to have to attack pretty hard, and just be really aggressive too.”
When she and the Bruins are not busy countering Oregon’s staff, Nickles may contribute to UCLA’s pitching staff this weekend for the first time this season. Nickles put together an impressive high school pitching career, but has yet to pitch at the Division I level.
The freshman has been showing up early and getting extra work in in an attempt to prepare her to help the Bruins in the circle.
“Yesterday I practiced for over an hour, and then I’ve been practicing here and there with the other pitchers, and (assistant coach Kirk Walker),” Nickles said. “It’s been going pretty well so far.”
Inouye-Perez also praised Oregon’s pitching, singling out a few pitchers who have performed well this season.
“We’ve got to be able to put ourselves in a position to attack good pitches and manufacture runs,” Inouye-Perez said. “There’s two freshmen that are new (Maggie Balint and Miranda Elish). (Megan Kleist) is a sophomore that we faced last year. So we’re going to kind of learn day-to-day a little bit about the new pitchers, and then we look forward to seeing Kleist again.”
Balint, Elish and Kleist are the only pitchers who have appeared for Oregon this season. Balint leads the group with a 0.86 ERA, followed closely by Kleist at 0.98. Elish rounds out the staff with a 1.35 ERA.
“We’ve watched film and we’ve been working all week,” UCLA junior infielder and team-leading hitter Kylee Perez said. “We approach every pitcher the same. The way we go about it just depends on who the pitcher is.”
Perez said her goal for the weekend is at least a series win.
“This weekend, it would be great to come out with a sweep, but I think as far as it goes, we would love to win the series against as strong a team as Oregon,” she said.