For the first time since winning the NCAA championship in 2010, UCLA softball (42-13) has claimed the No. 5 seed heading into the playoffs – starting with regionals Friday at Easton Stadium.
“This team has always finished strong in allowing us to be the top-eight seed,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.
The Bruins could end up hosting both rounds of the tournament if they are successful this weekend, but the road to the Women’s College World Series will start with a matchup against Lehigh (36-18), who won the Patriot League to earn a berth in the tournament.
From there, UCLA will play through a double-elimination tournament, posing a complicated series of games with other possible opponents including San Jose (36-17) and Cal State Fullerton (33-21).
“There is an air of unpredictability,” said junior pitcher Johanna Grauer.
Lehigh lost to every Pac 12-team they have faced in 2017. The Bruins bested Cal State Fullerton 7-3 in the regular season and San Jose lost to the two Pac-12 teams they played in the regular season.
“Anything can happen in the postseason,” said Inouye-Perez. “If something does happen in the first round of the double elimination, it allows a team to come back and recover.”
In the regular season, UCLA has utilized redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia in the circle as the leading pitcher.
Garcia has pitched 154 2/3 innings and juniors Selina Ta’amilo and Grauer have both pitched just under 100 innings.
Inouye-Perez said Garcia will start in the circle Friday when the Bruins face Lehigh for the Bruin’s first game heading into the postseason.
“Rachel has been the dominant force,” said Inouye-Perez. “I’ve given her the ball in critical moments and she has really come through. … All the pitchers have even gotten better knowing that they have to compete head-to-head with Rachel.”
This will be the last postseason play for UCLA’s seniors, who have had two regionals in their careers as Bruins.
“We were happy in getting there, but we weren’t completely satisfied,” said senior infielder Delaney Spaulding. “Having those past years in our background is awesome but we definitely want to push ourselves to win the whole thing and to play as few games as possible.”