The softball season doesn’t start for another three months, but UCLA has already been hard at work, playing in a series of five exhibition matches over the last three weeks.
The Bruins normally practice among themselves during the offseason – and no more than the NCAA-mandated 20 hours per week. However, fall ball presents the opportunity for UCLA to trade some of its practice time for game time, and see pitchers, defenses and offenses that aren’t their own.
In fall ball, the teams will play without a set inning limit until they decide they’re done, and scores or stats aren’t kept.
In UCLA’s case, competition has taken the form of teams like Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside.
“We scrimmage a lot ourselves, but it’s good to see other pitching,” said senior infielder Kylee Perez. “We like to use the scrimmages as learning experiences, … learning about what holes we have personally and as a team.”
In order to help fill those holes, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said these games allow her to play with the lineup and put players in different positions.
“It’s really about learning more about us. There’s not really a focus on the opponent,” Inouye-Perez said. “We’re rotating a lot of different options within our lineup to learn as much as we can about our team in 2018.”
Inouye-Perez said that she has been regularly rotating her players in and out of positions they’re not normally used to, along with continually shuffling the batting order to see what will work best for what is now a young program.
The Bruins will add seven freshmen – a group that was touted as the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation – to the roster this year to help fill the gaps left by graduated seniors such as Delaney Spaulding and Gabrielle Maurice.
Inouye-Perez said these games made it clear that at least five of her seven freshmen – such as pitcher Holly Azevedo and infielder Briana Perez – are already capable of making a big impact in the lineup.
“You do need to step up your game a little bit (in college) and it is quicker,” Perez said. “I think that (the freshmen) are learning on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s having to field quicker or having to be quicker at the plate.”
A set of new players brings with it a set of unknowns. Junior infielder Brianna Tautalafua said how the Bruins perform throughout the upcoming season largely depends on how quickly they can become a unit, and these early games are important in establishing that bond.
“I think (the) biggest takeaway from our preseason will be … getting to know how each individual player works and how we will be able to create a unit from this,” Tautalafua said.