For the first time since 2014, UCLA softball entered a weekend matchup ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.
The No. 1 Bruins (44-3, 15-3 Pac-12) swept a pair of doubleheaders against the No. 21 Oklahoma State Cowgirls (36-16) and the South Dakota Coyotes (15-36) on Friday and Saturday.
The last time UCLA was ranked this high, the team went 52-8, setting the highest single-season win total under coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.
“Right now we’re in a really good place,” Inouye-Perez said. “The mindset of the team is solid, we’re confident, we’re positive and looking for great things.”
The Bruins took a break from conference play, defeating the Cowgirls 7-2 and the Coyotes 11-1 in five innings Friday. The next day, UCLA once again picked up a pair of victories over South Dakota 4-1 and Oklahoma State 7-0.
The highlight of the weekend was redshirt sophomore Rachel Garcia’s pitching performance, throwing a career-high 18 strikeouts in the two-day finale against Oklahoma State, eclipsing the previous high of 17 she set earlier in the season against Fordham.
Garcia tossed a complete game going seven innings Saturday, allowing just one hit and walking two.
“To have a dominant force out there like (Garcia) is special,” said senior first baseman Madeline Jelenicki.
Jelenicki, who played right field, first base and designated player during the two-day doubleheader, said Garcia’s high strikeout rate calls for greater attention to detail defensively from the Bruins.
“You have to be more prepared when you’re going a whole game without taking a lot of grounders or getting balls hit,” Jelenicki said. “The one that gets hit you have to make sure you’re doing everything right.”
UCLA committed two errors throughout the two-day doubleheader.
The height of Garcia’s performance came in the top of the fourth in Saturday’s finale. After giving up the only hit of the night, a double, and following it with a hit by pitch, Garcia found herself in a jam with runners on second and third and no one out.
Trailing 6-0, this was Oklahoma State’s best chance at getting on the board. The redshirt sophomore kept her composure, striking out the next three batters, all swinging.
“Phenomenal, just phenomenal,” Inouye-Perez said. “The most impressive part was how she changed speeds. She was dominating in the circle.”
With seven scoreless innings, Garcia extended her shutout streak to 27 2/3 innings.
UCLA’s lineup, meanwhile, batted its way to an early lead throughout the weekend.
On Friday, the Bruins led the Cowgirls 5-0 by the end of the second inning. By the end of the third inning Saturday, UCLA was ahead 4-0 against South Dakota and outpaced Oklahoma State 6-0 by the second later in the day.
Putting runs up early on the board has been a theme throughout the season for the Bruins, who have now scored in either the first or second inning of a game 31 of the 47 times they’ve played.
UCLA is 31-0 in those games.
“It definitely takes some pressure off,” said sophomore center fielder Bubba Nickles. “We never let up – our goal is to win every inning, especially early on.”
The Bruins, who for a majority of the season lead the nation in scoring, recently fell to fourth in runs per game after mustering just 7 in their three-game series against No. 4 Washington.
This weekend, UCLA outscored Oklahoma State and South Dakota by a combined score of 29-4.
Next up for the Bruins is a trip to Cal State Fullerton, where they’ll take on the Titans on Tuesday before heading north and returning to conference play to square off against Cal.