The Bruins’ postseason run almost ended last weekend.
After five games in three days, including three elimination games, No. 3 seed UCLA softball (54-5) discovered that the postseason is a different brand of softball – in which every game will be close.
Four of UCLA’s five regional games were decided by three runs or fewer.
“For us, I looked at this as a positive because of the challenge that we went through, because this team has faced very little adversity like this,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “We’ve actually played such great softball that we haven’t really had to play from behind, and we can now add that layer to our experience.”
Sacramento State, which has 20 losses on the season, was able to keep UCLA scoreless for four innings and limited the Bruins to just three runs total.
UCLA bested Cal State Fullerton (35-25) 5-3 in the teams’ sole matchup of the regular season. The Titans, though, returned the favor Saturday in a nine-inning affair to beat the Bruins 3-2. This put the Titans in the championship game Sunday and the Bruins in the loser’s bracket of the Los Angeles regional.
The Bruins eventually punched in their ticket to Sunday’s regional title game with a 14-1 win over Texas State. This was their first game scoring more than 10 runs since their win against South Dakota in late April.
UCLA’s second and third elimination games came as rematches against Fullerton.
In the first game, the Bruins could only muster three runs for the second time that weekend to force the Titans’ only elimination game. The second game of the day also marked the second time over the weekend that the Bruins scored more than five runs.
Redshirt sophomore Rachel Garcia pitched 30 1/3 innings and threw 501 pitches this weekend. She said that infield helped her stay energized and competitive.
“Right before every inning, the (corner infielders) come in and we each say an inspirational word to each other,” Garcia said. “After every batter, (senior Kylee Perez) and I make eye contact and signal ‘deep breath and keep it going.’”
After going 20-4 in the Pac-12, Inouye-Perez knew that runs were not going to come as easily as they did in conference play and that this would continue to be the case in the later rounds of the tournament.
“The good news is during our bye week about three or four weeks ago, we had two doubleheaders like what happened this weekend,” Inouye-Perez said. “It was a whole new format and it was a little bit of an endurance test to play those two games on that off weekend. I believe that the girls are battle-tested and in good shape because of the Pac-12.”
A Pac-12 team is what awaits UCLA in the Super Regionals, as No. 14 seed Arizona will come to Easton Stadium for a best-of-three series.
“We’re pretty confident but we know that it’s going to be a challenge,” said sophomore center fielder Bubba Nickles. “Like Fullerton, they know a lot about us – but we know a lot about them, so it should be a good one.”
The postseason represents a different brand of softball not only for UCLA, but for all the other teams still competing for a spot in the Women’s College World Series.
And after playing as many games as a single team could in the NCAA Regionals and being held to single-digit runs in four of their five games, UCLA’s first weekend might have woken them up to the reality of just how hard the road ahead is going to be.