Pom poms, cowbells and beating drums filled the Easton Stadium air. The alumni section known as “The Bruin Bubble” made its presence felt on every pitch of Thursday night’s game.
“Being out there on the field and seeing that in the stands fires me up,” said redshirt sophomore pitcher Rachel Garcia. “Especially knowing how much of an impact they have on this team and how much they give back to us.”
The Bruin Bubble and 1,328 fans in attendance saw No. 3-seeded UCLA softball (55-5) take game one of the NCAA Super Regional series 7-1 over No. 14-seeded Arizona (43-15).
The Bruins wasted no time getting runs on the board, scoring a run in each of the first three innings. Eight different Bruins collected the team’s 12 hits – four of whom turned in multihit games.
“I thought we had a great approach at the plate all game,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “We had great demeanor out there and as a result we played great softball.”
Redshirt freshman designated player Aaliyah Jordan got the offense going with an RBI double in the opening frame. Senior utility Madeline Jelenicki led off the second with a moonshot to left-center and then in the third, it was senior second baseman Kylee Perez’s turn to send one deep to right, just inside the foul line.
Arizona gave the ball to Taylor McQuillin for game one after she pitched 19 2/3 shutout innings in last weekend’s regional games, including two complete game shutouts against St. Francis and North Dakota State.
On Thursday, however, she only lasted four innings after allowing 7 earned runs.
“(McQuillin) has been a phenomenal pitcher her entire career,” Inouye-Perez said. “She does great things and we are a team that knows what she can throw. The scoreboard wipes clean tomorrow and if we see her again we have to go after her again.”
In the circle, Garcia turned in five innings of shutout softball only needing 70 pitches to do so. She retired the first 10 batters she saw before giving up her only walk of the game in the fourth inning. Garcia struck out eight and only gave up 1 hit.
“My biggest thing is to get ahead in the count and be able to expand on all of my pitches,” Garcia said. “That’s my game plan for every batter.”
In the fifth, Garcia helped herself out at the plate by connecting on her 11th home run of the year. Jelenicki went to the opposite field to hit her second home run of the game and UCLA’s fourth home run on the night.
“Our energy is pretty high no matter what, sometimes it’s the big hits other times its manufacturing runs in little ways,” Jelenicki said. “Our dugout does a great job of keeping the energy up no matter how we get runs in.”
Freshman Holly Azevedo pitched in relief for the final two innings and recorded a strikeout, a walk and an unearned run.
That unearned run came in the seventh inning. Jessie Harper got the inning started with a single to left. A fielder’s choice off the bat of Malia Martinez scored Arizona’s only run of the game. Azevedo ended the game with a strikeout.
The series resumes Friday night at 6 p.m. at Easton Stadium.
“There’s a great deal of respect for Arizona, the history is something that is very real and there are a lot of great memories,” Inouye-Perez said. “Game one is the big one and I’m very proud that we got after game number one.”