Saturday, August 24

No. 1 UCLA softball heads into Pac-12 play with series against Washington

Junior utility Bubba Nickles hit a home run against both BYU and Liberty this weekend at the UCLA/Long Beach State Invitational. Nickles is hitting .351 on the season. (Taylor Lee/Daily Bruin)

Junior utility Bubba Nickles hit a home run against both BYU and Liberty this weekend at the UCLA/Long Beach State Invitational. Nickles is hitting .351 on the season. (Taylor Lee/Daily Bruin)

After a near-perfect nonconference run, the Bruins enter conference play this weekend atop this week’s top 25 poll.

The first Pac-12 series for No. 1 UCLA softball (22-1) will be on the road against No. 5 Washington (22-3).

“It’s exciting with the great offenses and pitching staffs in our conference,” said assistant coach Kirk Walker. “There’s always the battle of constantly being able to figure out how you can take advantage of opportunities, because they may not come readily.”

The Bruins hosted the Huskies in the teams’ only series last year, with UCLA coming out with the sweep. Washington was swept just two times in 2018.

The Huskies – who were the runner up of last year’s Women’s College World Series – have a three-woman pitching staff consisting of two All-Pac-12 First Team members and an award-winning sophomore transfer.

Gabbie Plain and Taran Alvelo dominated the nonconference portion of their season, combining for a 20-2 record and with 0.90 and 1.11 ERAs, respectively. Both are on the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List and Plain is coming into the series this weekend with two no-hitters in her last two outings.

Sophomore transfer Pat Moore pitched at DePaul last year. She is the reigning Big East Pitcher of the Year and has given up eight runs in 28 1/3 innings this season.

Sophomore utility Kinsley Washington said the team will try to improve its approach going up to the plate.

“Having a better game plan before we step in the box will be huge for us,” Washington said. “Picking a pitch and sticking with it the whole at-bat will be key because they’re gonna mix their pitches and try to change different levels of the zone.”

Through the first 23 games of the year, UCLA is in the top 10 for several categories for both team and individual statistics.

UCLA is batting .353 – good for seventh-best in the nation – and its 7.35 runs per game is currently eighth-best. In the circle, the Bruins are boasting the nation’s second-best ERA at 1.08 and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio at 8.75.

Like Washington, all three aces that UCLA has used so far – freshman Megan Faraimo, sophomore Holly Azevedo and redshirt junior Rachel Garcia – have ERAs under 2.

Garcia is in the top 10 of both ERA and strikeouts, and is coming off a weekend where she pitched 16 2/3 innings with 30 strikeouts and only two earned runs.

Junior utility Bubba Nickles – the team leader with eight home runs and 26 RBIs – said the nonconference part of the schedule went well and challenged the Bruins in the right ways to be prepared for Pac-12 competition.

“We played some really tough teams and in some games it felt like we were even the underdog at times,” Nickles said. “We got the best of both worlds by facing really high-level teams and then teams that were scrappy and had nothing to lose. We are definitely ready for the rest of the season.”

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Sports staff

Veal is currently a Sports staff writer for the softball and women's water polo beats. He was previously a reporter for the cross country and men's soccer beats.

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