The Bruins’ whole season will come down to the next week.
No. 2 seed UCLA softball (51-6, 20-4 Pac-12) will begin play at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City this weekend as one of the final eight teams still in the running for the NCAA championship.
“Anytime you win a super and get to this top eight in the World Series, it’s a great experience,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “It’s what (players) dream about at the beginning of every season, to be a top-eight team, the last standing.”
The Bruins will have a chance to finish with a better result than in 2018, when the team made it to the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Florida State, which had climbed out of the loser’s bracket to beat UCLA twice in one day and advance to the finals.
“We’re all pretty fired up to be back at the World Series,” said redshirt sophomore utility Aaliyah Jordan. “We have that fire from last year that we didn’t end our season how we wanted to, so I think this year we’re really motivated to end it where we want it to.”
The WCWS will start with two brackets of four teams and will follow a double-elimination format. The winners of each bracket will advance to the championship series, in which they will battle in a best-of-three series for the trophy.
UCLA’s first game will be Thursday against No. 7 seed Minnesota (46-12, 20-2 Big Ten) as part of Bracket 1 competition. The Bruins are 6-0 all-time against the Gophers, and most recently beat them last season in six innings by a score of 12-4.
Minnesota is led by pitcher Amber Fiser, who’s 31-7 with a 1.17 ERA, and has pitched every inning of the postseason so far for the Gophers.
“Obviously the pitching is going to be super good all around,” said sophomore infielder Briana Perez. “So we’re just going to have to focus on making adjustments at the plate and having a plan, and then out on defense just making the plays and having our pitcher’s back.”
Rounding out Bracket 1 are No. 3 seed Washington (50-7, 20-4 Pac-12) and No. 6 seed Arizona (47-12, 19-5 Pac-12) – two teams the Bruins played earlier this season in conference play.
UCLA swept Washington in March, outscoring the Huskies 22-8 in the three-game series. The Bruins faced the Wildcats in the last series of the regular season, just three weeks ago, and dropped two of three, making it the only series UCLA dropped all season.
“It’s not really an advantage or disadvantage,” Perez said. “I’d say it’s like a new start in the World Series, and a pretty different environment and stuff, so we’re just going to … try to play for ourselves and not focus on who we’re playing.”
The teams competing in Bracket 2 are No. 1 seed Oklahoma (54-3, 18-0 Big 12), No. 5 seed Florida (49-16, 12-12 SEC), No. 8 seed Alabama (57-8, 18-6 SEC) and No. 13 seed Oklahoma State (44-15, 13-5 Big 12). UCLA has faced Florida twice this season, defeating the Gators both times. UCLA also collected a win against Oklahoma in February, one of only three games the Sooners have dropped all season.
With a championship on the line, Inouye-Perez said the team is not worried about the heightened pressure of the WCWS stage, but is instead focusing on playing the best that UCLA softball can.
“There’s a saying, ‘pressure is a privilege,’” Inouye-Perez said. “We’ve got to put ourselves on a situation to not look at it as pressure, but to look at it as an opportunity to be able to get out and compete. Success is when preparation meets opportunity, and that’s where we are.”