No. 3 UCLA finished the preseason undefeated, leaving the Bruins and fellow Pac-12 team No. 1 Washington as the only remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA.
“This is an exciting year; I can tell you that,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “We’ve done an amazing job in the preseason playing team softball and that’s what you need to win a championship.”
UCLA (24-0) swept past Michigan State (10-11), San Jose State (15-9), Boston University (8-12), Ohio State (14-2) and Long Beach State (19-7) in the Louisville Slugger Invitational, outscoring their opponents 47-7.
The Bruins won via the mercy rule in four of their five games this weekend, which has been a theme throughout the preseason. Thirteen of the 24 games played by the Bruins have ended early.
Friday’s doubleheader ended with a pair of five-inning, 10-0 victories over Michigan State and San Jose State.
Nine different batters had a base hit for the Bruins against the Spartans, seven of whom drove in a run.
Freshman Holly Azevedo and Rachel Garcia – who was named National Fastpitch Coaches Association Player of the Week and USA Softball Co-Player of the Week – both picked up a pair of victories over the weekend.
Garcia picked off where she left off last week going 2-for-2 with a walk against San Jose State, adding a game-sealing home run, two RBIs and three runs scored, while also pitching a complete game and allowing just one base hit.
The mercy-rule streak continued Saturday as UCLA defeated Boston 10-2 in six innings.
The Bruins only managed one extra base hit, a double by junior third baseman Brianna Tautalafua, yet still managed to score 10 runs. The Terriers committed one throwing error and threw four wild pitches, helping the Bruins tack on runs.
Azevedo gave up two earned runs in six innings, allowing six hits, walking three and striking out one.
After giving up a pair of singles in the second and failing to record an out on a fielder’s choice, the bases were loaded with one out and UCLA up 4-0.
Boston would score a run on a wild pitch from Azevedo before the freshman stranded two, recording a ground out and flyout to end the inning with runners on second and third. The Terriers left eight runners on base.
Sunday presented UCLA with the opportunity to square off against ranked opponents before Pac-12 play.
No. 16 Ohio State held the No. 3 UCLA lineup to five hits yet still managed to lose 11-0.
The Bruins were up early after freshman shortstop Briana Perez blasted a two-run home run in the second inning.
UCLA then scored eight runs in the fifth to secure their fourth consecutive mercy-rule victory. The Buckeyes self-imploded, giving up a double, walking five, hitting two batters, tossing a wild pitch and surrendering a pair of RBI singles within the inning.
Senior Selina Ta’amilo pitched a complete game, giving up two hits and striking out two in five innings of work.
The final game of the invitational proved to be the toughest as the Bruins squared off against the host, No. 21 Long Beach State.
“(It was) the most challenging and unexpected game this season,” said freshman first baseman Kinsley Washington. “There was a lot of back and forth, we knew they were a competitive team and we had to battle our way through.”
The 49ers got on the board in the first, hitting a two-out RBI single off of Garcia.
UCLA responded with a five-run fifth inning that began with a bases loaded walk drawn by right fielder Julie Rodriguez. Freshman designated player Malia Quarles hit a deep sacrifice fly to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
“It feels really good to be contributing to the team,” Quarles said. “I’ve been waiting patiently to be able to come through when needed.”
A pair of singles from Perez and Washington pushed UCLA up 5-1 before Long Beach State got a run back in the bottom of the inning.
Freshman Aaliyah Jordan then hit a solo home run toward left center that would end up counting for the decisive run since the 49ers got three runs back on a pair of doubles in the sixth inning.
The Bruins missed an opportunity to add insurance runs in the top of the seventh, loading up the bases with one out, but failing to drive any in.
The 49ers went out quietly in the bottom of the seventh as Garcia shutout Long Beach State, pitching a complete game pushing UCLA to 24-0 for the season.
UCLA opens up conference play at Oregon on Friday.