UCLA softball to face competitive opponent in Oregon in conference play
By Obed Ardon
March 15, 2018 1:51 a.m.
No. 3 UCLA travels to the Northwest this weekend to open up Pac-12 conference play against No. 6 Oregon in a battle of early Pac-12 favorites.
Pac-12 members are well-represented within the rankings, with six teams ranked in the USA Today/Coaches poll. No. 1 Washington, No. 9 Arizona, No. 13 Arizona State and No. 16 California join No. 3 UCLA and No. 6 Oregon in the top 25.
The Bruins (24-0) will face the Ducks (23-4), a team that finished third in last year’s College World Series and is returning all but three players to its roster.
Oregon will be the highest-ranked team UCLA has faced off against this year.
“It’ll definitely be close games,” said redshirt freshman right fielder Aaliyah Jordan. “It’s won’t be mercy-rule victories like we’ve been doing to a lot of teams this year.”
Thirteen of the 24 Bruin victories have come via the mercy rule so far this season.
UCLA leads the nation with a .399 team batting average and an average of 8.17 runs per game. Oregon’s strength, meanwhile, comes inside the circle, as its pitching staff combine to have a team ERA of 0.70, second-lowest in the country.
The Ducks are led by pitchers Miranda Elish and Megan Kleist.
“We’ve looked at film for all three of their pitchers,” Jordan said. “I think they’ll start with Kleist but we know the tendencies of both (pitchers).”
In 65 innings pitched, Kleist is 7-3 with an ERA of 0.75, striking out 91 batters while allowing opponents to bat just .117. Elish, meanwhile, owns a record of 10-0 with an ERA of 0.22, averaging 10 strikeouts per seven innings and holding batters to an average of .127 in 63 innings of work.
“We’ve played Oregon, we know Oregon, pitching is their strength,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “It’s going to be a great matchup in their house but it comes down to our game and what we’re capable of.”
UCLA is led by Jordan, who’s batting .537 — fourth-best in the country, on a team with seven players averaging over .400. Jordan also leads the Bruins in runs batted in, doubles and slugging percentage, is tied for the most triples, and is second in home runs.
“We’re excited to face a team that’s going to challenge us,” said freshman first baseman Kinsley Washington. “Our lineup this year is a big threat to other teams. Hitting our way and passing the bat throughout the game is what we’ll look to do.”
However, the Ducks are not a one-sided team – they have plenty of firepower within their lineup, batting .337, twelfth-best in the nation, and scoring an average of 6.78 runs per game, seventh-best in the nation.
UCLA seeks to counter Oregon with sophomore pitcher Rachel Garcia, who has comparable numbers to Elish and Kleist. In 61 innings, Garcia is 10-0 with an ERA of 1.14, striking out 90 with batters hitting just .112 off of her.
As a whole, the Bruins’ pitching staff ranks 17th in the country with a team ERA of 1.45.
UCLA and Oregon begin their three-game series Friday at 5 p.m. in the Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. Saturday’s game will start in the evening at 7 p.m., with the series finale taking place Sunday at 2 p.m.