Friday, February 21

Softball consistently comes out swinging in competitive conference games

Redshirt sophomore Rachel Garcia has led the Bruins through Pac-12 play from within the circle. She currently owns an ERA of just 1.3 in over 42 2/3 innings pitched against conference teams. (Jenna Nicole Smith/Daily Bruin)

So far, UCLA softball has passed the test of conference play with flying colors.

The No. 3 Bruins (40-3, 15-3 Pac-12) have won 15 of their 18 conference games this season, most recently pulling off a three-game sweep over the No. 1 Washington Huskies (41-5, 12-5).

The only opponent to take a series from UCLA this season is No. 4 Oregon (38-7, 12-3), whose pitching staff has allowed an average of just one run per game this season.

Oregon’s Megan Kleist and Miranda Elish have earned 21 runs in 98 2/3 innings pitched so far this year in conference games. Kleist is also the only pitcher to have shut out the Bruins this year.

“(Oregon has) some of the best pitchers in the game right now,” said redshirt freshman Aaliyah Jordan. “They’re definitely the hardest team to play.”

The Bruins lost two in a row to the Ducks in mid-March, and dropped just one more to Stanford three weeks later.

Oregon is in the best position to fight UCLA for the Pac-12 title, as both teams currently only have three conference losses. However, the Huskies and Ducks will meet this weekend while the Bruins get a weekend off from conference play.

Stanford hasn’t had a winning record since 2014 and is on the verge of falling below .500 again this year. Oregon, on the other hand, is 31 games in the black.

Oregon hasn’t lost more than 10 games since 2013, and has consistently crept up the rankings all season. The Ducks currently own the fourth-lowest ERA in the nation at just 1.07, besting even the Bruins’ 1.82.

“The Pac-12 is a challenge this year because the competitiveness is greater than it’s been in a long time,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “That’s what makes every win (in the Pac-12) rewarding. You have to earn it.”

Oregon’s pitching might have quieted UCLA’s bats in their first Pac-12 matchup of the year, but the Bruin offense has still been on a roll, with UCLA launching 21 home runs and batting a collective .284 against a conference that has four other teams in the nation’s top 25.

UCLA tallied 15 runs or more in their series matchups against Oregon State, No. 13 Arizona, and Utah.

Jordan and senior Kylee Perez lead the Bruins in batting average against the conference and are collectively responsible for a third of the team’s home runs.

First-ranked Washington currently holds a 0.97 ERA, and before UCLA played them over the weekend their ERA was even lower – just 0.86.

The Bruins’ bats shined against the Huskies, hitting three home runs and outscoring them 7 to 3 in their matchup over the weekend.

Perhaps the only red in the Bruins’ ledger is their defense. With a fielding percentage of .967, UCLA sits at 73rd in the nation and sixth among Pac-12 teams – and it continues to commit errors, posting two in the series against Washington.

Last year the Bruins finished with a conference record of 16-8, but this year they will have to wait almost two weeks before they have a chance at more conference wins. Their only break from Pac-12 play will feature a total of four games against Oklahoma State and South Dakota this weekend at Easton Stadium.

Assistant Sports editor

Yekikian is an assistant Sports editor. He was previously a Sports reporter for the women's volleyball and track and field beats.

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