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Softball advances from regionals with valuable lesson on play errors

Junior center fielder Bubba Nickles hit two home runs in UCLA softball’s win over Missouri on Saturday. Nickles also recorded five RBIs, good for a new career high. (Alice Naland/Daily Bruin)

By Coral Smith

May 20, 2019 11:53 p.m.

Mistakes can make the difference.

No. 2 seed UCLA softball (49-6, 20-4 Pac-12) advanced out of the NCAA regionals this weekend, defeating Missouri (35-25, 12-12 SEC) twice in two days, one of which was in a win-or-go-home matchup. In the Bruins’ three games against the Tigers, the teams combined to give up 12 unearned runs on seven errors.

Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said errors and small mistakes impacted the momentum and results of each game, whether they were committed by UCLA or by their opponents.

“The name of the game is to take advantage of mistakes,” Inouye-Perez said. “It’s a double-elimination tournament, so you have to be able to play your best ball, and if you don’t, then you have to bounce back really quickly and make adjustments quickly.”

The Bruins showed how much of a difference errors can make in Saturday’s 9-1 victory, in which seven of their runs scored were unearned, resulting from three fielding errors by Missouri. Two errors in the fourth allowed the inning to continue and eventually led to UCLA’s six-run, one-out rally to secure the mercy-rule victory.

“In the long game, we knew that they had vulnerabilities, we saw that in February against them,” Inouye-Perez said. “They had vulnerabilities when you put the ball in the dirt and hustle everything out, and we knew that … we’re going to take advantage and put pressure on the defense.”

It was Missouri that took advantage of errors in Sunday’s first game, however, as it jumped out to a first-inning lead on a passed ball and a sacrifice squeeze bunt.

“(We) were just kind of stuck in that first game, we came out dominating in that first game against them and tried to stick to that same game plan, but it clearly didn’t work,” said redshirt junior pitcher Rachel Garcia.

But the Bruins would bounce back in their last game against Missouri, scoring 13 runs – three of which were unearned – resulting from three more errors the Tigers committed.

“We came into the second game much more loose and … with a much better mindset – were very clear with what we had to do, how we had to hit,” said junior outfielder Bubba Nickles.

This same pattern of errors determining games was present in the Norman Regional, where No. 1 seed Oklahoma lost its 41-game win streak to Wisconsin on two sacrifice plays stemming from mistakes made earlier in the inning.

With UCLA ranking right behind Oklahoma in many areas of the game, such as team ERA and team batting average, Inouye-Perez said that these mistake scenarios could decide games between top teams later in the postseason.

“You don’t want to make mistakes, because the lineup will continue to go on,” Inouye-Perez said. “It’s important for us to take advantage of anything that they give us. If they crack doors, that can open up something that is potentially really big.”

UCLA will face James Madison in the super regional this weekend.

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Coral Smith | Sports senior staff
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
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