Just one team separates the Bruins and Longhorns in the national rankings.
No. 1 UCLA softball (15-0) will square off against No. 3 Texas (16-2) on Thursday at Easton Stadium in its highest-ranked matchup of the regular season so far. The Bruins will then head south to play in the San Diego Classic on Friday through Sunday.
“I think any top-ranked team is going to bring their A-game,” said junior pitcher Holly Azevedo. “It’s an opportunity to see what (Texas) is bringing and what’s going to happen in the postseason.”
In the most recent poll, UCLA received 20 first-place votes to claim the top spot in the nation for the second straight week. The Bruins have not lost a game since May 19, having won eight straight games to close out their 2019 NCAA championship run and 15 straight to begin the 2020 season.
UCLA has played four ranked opponents so far – No. 15 Georgia, No. 12 Alabama, No. 8 Florida State and No. 6 Florida – and came away with four wins.
While the Bruins beat the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide by 12 runs combined, they trailed going into the seventh against the Seminoles and went to extra innings against the Gators. UCLA managed to escape both games with a one-run victory.
“(Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez) says she loves that we get challenged early on,” said junior infielder Briana Perez. “This is the time to get challenged and learn who we are. It really helps us grow as a team and realize what we need to work on.”
After starting the season ranked No. 6, the Longhorns rose to No. 3 on the back of a season-opening 14-game win streak. Texas has already notched one win against a Pac-12 team during that span, beating Utah 3-2 on Feb. 14.
In addition to the national rankings, the Longhorns and Bruins are also neck and neck in a number of statistical categories.
Texas and UCLA are the only two teams in the NCAA batting above .400, hitting .404 and .401, respectively. The Bruins and Longhorns are also top three in the nation in runs scored, with both teams averaging over eight runs per game.
The Bruins’ pitching staff boasts the fourth-lowest ERA in the country at 1.19 and the top strikeout-to-walk ratio at 12.60. For the Longhorns, pitcher Miranda Elish has allowed just six earned runs in 47 innings, leading Texas to a Big-12-best 1.70 ERA.
The Bruins and Longhorns last played in 2017, with UCLA ultimately coming out on top 3-2.
“We know that (Texas) is a very competitive team,” said assistant coach Kirk Walker. “They’ve got a very talented group of athletes. We expect them to come in and play at a very high level and challenge us.”
UCLA will next play at the San Diego Classic, facing off against Mount St. Mary’s (0-8) on Friday, Weber State (5-10) and San Diego State (11-7) on Saturday and San Diego (7-8) on Sunday.
The Bruins have never faced the Mountaineers, but have a combined record of 33-0 against the Wildcats, Aztecs and Toreros since 1998.
Most of those wins have come against San Diego State – in 20 matchups over the past 22 years, the Bruins have outscored the Aztecs 103-17. San Diego State is the only UCLA opponent at the tournament with a winning record but lost three of its five games at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic last weekend.
Sunday’s matchup against San Diego will be the second time the Bruins and Toreros have faced this season – UCLA won 9-1 on Feb. 6 behind a complete game from sophomore pitcher Megan Faraimo and three hits from Perez. In their past 10 matchups, the Bruins have outscored the Toreros 74-5.
UCLA also has recent experience against Weber State, with three matchups in the past three years, including a 6-0 victory last season.
“Those teams bring their own challenges because we’re very familiar with them,” Walker said. “It becomes important for us to make sure that we’re focused on us and our level play and not sizing up our opponent.”
First pitch will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday against Texas and 4:30 p.m. on Friday against Mount St. Mary’s.