No. 2 UCLA softball posts three wins, one loss in series against No. 3 Oregon
Redshirt senior pitcher/first baseman Rachel Garcia pitched in three of the four contests for No. 2 UCLA softball over the weekend, accumulating 14 innings pitched, 17 strikeouts and two wins. Garcia also added five RBIs while serving as the team’s designated player on offense. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin staff)
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April 12, 2021 1:24 p.m.
The Bruins were held to their worst hitting performance in nearly four years in their first game back since dealing with COVID-19 within the program.
However, the offensive struggles didn’t last the remainder of the weekend.
After being shut out and limited to two hits – the lowest mark since 2017 – in the first game of a four-game series Friday, No. 2 UCLA softball (22-2, 5-1 Pac-12) worked off the rust and combined for 18 runs in three wins to complete the series victory against No. 3 Oregon (27-5, 6-3) in Eugene. The Ducks are now responsible for both of the Bruins’ losses thus far this season, though it is UCLA that holds the 4-2 season series advantage.
“(Oregon’s) just a talented team,” said redshirt junior infielder Briana Perez. “They have offense and defense, and I think that’s what we love about the Pac-12 – we get that competition in-season that prepares us for postseason. We learned a lot about ourselves even with the loss, and we’re lucky to walk away happy with it.”
The second series between the two top-five teams began similar to the first, as, back on Feb. 28, Oregon pitcher Brooke Yanez opened a two-game set against UCLA by allowing just one run in a complete-game victory.
This time around, Yanez limited UCLA to two hits and struck out eight during her complete-game shut out that led Oregon to a 3-0 victory Friday. Not only were the two hits the lowest for the Bruins since their season-ending two-hit loss to Washington in the 2017 College World Series, but Yanez’s complete-game shutout was also the first against UCLA since May 10, 2018.
“Credit to Yanez – she’s a great pitcher and had some great pitch-calling,” Perez said. “We went back after the game on Friday and just watched some film and talked about our strengths as a team. We were excited to get back out there (Saturday).”
Following Friday’s struggles against Yanez, the Bruins got another opportunity to face her in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, and the UCLA bats came back in quick order.
Redshirt junior outfielder Aaliyah Jordan got things started with a lead-off home run to left-center followed shortly after by a towering two-run home run from redshirt senior pitcher/first baseman Rachel Garcia. The Bruins tied their hit total from the previous game against Yanez before she recorded a single out and jumped out to an early 3-0 lead.
While UCLA didn’t add any runs the rest of the game, it didn’t need to. In addition to her big first-inning swing, Garcia pitched a complete-game shutout of her own while scattering eight hits and striking out seven.
Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said Garcia’s two-way greatness is like few others who play the sport.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in the game for a while and there’s very few that can have the ability to impact the lineup the way Rachel did,” Inouye-Perez said. “The ability to stop them in the circle and be able to literally be such a key factor at the plate – it’s not something that you can even put a value on. It’s invaluable.”
In the second game Saturday, redshirt junior pitcher Holly Azevedo took the circle and allowed three runs on nine hits while striking out eight en route to the third complete game of the series. Like the game before, the Bruin offense again provided more than enough run support.
The Bruins scored in five of the seven frames and exploded for nine runs on nine hits. Five UCLA hitters recorded an RBI and redshirt junior infielder Delanie Wisz led the way with four RBIs – a trio of which came on a home run in the fifth inning – as the Bruins never trailed in a 9-3 victory.
Garcia said the weekend showed the depth of the Bruins’ offense.
“We have an entire team who all have roles and can get it done,” Garcia said. “These last two days we were just able to pass the bat no matter what. It’s amazing what this team can do.”
In the final game of the series Sunday, UCLA faced Yanez for the third time in as many days. Similar to Friday’s game, the Bruins struggled early against the Ducks’ ace and fell behind 2-0 while being held hitless through four innings.
But the bats came alive once again.
After an RBI single – the first of the game for the team – by redshirt junior infielder Kinsley Washington cut the lead to one in the fifth inning, UCLA’s two and three-hole hitters used Saturday’s first-inning strategy to take the lead on Sunday.
For the second straight day, Perez reached base without recording a hit, allowing Garcia to drive her in with a two-run blast. The home run gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning.
“That’s my job – just get on base and let the team behind me do what they do best,” Perez said. “We talk about whatever it takes so today when I got to first base on that error, … if I’m here let’s go from here. And then of course Rachel takes advantage of that and gets it done.”
Before Garcia could take the circle to pitch in the bottom of the seventh, Perez provided one last bit of support for the two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. Perez hit a three-run home run over the right-field wall in the top of the frame to extend the UCLA lead to 6-2 before Garcia shut things down in the bottom half of the inning.
“Rachel Garcia is a game-changer,” Inouye-Perez said. “There’s a reason she’s been a national player of the year twice, back-to-back, because of the impact that she brings. We’re super fired up (that she’s back with the team) because we’re super proud that she’s a Bruin.”
UCLA continues Pac-12 play with a four-game series at Easton Stadium against Oregon State starting Friday night.
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