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Out of Bounds: Previewing UCLA Softball and Baseball

By Jon Christon, Bryan Palmero, and Olivia Simons

Feb. 10, 2022 2:43 p.m.

(Left to right: Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin, Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)
UCLA softball redshirt junior pitcher/first baseman Megan Faraimo (left) winds up to pitch, and UCLA baseball graduate student outfielder Kenny Oyama (right) steps in at the plate. (Left to right: Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin, Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)

In this episode of “Out of Bounds,” Daily Bruin’s sports podcast, Sports editor Jon Christon talks with assistant Sports editors Bryan Palmero and Olivia Simons about UCLA softball and baseball, respectively, and their forecasts for each team’s upcoming season.

Jon Christon: Hi, my name is Jon Christon, and this is “Out of Bounds,” Daily Bruin’s sports podcast.

JC: Alright, welcome back again, everyone, for our third episode of the year. We’ve got another great show planned. I appreciate everyone that’s reached out with kind words about the last two episodes, who’s given us a listen. I’m really excited to talk about previewing softball and baseball. Those seasons are coming right up. So, we’re going to start up with softball, and we’re going to start out with a friend of the pod Bryan Palmero, assistant Sports editor. Bryan, how are you doing?

Bryan Palmero: I’m doing great, Jon. I’ll have everyone who’s listening know that it’s my first year as an editor for The Bruin, as a softball editor, and I’m excited to see UCLA officially enter a new era this week.

JC: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it. Obviously, we can’t, we would be remiss to not start the softball talk with probably the best player in franchise history, Rachel Garcia. After the last few years, she’s graduated, she’s no longer with the program. Same goes to Bubba Nickles as well. So, it really is, like Bryan said, a new era of UCLA softball, one that neither of us have seen. They took that break for the Olympics my freshman year, but they’re still part of the program. They still went to games and whatnot, so it’s going to be interesting. But yeah, Bryan, I know you were online last year, so you didn’t get to go to any games. So how excited are you, you know, to go up to Easton Stadium and watch some softball games this year as the editor.

BP: Look, I’m definitely excited. Fingers crossed COVID-19 doesn’t play too big of a role this season and affecting games. Get vaccinated, everyone. But I think it’s going to be interesting, as UCLA fans will possibly get to see some new faces rise up to fill up some big roles as well as hopefully witness a good chunk of the team make their curtain calls. Lots of redshirt seniors playing their final years this season.

JC: So, let’s go back to last year. Let’s start with that. How much did you follow the UCLA softball team? Because I know you said last year, when you were a contributor, you were on the volleyball beats. You weren’t on the softball beat. But how much did you follow last year?

BP: Look, softball, it’s probably one of the biggest sports in the NCAA besides basketball. It’s continually growing. And for following the most storied team in collegiate softball history and UCLA, it’d be crazy to not follow this team, as well as the foes that they face from Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Florida State. And you just can’t simply ignore the success that UCLA has had in recent memory, not only in 2019, with the NCAA championship, but just with, as you mentioned, Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles, their dominance returning from that Olympic year to play their final seasons with the blue and gold. And not only were they pivotal in the Olympics, but they were also pivotal to their team’s success in 2021. And that’s not only evident in how far they went in the College World Series – despite the two losses to end their season, a perfect game from Alabama and a tough loss to Oklahoma to end the year – but they also had a ton of hardware to go with it. Rachel Garcia, a two-way player – a pitcher, first baseman – she went back-to-back with the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year but also her second Honda Cup, which I think needs to be mentioned. And then she and Nickles went to Tokyo in softball’s return to the Olympics. They took home the silver.

JC: Yeah, it was obviously a big year for those two. It was very fun to watch along. I was the softball editor last year, so Bryan’s filling in some big shoes this year. But as Bryan said, Bubba Nickles and Rachel Garcia are really, really just were great representatives of this program, and it is going to be sad to see them go, but UCLA will move forward. Obviously, they have a great team again this year. They’re again in the top five starting the season. They’re No. 3 in the preseason poll. They start the season this weekend. But I guess let’s just start this conversation with this. Rachel Garcia, obviously, is one of the faces not only of UCLA softball but of softball anywhere – at the professional or collegiate level. She was this, like, softball Michael Jordan, essentially. Rachel Garcia was what UCLA softball was all about. She was the face of the program. But now as they’re going into the new transition, Bryan, I want to ask you, who do you think is going to – you know, obviously, you can’t replace Rachel Garcia – but who’s going to step up and be the face of UCLA softball, do you think?

BP: Look, I’m just gonna start off with some stats from Rachel Garcia. 18 to 3 record in the circle. 183 strikeouts. 41 hits. 13 home runs. Just two-way player dominance. But I still think that it’s going to be an easy task. It’s going to be a toss up between two players in mind. Megan Faraimo. Maya Brady. And especially when new fans might initially look to Maya Brady and her great ability to knock it out of the park. I’m pretty sure fans just love to see home runs, and Brady finished with the team lead in home runs with 14, possibly tied. But I think Megan Faraimo really is going to be the driving force behind UCLA softball this season. Rachel Garcia, she had 183 strikeouts last year. Megan Faraimo, she had 184. Just one more, but I think that tells you a lot about how she is as a pitcher. Arguably, the better pitcher between her and Rachel Garcia. Including those, like, 184 strikeouts, she had eight double-digit strikeout games, a team best 1.10 ERA, a 19-3 record, which is also better than Rachel Garcia, as well as a perfect game against San Diego State. I think, just looking at the stats, while she doesn’t have that dominance at the plate, Megan Faraimo is going to be that person that dictates how this Bruin team performs this season. And, I’ll have to admit, Maya Brady’s reign as the face of the team is coming, but Megan Faraimo deserves her flowers this year.

JC: Yeah, I think Megan Faraimo, not only is the best player in this team, but she’s one of the most underrated, one of the best players in the entire country. I’m a bit biased in this. I think she was my first softball interview my freshman year, and I just remember watching her and just really was impressed because she was a redshirt freshman my freshman year, she’s a redshirt junior now, and she was just really— just everyone was talking about Rachel Garcia, and she obviously had to step in for Rachel Garcia as a pitcher with Rachel Garcia training for the Olympics two years ago, and she just really competed. And last year she was splitting time with Rachel Garcia. And like you said, she led the team in strikeouts, led the team in ERA and going to the end of the season, there’s a bit of an argument to be made that she was the better pitcher, that she should have been starting those big games. However, again, it’s Rachel Garcia, and she showed why she got the start in many of those games. There were— Megan Faraimo had that start in the postseason, had a few starts in the postseason. She did well. She had the perfect game against San Diego State early season. I’m really excited to see what she’s going to do as the bonafide ace of the staff. I’m ecstatic to see what she does, but like you said, there are more people behind Faraimo and Brady, with the NCAA granting eligibility to all student-athletes a few years ago because of the pandemic. There’s a lot of redshirt seniors on this team who are utilizing that. Briana Perez, Aaliyah Jordan, Kinsley Washington, Delanie Wisz are just a few of them. But they really have been with UCLA softball from that championship. I know Delanie Wisz was the transfer, but the rest of them had been with UCLA softball since that 2019 national championship, and they have so much experience. They’re such good players. Bryan, do you think having this, like, base of redshirt seniors, of experienced players is really going to give UCLA a high floor? They may not have the same high of a ceiling without Rachel Garcia, but do you think they’re still, you know, still going to be a top-five team, best team in the Pac-12 all year with this loads of experience?

BP: Well, let me just start off by just mentioning Bubba Nickles, adding her to the list of people there. Look, she’s not a player this season. But still, she’s going to be a graduate manager for the team. Her presence in the dugout is going to be a plus to UCLA’s roster despite the loss of her versatility on the field and at the plate. But I think with this laundry list of redshirt seniors, it just means the stakes are going to be higher for this UCLA team. I know from interviewing players across UCLA sports, especially teams that have won it all before, being a senior is important. And I think it goes without saying that for a team that is so rich with veteran talent, this season is going to be their last dance for these players and possibly the last chance to make a statement in a deep run in the women’s College World Series for maybe this season and next season too.

JC: Well, just broadly, I’m going to ask, what are your expectations for this team? Obviously, they have expectations that come with UCLA, that come with being a No. 3 team, but, you personally, do you think it’s a women’s College World Series or bust? Is it getting to the finals? Is it winning at all? Obviously, there’s good teams like Oklahoma, Alabama, like you said, but what are the expectations for this UCLA team?

BP: I think it’s clear that UCLA, even with the loss of Rachel Garcia, they still have the tools to compete. And I think it’s clear with their early preseason rankings. They were No. 3. I know some people might have their disagreements with the importance of rankings, much less preseason rankings, but I think it’s solid. I think it’s a good assessment, especially with the two teams that acted as a buzzsaw for the Bruins in the World Series just right ahead of them. And my bold prediction is that the team is going to definitely make a large run, a long run, in the postseason and possibly, possibly make it to the final game of the season.

JC: Yeah, I think that would be huge for this program to really say goodbye to those redshirt seniors and really, really fully usher in the next generation of UCLA softball with, you know, maybe a Pac-12 title, a national championship. Speaking of Oklahoma, they play Oklahoma this Saturday in one of the marquee matchups in all of softball for the whole season. It could be— it’s right up there with any regular-season matchup that we’re going to see this year. So, Bryan, what are you expecting come Saturday?

BP: Let’s just be clear, there’s going to be a lot of history hanging over this game. It’s a rematch of the 2019 national championship, a rematch of the last game of the season for UCLA, and UCLA is going to be facing the reigning national champions. So, lots of history hanging over this game. I think it’s really akin to the Gonzaga-UCLA men’s basketball game that happened earlier this season for that team. It’s at a neutral site, the Bill Barber Memorial Park, so fans are going to have to go out to Irvine and see the Bruin faithful, some Sooner faithful there. Don’t forget the Mississippi State game earlier that day. Just a little preview of possibly what could be to come in the final game of the year.

JC: Yeah, that— I’m excited. I’m sad it’s not here in Westwood, but I think fans should be excited for this. It’s going to be a great season for UCLA softball, I think, and I think you do as well. Bryan, I want to thank you for coming on. Second podcast appearance. Second time being on this. Thank you, Bryan, so much for that. And then we’re going to transition to baseball. Baseball. I’m going to welcome on the show Olivia Simons, another assistant Sports editor, who is in charge of baseball this year. Olivia, how are you doing?

Olivia Simons: I’m doing great. How are you? I’m excited to be here for my first sports podcast.

JC: Doing well. Happy I got to talk about some softball, but now let’s talk about some baseball. Olivia, like I said, is the baseball editor this year. She spent her freshman year with the Daily Bruin on the baseball beat, so she is very familiar with this team. So let’s just start with the same question I asked Bryan. Obviously, you’re a big baseball fan. How excited are you for this season?

OS: You know, I’m really excited, honestly. I think there’s a lot of big question marks about this team this year for the lineup, the rotation, the team’s identity, which they talked about a lot last year. I think there’s a lot that should be exciting to observe and to see how the year plays out. I think there’s a lot of things that could be really exciting to watch this year.

JC: Yeah, and I know that was a kind of a sentiment last year going into the season. Obviously, UCLA started No. 2 in the entire country but did not live up to expectations last year. They ended up losing in the first round. They had a 37-20 record, had some issues on the road, obviously, and like I said, they got eliminated in the first round in the NCAA tournament. So, Olivia, what do you think? What what went wrong last season?

OS: You know, I think that a big thing that happened last year was just injuries. You know, it happens to every team – collegiate, professional, whatever. But you know, we lost our starting first baseman JT Schwartz, our starting shortstop Matt McLain – both of them had recurring injuries throughout the season, and that was a big blow. We lost our ace pitcher Zach Pettway for the first series or so with an injury. Just all-around, the team really struggled to keep a consistent lineup and rotation because of these injuries. And I think just by the end of the year, the endurance and the resilience was kind of, just like, they were beat down by injuries; they were taking some tough losses. And once they got to the NCAA, it was like, they had gotten the elimination bracket. It was fighting through playing lots of games in a short amount of time. They threw a reliever out to start the last game of the NCAAs, and in the end, it just didn’t work out for them. I think they had the talent for sure. They had about 10 guys drafted at the end of the season, but they just couldn’t keep that lineup. They couldn’t get that momentum. Lots of injuries, and it just didn’t work out for them in the end.

JC: Yeah. You mentioned the 10 players drafted, which was an NCAA high. They’re losing their starting rotation, their shortstop, first baseman and other key players in that as well. You know, some of them like Matt McLain, JT Schwartz, as you said, but how do you think we’re going to replace these guys? Obviously, they didn’t have too much success last year, but they’re still obviously great players. So how do you think UCLA is going to replace them this year? Is it through a freshman class? Or what do you think?

OS: Yeah, so I think you definitely touched on the big answer to that question is the freshman class. You know, every year in collegiate sports, you get, ‘The seniors go, the freshmen come in.’ It’s just how teams adjust. It’s how every year goes. But this freshman team, I honestly think is really special. We— I’m honestly surprised that a lot of them didn’t get drafted and just go to the major leagues out of high school. I think we had a couple of guys drafted that turned it down. So, really excited about this freshman class, a lot of really highly ranked guys. You know, a couple of people that I want to point out. Cody Schrier – No. 3 prospect in California and No. 2 at shortstop, 43rd in the nation, 10th at short. He stands to fill in for Matt McLain, which should be really exciting. Malakhi Knight – No. 1 prospect from Washington, No. 26 overall and No. 8 outfielder likely going to play center this year, somewhere in the outfield. He’s really exciting. Thatcher Hurd should help fill in for the rotation. He’s a right-hander, highly-ranked prospect, No. 32 overall in the country. I think that this freshman class is really going to be beneficial for the team. There are 17 true and redshirt freshmen, and I think it’s just going to be a key part of filling in for everyone who left with these really highly ranked, talented guys. It’ll definitely be a transition at first, as with any team. Last year, they were, you know, they were close. They had a lot of older guys. They were bonded. And now it’s just a matter of finding the team’s rhythm, identity, lineup rotation – all these big pieces and filling that out with the freshman class and seeing how that goes.

JC: But beyond the freshmen, there’s one big newcomer this year as well in Kenny Oyama, graduate transfer from Loyola Marymount. He’s going to step in, be the team’s leadoff hitter right away. What do you think he’s going to bring from that leadoff spot and just as a new face coming into this program?

OS: Yeah, so Kenny is a really exciting addition. I think he was announced, I think over the summer unofficially that he was coming to the team. And I was really excited about it because we played LMU quite a bit last year in Tuesday games, just these one-off games that happened that I went to quite a few of. And he would always be the player that I would be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s going to, you know, be the reason we lose this Tuesday game,’ because he’d come up to the plate and he would just get hit after hit. His production was insane. Fun fact about Kenny Oyama. He’s actually 5’4″, which is not your traditional NCAA baseball athlete height, but, you know, you can’t underestimate him. He’s got a lot of pop in his bat. He had a breakout season last year, and that’s how he got that leadoff spot with, you know, his .330 batting average, .834 on-base plus slugging, you know, all these stats that really let him find his groove in the leadoff spot. And, you know, we lost our main leadoff hitter, Kevin Kendall, last year in the draft. He was mostly centerfield or sometimes infield kind of thing. So I think, Kenny Oyama, you know, he’s got that experience. He’s a graduate transfer, he’s got a lot of time under his belt. He’s played this team. He knows the players even if he hasn’t, like, been on the same team with them before. So I think having him on the team will just be both really fun to watch but also just really beneficial to have somebody ground the lineup and have that experience and just be like a really nice addition to the team for sure.

JC: Yeah, so just another general season preview type of question. What do you think is a strength of this team? And then conversely, what do you think a weakness of this team is?

OS: Yeah, for sure. I think that, you know, the freshman class, I don’t want to like, drive this point in too hard. I think they’re both a weakness and a strength. You know, like with any team, like, there are other teams on campus that are, you know, they have these really talented freshmen, but it’s just growing pains and getting used to everything. I think our rotation could be really good. I think it’ll be really interesting to see how that goes. We have sophomore right-hander Max Rajcic, who was our closer last year, and he’s working on transitioning to starter. He had 1.65 ERA over 24 appearances, 8 walks to 36 strikeouts. He’s got some really good raw talent, good curveball, good fastball, so he should be in the rotation this year. We’ve got Thatcher Hurd, who I touched on before. Sophomore right-hander Jake Brooks started some Tuesday games that I mentioned earlier – mostly reliever, but he should be hopefully able to start a couple games. I think that’d be fun this year. So I think we’ve got some good arms to start in that rotation, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how that’ll play out. A specific weakness, it’s going to be really interesting to see what they do at the catcher position. Noah Cardenas played catcher for three years. He started behind the plate for three years for the team, and he left last year. He was drafted, and now we have a bunch of options, but none of them have a lot of experience. We’ve got a freshman, redshirt sophomore Tommy Beres, junior Darius Perry, and it’ll be really interesting to see how that plays out because Cardenas was really a backbone to the team. He really grounded everyone. When he wasn’t doing well at the plate, he was still an active, you know, member of the team, really cheered everyone on. So I think those two parts of the team will be really interesting to watch this year in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

JC: We’re running out of time, but I just want to ask you like I asked Bryan, do you have any bold predictions this season for this team? What are, again, what are your expectations for this current group?

OS: You know, I think it’s just a matter of how they can adjust to losing everyone from last year and finding out who can be consistent players on the team and who can really step up and be that pitcher who comes in on Friday and consistently gives a good performance, who can lead off or, you know, get those runs in. So I honestly, I don’t expect that we’ll go too far from how we did last year. Like you said, we went 37 and 20. I don’t think that’s too far off. I think we have some really big series coming up this season against some ranked opponents, I think the series against Arizona and Stanford will be really key. And however those go, I think, will be indicators of how the season is. Bold predictions? I think they make it to the second round of the NCAAs if they can. Last year was just the first round, so I have some hopes for this team if they can get their talent together and coordinate. But, yeah, I think it should be a solid season. I think there’s also potential that it could go really poorly, but hopefully that doesn’t happen. You know, got to have some faith so that covering the team this year is fun, and we don’t get, you know, some interviews where people just are not having it. So, hopefully, fun season.

JC: Yeah, I’m hoping for that too. My bold prediction is that softball is going to be better than baseball this year. That, I’m a little biased in that, covering softball the last three years, but we’ll see. But, yeah, that’s going to wrap up our show here. I want to shout out Olivia Simons and Bryan Palmero, two assistant Sports editors, for joining me today. They did a great job. I also want to shout out Zoe Willoughby, again, our Podcasts editor, for producing this. I want to give a quick shoutout to Isabelle Friedman for copy editing this week’s podcast. And yeah, so thanks everyone for listening.

JC: “Out of Bounds” is brought to you by the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper. You can listen to this show and others by the Daily Bruin on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, and a transcript for this show is available at dailybruin.com. Thanks, everyone. See you next week.

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Jon Christon | Sports senior staff
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Bryan Palmero | Sports senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
Olivia Simons | Managing editor
Simons is the 2022-2023 managing editor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's tennis, men's tennis, swim and dive and rowing beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's tennis beats.
Simons is the 2022-2023 managing editor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's tennis, men's tennis, swim and dive and rowing beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's tennis beats.
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