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UCLA softball pitches to winning start in Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament

Freshman pitcher/infielder Taylor Tinsley of UCLA softball stares into home plate as she begins her windup. Tinsley’s no-hitter against CSU Bakersfield on Saturday was the third shutout performance by a UCLA starting pitcher in four games. (Courtesy of Ross Turteltaub/UCLA athletics)

Softball


Cal State Fullerton0
No. 2 UCLA3
CSU Bakersfield1
No. 2 UCLA18
Loyola Marymount0
No. 2 UCLA11
CSU Bakersfield0
No. 2 UCLA8

By Jack Nelson

Feb. 12, 2023 11:44 a.m.

Freshmen usually don’t have to follow up complete-game shutouts from a pair of veterans.

This freshman didn’t follow them – she outdid them.

Culminating in a no-hitter from Taylor Tinsley in her first career start, No. 2 UCLA softball (4-0) rode lights-out pitching to a 3-0 win over Cal State Fullerton (2-2) on Thursday, 18-1 triumph over CSU Bakersfield (0-4) on Friday and 11-0 and 8-0 victories over Loyola Marymount (1-3) and Bakersfield, respectively, on Saturday. Surrendering just five hits across their first four contests of the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament, the Bruins outscored competition 40-1.

“Already my standard is really high, and I hold myself to really high expectations for every time I’m in the bullpen or anytime I’m going out into the game,” Tinsley said. “This does set another standard for me whenever I’m playing, so it feels good.”

Tinsley entered Saturday evening’s matchup as the No. 1 pitching recruit in her class and exited five innings later as the first Bruin freshman to throw a no-hitter in her debut since Amanda Freed in 1999. Had it not been for a wild pitch in the final frame of her outing, Tinsley would have achieved a perfect game.

Life in the circle was easy-going early on for Tinsley, as she turned in a 1-2-3 top of the first inning. And just like in the previous two games, getting the Bruin starter an early cushion to work with would be of little concern.

Except in this first inning, runs would come by way of a previously uncommon source – the long ball.

Redshirt junior utility Maya Brady, who went 6-for-6 on Saturday after going 1-for-3 the previous two days, hit a rocket toward left field that bounced off the scoreboard and set the table for UCLA’s home run party against Bakersfield. Courtesy of another two-run dinger from redshirt junior catcher Sharlize Palacios and a solo shot from freshman utility Megan Grant, the lead had ballooned to 6-0 by the time Tinsley stepped in the circle for the top of the third.

The trio of blasts tripled the Bruins’ total home run output from the previous three contests combined, with the first of the season being a shot off the left-field foul pole from Taylor Stephens. The sophomore utility, who went hitless across 10 plate appearances in 2022, notched two hits in the Bruins’ dismantling of the Roadrunners on Friday night.

Stephens attributed her offensive turnaround to the support of her teammates.

“Just knowing that I was able to get that outcome with my best friends behind my back, having my back and just being out there cheering for me, it was just an amazing feeling that I can’t even find words to describe,” Stephens said.

Her Friday performance earned her a spot in the starting lineup for Saturday afternoon’s bout with the Lions, but minutes after redshirt junior utility Seneca Curo gingerly carried her left arm after flying out, Stephens visibly felt discomfort after a swing and did not return. Both players are fine and were rested during the nightcap out of precaution, according to coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.

On the offensive side of the ball, aside from redshirt senior pitcher Megan Faraimo’s complete-game shutout bailing the blue and gold out of a slow Thursday night, runs were plentiful. The Bruins averaged 10 runs per game across the four contests and tallied 24 in all first innings combined.

In the first inning alone against Bakersfield on Friday, UCLA put up a 12-piece on just five hits thanks to seven issued walks – including three straight to start the game.

Inouye-Perez said the plan to boost the offense going into Friday played out differently in real time.

“There were pitches that we took last night (Thursday) that where we ended up swinging. We look back, and we just weren’t as sharp as we could’ve been,” Inouye-Perez said. “Tonight (Friday) was a display of being patient – we had to do it the opposite way. Instead of being aggressive, we had to slow it down.”

Spearheading the offensive outbreak for the Bruins during the four-game thrash was Brady with a .778 batting average and six RBIs, along with Curo hitting at a .667 clip to the tune of five RBIs.

Tinsley’s toughest competitor for freshman of the weekend honors has been Grant, who boasts a team-leading seven RBIs and .800 slugging percentage, second only to Brady among qualified hitters.

After seeing first-hand what Grant is capable of during fall ball, Inouye-Perez said the freshman’s performance has been a product of the moment.

“She’s young, she’s fearless, she has the ability, and she only plays the game one way,” Inouye-Perez said. “She plays like every sitch (situation) is the biggest sitch.”

The second of the pair of shutdown veteran performances came from sixth-year pitcher Brooke Yanez, who made her blue and gold debut Saturday against LMU following time spent with Oregon and UC Davis. Yanez racked up seven strikeouts against two hits and a walk through five innings pitched in the second of three consecutive run-rule victories for UCLA.

Even after her pitching rotation’s scorching start, Inouye-Perez sees opportunity.

“The best part about the weekend is the game is not fully letting us have everything,” Inouye-Perez said.

The Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament wraps for UCLA with a doubleheader against San Diego on Sunday at Easton Stadium, with first pitches set for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively.

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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