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UCLA softball secures fifth straight conference series sweep this season

UCLA softball redshirt junior utility Maya Brady connects with a pitch. The Bruins extended their winning streak to 21 over the weekend. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Sam Lieberman

May 2, 2023 3:28 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article’s headline incorrectly stated UCLA softball swept its Pac-12 schedule for the fifth straight season. In fact, it earned its fifth straight conference sweep.

This post was updated May 2 at 5:43 p.m.

After four games in four days, the Bruins have pushed their winning streak to 21.

On Sunday, No. 2 UCLA softball (48-4, 21-3 Pac-12) defeated No. 23 Utah (31-13, 12-9) by a score of 11-3, earning the Bruins their fifth straight conference sweep and 17th Pac-12 victory in a row. A day later, UCLA traveled an hour south from Salt Lake City to Provo, Utah, for a standalone matchup against BYU (28-14, 7-2 WCC), defeating the Cougars 7-2 to cap off its final road trip of the regular season.

In Sunday’s Pac-12 regular-season finale, the Bruins completed a comeback to secure the series sweep against Utah.

UCLA got off to a quick start when freshman utility Megan Grant led off the game with a home run to right field. Grant came to the plate previously hitless in her last 13 at-bats.

“My approaches kind of vary depending on the pitcher, but they mostly stay consistent,” Grant said. “You’re not going to bat 1.000, so I just take a step back and focus on going back to the basics.”

However, UCLA’s lead was short-lived. Freshman pitcher Taylor Tinsley started in the circle for the Bruins, giving up three hits and two runs while tallying just one out before being replaced by graduate student pitcher Lauren Shaw.

“We have a game plan before every game,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez about her decision to take Tinsley out early. “We know who’s going first, who’s going second, who’s going third, and our plan every game is to get everybody in. It’s not like big-time reactionary moves.”

Fortunately for UCLA, Shaw immediately quieted the Utes’ bats, escaping the jam in the first inning and tossing a scoreless second.

And with UCLA making noise of its own with two on and two out in the fourth, Utah went to its bullpen to face redshirt junior utility Maya Brady.

Brady smacked a ball to second base, getting past second baseman Aliya Belarde and then right fielder Sophie Jacquez, allowing both runners and Brady to score in Little League home run style. Belarde and Jacquez were each charged with errors on the play, while UCLA took a 4-2 lead it never relinquished.

Redshirt senior pitcher Megan Faraimo threw the final five innings for the Bruins, giving up six hits and one run while striking out seven to secure her nation-leading 26th victory.

A highlight of the afternoon for the Bruins was a diving play in the bottom of the fifth by redshirt senior utility Anna Vines. With one runner on, Vines, who was playing second base, ranged to her left to make the catch at full stretch in shallow right field.

“Honestly, I just see ball and go for it,” Vines said. “I just wanted to make some outs to get our pitchers out of the situation.”

Vines also had a productive day at the plate, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs, including an 11-pitch at-bat resulting in her first extra base hit of the season.

With the victory, Inouye-Perez secured her record-breaking 21st Pac-12 victory, the most conference wins in a single season for any Bruin team she’s managed in her 17 years at the helm in Westwood.

On Monday, sixth-year pitcher Brooke Yanez started for UCLA against BYU, going four innings and giving up only one run en route to her 15th win of the season.

The Bruins took an early 1-0 lead but pushed their lead to 5-0 in the fourth after an error by BYU second baseman Tristen Turlington sparked a four-run rally.

In contrast to Sunday, Tinsley bounced back with two scoreless innings Monday in relief.

“The depth that we have, I think that’s what separates 2023,” Inouye-Perez said. “In the beginning, it could have been our biggest enemy: Having to be able to create a culture to have this many people that may not be able to play as much. But, credit everybody for the strong camaraderie towards each other. It’s been a very successful season, and everyone’s played a part in it.”

UCLA will finish the regular season with a nonconference doubleheader Friday before it heads to Tucson to play in the inaugural Pac-12 softball tournament.

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