UCLA softball Pac-12 tournament predictions 2023
Members of UCLA softball huddle up before a game. Already a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament, the Bruins will look to be the first program to win both the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles. (Ella Greenberg Winnick/Daily Bruin)
No. 1 seed UCLA softball (50-4, 21-3 Pac-12) will open its postseason against either No. 8 seed Arizona (28-24, 6-18) or No. 9 seed Arizona State (22-25, 6-18) in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament Thursday at 4 p.m. Before the Bruins take to the diamond, the 2023 softball beat provides its takes on where the regular-season conference champions will finish.
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Pac-12 Champions
This season was unlike any other for the Bruins, as coach Kelly Inouye-Perez has said since February, and the longtime leader is not wrong.
Because of the introduction of the Pac-12 tournament, UCLA front-loaded its schedule, affording itself few off days at the beginning of the season. The Bruins faced off against the best the SEC and Big 12 have to offer, yet only lost one game before conference play – a run-rule decision at the hands of then-No. 2 Oklahoma.
In the early going of conference play, the Bruins lost three games, dropping one each to California, then-No. 10 Washington and then-No. 19 Oregon. Ever since then, redshirt junior utility Maya Brady and company have been on a tear throughout the Pacific Coast and mountains.
Dating back to March 25, the Bruins have won 23 straight games, and they show no signs of slowing down.
That is why UCLA will handily win the Pac-12 tournament.
However, it’s worth acknowledging the opposition. On the Bruins’ side of the bracket, stiff competition lies in No. 6 Stanford and the aforementioned No. 17 Ducks. Oregon is led by its dynamic duo in the field – infielder Allee Bunker and catcher Terra McGowan – who both place in the top five among Pac-12 hitters in runs batted in. On the other hand, the Cardinal plays behind freshman pitcher NiJaree Canady, who leads the conference in earned run average.
The Bruins are first set to face either No. 8 seed Arizona or No. 9 seed Arizona State, but if it ends up the latter, look out for Pac-12 home run leader Jordyn VanHook. With one swing of the bat, the Angeleno can turn a game on its side in an instant.
Despite the steep competition the conference boasts, including the No. 2-seeded Huskies and No. 6-seeded Golden Bears – both of which have defeated the Bruins in the past – look for UCLA to make easy work of the rest of the Pac-12 on its way to an NCAA Los Angeles regional and a Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Prediction: Pac-12 Champions
After a 50-win regular season and sweeping five out of eight conference series, is there any other result to predict than a conference title?
For the first time in its history, the Pac-12 will be having a postseason tournament to determine who receives its auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. With a 21-3 conference record, you would expect the Bruins to be able to breeze through the inaugural tournament.
But the challenge ahead may be a lot tougher than it seems.
The journey will start against the winner of Arizona and Arizona State, two teams that UCLA swept during the regular season. However, one problem with this draw is that the tournament is hosted by the Wildcats, so the Bruins may have to start their run with a true road game, which is never an easy feat in a conference tournament.
In the semifinals, UCLA would have to face the winner of No. 4 seed Stanford and No. 5 seed Oregon, a big step up from the first round of competition. The Bruins shouldn’t be deceived by the former, as Stanford is the second-highest ranked team nationally in the conference. The other matchup would pit UCLA against Oregon, a team that actually beat redshirt senior pitcher Megan Faraimo and held the Bruins’ offense to two hits in a 3-0 game one victory of their regular-season meeting.
The other side of the bracket features fierce competition led by Washington. Two of the Bruins’ conference losses came against this side of the bracket, with one each coming against the Huskies and Golden Bears. Another team on this side of the bracket is No. 21 Utah, who sits among the top four in the conference in batting average and runs scored.
Even though this tournament may seem like an easy opportunity for the Bruins to put their stamp on a historic event, there’s no doubt they’ll have three firm tests in three days.
Prediction: Pac-12 Champions
It would be foolish not to predict UCLA as tournament champions.
After finishing 21-3 in the Pac-12 and notching the most conference wins in a season under Inouye-Perez, the Bruins are certainly the team to beat.
UCLA finished five games ahead of second-place Washington in the Pac-12 standings, the largest difference between the top two teams since 1998.
Statistically, the Bruins have dominated the competition both in the circle and in the batter’s box.
In conference contests alone, UCLA ranks first in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs scored and home runs. On the other side of the ball, the Bruins rank first in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts.
But, most importantly, the Bruins are scorching hot. They’re riding a 23-game win streak, including 17 in a row in Pac-12 play. This is not a team anyone wants to face right now.
I predict that UCLA will beat Arizona on Thursday, Stanford on Friday and Washington on Saturday to be crowned the inaugural Pac-12 tournament champions.
The Huskies are the most complete team in the upper part of the bracket and would prove the biggest challenge for the Bruins if the two met in the championship game. But watch out for California as a sneaky dark horse to make it far into the tournament.
Ultimately, it’s a single-elimination competition. Anything can happen.
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: Pac-12 Champions
Is this the safe choice, or is it just correct? Both can be true.
Since I reported on my first UCLA softball game one month ago, the Bruins have not lost, and I don’t expect them to start now.
As this is the inaugural Pac-12 tournament, the past doesn’t offer us a concrete example for gauging results. UCLA’s record as of late, however, speaks for itself.
Not only do the Bruins possess the second-longest winning streak in the country, but their outright clinch of the Pac-12 regular-season title will push them past the first round of play.
The quarterfinals will pit UCLA against the better of Arizona or Arizona State, both of which the Bruins swept during conference play. If this is taken as a guaranteed win, UCLA will advance to the semifinals, where it will most likely face Stanford.
The Bruins completed a home sweep against the Cardinal this year, despite dropping the series with them back in 2022. Though Stanford might seem like the opponent to be wary of, UCLA is coming in with the confidence of a team holding its best conference record in 24 years. The bracket’s composition makes the matchup a likely occurrence, so UCLA can enter the competition with the same winning mindset from April.
And just like that, the Bruins are in the championship.
On the other side, perhaps the most unpredictable game of the bracket will take place between Utah and California. Either way, I’d put my money on facing Washington in the final, who I don’t see surprising UCLA.
Tucson will simply be no match for the Bruins’ momentum.
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: Loss to Stanford in the semifinals
The Bruins appear a cinch to win this thing.
Frankly, how could they not be? Led by stars up, down and everywhere in between, they’re one of the most balanced teams in the nation, brewing a perfect blend of talent, depth and experience.
Well, there’s one name in this tournament UCLA fans should get familiar with – NiJaree Canady.
The freshman pitcher for Stanford is vaunted and for good reason. She ranks No. 1 nationally with a sparkling 0.52 earned run average, and though she’s no strikeout machine, her strikeout-to-walk ratio earns her a silver medal on the podium – just 17 walks against 160 punchouts. Two pitchers just below Canady in ERA both hail from Oklahoma, and the Bruins’ recently infamous struggles at the plate against the Sooners may prove fitting foreshadowing.
Yes, UCLA did dominate a pitching duel with Stanford in the regular season, assembling arguably its finest conference sweep of the year. Guess who didn’t step foot in the circle all series? Canady.
Banking this prediction on a freshman who’s never been tested by this Bruin offense is dicey, no doubt, but Canady has shown every sign of being the real deal. She has allowed a grand total of seven earned runs – three of which were in her most recent outing – across 94 innings pitched, and she began her career with 13 straight scoreless appearances.
I trust UCLA will cruise into the semifinals, even if it draws Arizona in the quarterfinals at the latter’s stomping grounds. The historic rivalry between the two was anything but when they clashed in the regular season, and home advantage, should they meet again, isn’t enough to rally a rather poor Wildcat team.
If Stanford gets past Oregon, UCLA should expect Canady.
I would say the Bruins should fear her, but I should probably be the one in fear considering how hot of a take this is.