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UCLA softball sophomores lead Team USA efforts in Japan All-Star Series

Rising sophomores utility Megan Grant and infielder Jordan Woolery embrace. The pair that usually represents UCLA softball together played for Team USA at the Japan All-Star Series. (Courtesy of USA Softball)

By Jack Nelson

Aug. 12, 2023 3:21 p.m.

Winning wasn’t the story for the USA Softball Women’s National Team against the world’s second best squad.

But when it did win, the effort was Bruin-led.

UCLA softball’s rising sophomore utility Megan Grant and rising sophomore infielder Jordan Woolery took the diamond with the No. 1-ranked United States at the Japan All-Star Series from Aug. 4-7. After Team USA opened with a 12-11 victory in game one, Japan won the final two contests, 6-1 and 1-0, to claim the exhibition series.

“The competition over there is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Grant said. “The girls over there are amazing to watch, and it was just such a good experience for us as a team.”

Play opened in Iwakuni, Japan, with USA attacking Japan’s pitching to build a six-run cushion by the time the Japanese stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fourth. Grant tallied the second score of the day with a solo shot to left in the third inning, and again made her mark with an RBI single a frame later.

Japan wasted no time in making its response. With a three-run dinger in the fourth and a quartet of runs in the fifth, it quickly turned the deficit into a 7-6 advantage.

But Grant responded right back.

The 2023 All-Pac-12 First Team honoree, whose 15 home runs and .695 slugging percentage were good for fourth and fifth in the conference, respectively, went yard once again. Her second long ball – this time exiting the park entirely – knotted the score before a Japanese fielding error allowed another American to cross the plate for an 8-7 lead.

The reality of Grant’s exceptional performance in an environment far from home didn’t strike her at first.

“I didn’t really even realize I was in Japan until that first game,” Grant said. “It was a bit of a surreal moment for sure.”

(Courtesy of USA Softball)
Grant begins her swing. (Courtesy of USA Softball)

And the hits kept on coming for Grant, with another single topping off a 4-for-6 performance at the plate to lead all Americans in hits and RBIs. No other player for either team would notch four hits in any game of the series.

Woolery was limited to one at-bat on the evening but contributed nonetheless. Her sacrifice fly added another run to USA’s total, ensuring that four of 12 scores were Bruin-produced.

The reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year said her teammate’s success on the international stage was a joy to witness.

“There’s this picture of me and Meg hugging after she hit her first home run, so that kind of sums it up,” Woolery said. “I love seeing Megan’s success. Honestly, nothing makes me happier than seeing her do well.”

Despite needing an extra inning to do so, the Americans secured victory in the back-and-forth affair. But both countries’ All-Star pitching staffs dominated in the games that followed, and offense diminished.

Mustering five hits in game two at Fukushima, and just two in the Yokohama rubber match, USA was a far cry from its 17-hit total days earlier. Woolery and Grant together managed eight at-bats across the latter two contests, but failed to record a hit.

Woolery said facing the Japanese team was a tall order, given minimal time to build chemistry with her new American teammates.

“It was definitely a higher level than I’ve experienced, even in college. The Japan girls are honestly in a league of their own,” Woolery said. “Not saying that USA cannot compete with them, but just for the team coming together for a week and a half to compete against them was definitely a challenge.”

Softball took Grant and Woolery to Japan, but their experience as first-time WNT members went beyond the competition at hand. The duo was part of a cultural exchange, engaging in team activities exploring the country and doing outreach to local youth athletes.

For Grant, that provided new perspective.

“It was so refreshing to see how much they love the game of softball,” Grant said. “It’s definitely different out there than it is here in the sense that every day, they’re so excited to just show up.”

Email Nelson at [email protected] or tweet @JackNelsonDB.

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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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