#15 UCLA Softball (23-8)
Opponent: Dartmouth (1-17-1)
When: 10:00 AM PT, Sunday, March 26, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
Yesterday the Bruins returned from a finals week break to sweep a twinbill against BYU. The result was fantastic--winning both games of a doubleheader is always good news, and particularly so when the wins come against a good team--but the way in which the Bruins snagged the two wins wasn't particularly reassuring.
UCLA entered the weekend mired in a deep hitting slump, and based on what we saw yesterday, there's reason to be concerned that the Bruins problems at the plate are lingering. UCLA scored a total of five runs in 12 innings against BYU, and while that's an improvement on the run production last week against Utah, it's not enough to consistently win games in the Pac-12.
Fortunately, in spite of very modest run support, UCLA's hurlers were well up to the task against the Cougars.
Rachel Garcia started the opener for the Bruins. She was nothing short of magnificent inning after inning while her teammates produced very little through the first four innings. In fact, if it weren't for a pair of singles by Kylee Perez, the Bruins would have been hitless through the first four frames.
In the bottom of the fifth, Paige Halstead became just the second Bruin of the day to register a hit, and it was a mighty important hit. Halstead drove the fifth pitch of the inning to deep right center to give UCLA a 1-0 lead. The solo shot was Halstead's fourth round-tripper of the season.
That was all the run support that Garcia would receive, and that was all she would need. She kept the Cougars off-balance in tossing a complete game, one-hit shutout, striking out nine to improve her record to 8-4.
Only three Bruin batters (Perez, Halstead, and Zoe Shaw) got on base, and UCLA ended up with just five hits for a .227 batting average. That's not anything like the kind of performance at the plate that is indicative of the end of a hitting slump.
The nighcap started much the same way that the opener began. Johanna Grauer started in the circle in game 2, and she mowed down the Cougars through the first three innings while her teammates came up empty at the plate.
That changed when the Bruins came to bat in the third. Perez opened the inning with a triple along the chalk line in right, and Delaney Spaulding brought her home by ripping a double to right center. But UCLA's bats went silent again as three straight Bruins failed to advance Spaulding beyond second.
Staked to a 1-0 lead, Grauer held the Cougars in check. She ran into a jam in the fifth when BYU put two runners aboard with a pair of singles, but she came up with a clutch strikeout to keep the Cougars scoreless.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Bruins finally showed signs of shaking off their slump. Shaw led off with a double, Perez singled to advance Shaw to third before crossing the plate courtesy of a Cougar error.
Spaulding then walked to put runners at first and second. At that point, with no outs and one of UCLA's best hitters coming the plate and the Bruins holding a 2-0 lead, Coach Inouye-Perez opted for small ball. Brianna Tautalafua dropped a bunt to the left side of the infield to advance both runners. Even though I've often criticized Coach KIP for her over-use of small ball tactics, it worked to perfection in this instance; Madeline Jelenicki laced a single up the middle to drive in two more runs, giving UCLA a four-run cushion heading to the sixth.
The extra runs turned out to be crucial when Grauer ran into trouble in the seventh. The Cougars led off the inning with a pair of singles, and when the next batter was retired on a well-hit ball to right center, Garcia was summoned to the circle to get the final two outs.
Garcia retired the first batter she faced, but with two outs, she surrendered a double, allowing two runs to cross the plate. An infield error and a walk then loaded the bases before Garcia put out the fire with a strikeout.
Grauer earned her eighth victory of the season with six and a third strong innings of work. The Bruins hammered out nine hits in six innings, which by the standards of the past three weekends, is a positive sign.
The Bruins will close out the weekend today with an early start against Dartmouth (1-17-1). Obviously Dartmouth hasn't been good this year, but the Big Green have been playing better recently. In fact, Dartmouth earned its first victory of the season yesterday when it beat UC Riverside 5-2. Yeah, that's right, Dartmouth is "hot" at the moment.
Something will have to give today when the Big Green put their one-game winning streak on the line against UCLA's two-game winning streak. More important for the Bruins, though, is definitively ending their hitting slump. That would be the ideal way to prepare for next week's trip to the northwest.