#6 UCLA Softball (5-0)
Opponent: #22 Kentucky (3-2)
Game 1: 4:30 PM PT, Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Game 2: 7:00 PM PT Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
After completing an outstanding first week of action that saw the Bruins win all five of their games in the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament, including an 8-0 mercy rule victory over then 22nd-ranked Notre Dame, UCLA climbed two spots in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll to #6.
But it wasn't simply a case of winning its first five games of the season that impressed the poll voters--rather, it was UCLA's utter dominance throughout the opening weekend of play. The Bruins scored 48 runs in five games while allowing the opposition just two. UCLA's offensive explosion included 13 home runs, with eight different players going yard. Freshman Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles both registered their first collegiate home runs and both finished their first week of collegiate softball with batting averages over .500.
UCLA's excellent performances in the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament reflect tremendous hitting from 1 through 9 in the batting order, and superb pitching from Coach Inouye-Perez' staff. Seven Bruins enter today's contest with batting averages of .400 or better, and UCLA's leadoff hitter, Delaney Spaulding, is hitting over .700. UCLA's hurlers have a combined ERA of 0.047, with four complete games and three shutouts. Rachel Garcia (2-0) paces the staff with a 0.00 ERA, with 13 strikeouts and just 6 hits allowed in 10 innings of work.
Garcia was in the circle on Sunday against Notre Dame, and she got all the run support she would need in the first inning when Paige Halstead brought home Bubba Nickles with the first run of the game when she knocked an RBI single to left. The Bruins added another in the third before erupting for four in the fourth and two more in the fifth, putting the mercy rule into effect.
Today the Bruins will tangle with the Wildcats in a twinbill that will provide a sterner challenge for UCLA's lineup. Kentucky boasts a strong and deep pitching staff, but the Wildcats have been hurt by an avalanche of fielding errors and lack of timely hitting. Although she hasn't made a particularly strong start in 2017, slugger Abbey Cheek remains a dangerous hitter, and leadoff hitter Katie Reed is a pest at the plate and on the bases.
If Coach KIP sticks with her rotation--and I see no reason why she wouldn't--Selina Ta'amilo will start today's opener, and Johanna Grauer will pitch the nightcap. If Garcia isn't in the circle today, she's almost certain to UCLA's DP, and Paige McDuffee will be ready in the bullpen if either starter struggles.
Today's doubleheader is another great test for the Bruins; it's exactly the type of contest UCLA will likely encounter in the postseason.