#6 UCLA Softball (10-1)
Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic II
Opponent 1: #11 Georgia (12-1)
When: 5:30 PM PT, Thursday, February 23, 2017
Opponent 2: North Carolina State (2-7)
When: 8:00 PM PT, Thursday, February 23, 2017
Where: Big League Dreams Sports Park, Cathedral City, CA
Video: FloSoftball (subscription required)
UCLA returns to Cathedral City today for the start of round 2 of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. The Bruins are riding a four-game winning streak after sweeping a pair of doubleheaders last weekend, and will try to extend that win streak in today's twinbill against #11 Georgia and North Carolina State.
The sixth-ranked Bruins (10-1) have enjoyed dominance in the circle in the first two weeks of the season, with their hurlers allowing just nine runs in 11 contests. UCLA's offense hasn't been quite as consistent, yet the Bruins are averaging nearly seven runs per game and hitting .393. UCLA's fielding has been pretty good too, so there's a lot of optimism about the potential of this team to get to the Women's College World Series for a third straight season.
This weekend will be a good opportunity to judge just how good the 2017 Bruins are with a trio of top-10 opponents on tap for the weekend. On Friday UCLA gets #4 Oklahoma, on Saturday it's #7 LSU, and on Sunday, the Bruins close out the tournament with a showdown against top-ranked Florida State. Today's doubleheader will provide a good challenge for the Bruins as well, starting in the opener against the 11th-ranked, undefeated Georgia Bulldogs (12-1). In the nightcap, UCLA will meet North Carolina State (2-7).
After struggling at the plate last Friday, the Bruin bats came back to life in Sunday's doubleheader. In the opener against UC Davis, UCLA scored in every inning but the first. Selina Ta'amilo surrendered a first inning run to the Aggies, but the Bruins tied the score in the second on a bomb by Madeline Jelenicki, and then took the lead for good when Delaney Spaulding clubbed a homer to center.
The Bruins added another run in the third courtesy of an RBI single by Rachel Garcia, and put two more on the scoreboard an innning later when Brianna Tautalafua doubled home two. UCLA tallied another in the fourth when Kylee Perez doubled home Zoe Shaw, and extended its lead to six runs when Paige Halstead hit a solo blast in the bottom of the fifth. The Bruins capped the scoring in the bottom of the sixth when Spaulding stole home and Halstead then ripped an RBI single to left.
With UCLA leading 9-1, the mercy rule was invoked. Ta'amilo (2-0) picked up the win, scattering four hits and striking out six over six innings.
BRUINS WIN! UCLA moves to 9-1 with a 9-1, six-inning win over UC Davis. Halstead clinches it with a single to left. UCLA vs. Liberty at 2. pic.twitter.com/scCh9LNJzq— UCLA Softball (@UCLASoftball) February 19, 2017
The nightcap against Liberty proved a little more difficult for the Bruins, but thanks to another strong start from Johanna Grauer (4-0), UCLA eventually seized control of the game. UCLA took a 2-0 lead in the first when Rachel Garcia doubled home Perez and Bubba Nickles. A bases-loaded single by Perez plated another run in the fifth. But when Liberty strung together a pair of hits to produce a run in the sixth, the Bruins responded with four runs of their own in the bottom half. The rally started with a solo shot by Jelenicki--her second of the day--and included a steal of home by Gabrielle Maurice, another RBI double for Perez, and a run-scoring single by Nickles.
Garcia came in from the bullpen to slam the door on Liberty in the seventh to secure UCLA's 7-1 win. Grauer allowed just three hits in her six innings of work, striking out eight.
Although UCLA dominated both teams on Sunday, neither the Aggies nor the Flame have anywhere near the talent of the Bulldogs. Georgia was outstanding in its first dozen games, and several players accumulated impressive numbers, most notably Alyssa DiCarlo (7 home runs, 23 RBI) and Brittany Gray (7-0, 0.66 ERA). But the Bulldogs got beat 4-0 by #23 BYU in an early game today, and DiCarlo was held to a single and Gray lasted just three innings in which she gave up four runs.
Nevertheless, the Bruins will be expecting a tough game in the opener. UCLA has only played two games against top-25 competition so far, and UCLA split those two games. In particular, it's important for UCLA's star freshmen--Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles--to get as much experience as possible against elite opponents before the start of the Pac-12 season. It will also be a good "warm-up" for the trio of top-10 opponents this weekend.