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UCLA Edges #7 LSU, Setting up Showdown with #1 Florida State

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On the final day of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic II, and less than 24 hours after an extra-inning victory over seventh-ranked LSU, the Bruins return to the diamond at Big League Dreams Sports Park to battle top-ranked Florida State.

@UCLASoftball

#6 UCLA Softball (13-2)

Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic II

Opponent: #1 Florida State (13-1)

When: 11:30 AM PT, Sunday, February 26, 2017

Where: Big League Dreams Sports Park, Cathedral City, CA

Audio: FSU Radio

Video: FloSoftball (subscription required)

Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast

Official Game Preview | Game Notes

The Bruins close out the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic II this morning when they face top-ranked Florida State.

UCLA is riding high after a hard-fought extra inning win over #7 LSU last night. And it was an especially sweet win for Rachel Garcia who came out of the bullpen to kill a Tiger rally in the seventh, and then held LSU scoreless when the international tie-breaker rule was put into play in the eighth.

It was an unexpected ending to a game that the Bruins had led comfortably from the first inning. Back-to-back singles by UCLA's freshman stars, Bubba Nickles and Garcia, was followed by a bases-loading walk drawn by Paige Halstead. Then, with one swing of the bat, Madeline Jelenicki put UCLA up by four when she slammed her second grand slam of the season over the left field wall.

LSU began chipping away at the Bruins' lead the very next inning. Paige McDuffee, in a rare start, allowed a one-out solo homer by LSU's Amanda Doyle in the top of the second to cut UCLA's lead to three, but it was still UCLA 4, LSU 1 when McDuffee returned to the circle for the fourth inning. One again, Doyle clubbed a one-out solo shot, and UCLA's lead was down to two. McDuffee finished the fourth, but Coach Inouye-Perez brought in pitcher Johanna Grauer for the fifth.

But in the bottom of the fifth, UCLA added an insurance run thanks to wildness by LSU hurler Carley Hoover. A leadoff double by Brianna Tautalafua was followed by a wild pitch and a pair of walks drawn by Gabrielle Maurice and Zoe Shaw. Two outs later, with the bases still loaded, the Bruins added another run when Hoover uncorked another wild pitch.

After relatively smooth sailing in the fifth and sixth, Grauer ran into trouble in the seventh. After retiring the first two batters in the inning, Grauer conceded a single, a walk, and another single to load the bases. When the next batter slapped a double down the left field line, three runners crossed the plate and the game was tied. Garcia was summoned to the circle, and she put out the fire with a strikeout.

The Bruins put runners on first and second with one out in the bottom half of the seventh, but when they failed to bring the go-ahead run home, the international tiebreaker rule came into effect in the eighth. That means that the Tigers started the inning with a runner placed at second. That posed no problem for Garcia, though, as she struck out the side on 12 pitches.

In the bottom half of the inning, with Tautalafua placed on second base, Maurice sacrificed her to third with a beautiful bunt that she dropped right on the line. Shaw followed with a grounder that the shortstop mishandled, and Tautalafua crossed the plate with the game-winning run.

Rachel Garcia (6-2) faced just four batters, striking out all four to pick up her sixth win of the season. Garcia also paced the Bruins offense with two of UCLA's six hits. Madeline Jelenicki had the big hit, though--her team-leading fifth homer of 2017.

When the Bruins take the field in Cathedral City against the Seminoles today, it will be UCLA's third straight top-10 opponent. In fact, going back to the opening game of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic II on Thursday, the Bruins are 2-1 against top-15 opponents this week. Of course, Florida State isn't just any top-15 team. The Seminoles are currently ranked first in the nation in both the NFCA Coaches poll and the USA Softball poll. And with three more ranked opponents on the schedule for next week, including #3 Florida, the Bruins are in the middle of a really challenging stretch in their non-conference schedule.

The Seminoles are solid at the plate, but the true strength of their team is in the circle. FSU sports an impressive 0.61 ERA through 14 games, and the staff averages a little over one strikeout per inning. Jessica Burroughs is the ace of the staff, striking out nearly 1.5 hitters per inning and holding opponents to a .125 batting average. Meghan King is no slouch either; she's 6-0 this season with a 0.38 ERA.

I'm anticipating a low-scoring game between these two pitching-deep teams. If the Bruins can score a couple of early runs, they have a great shot at upending the Seminoles.

Go BRUINS!