#10 UCLA Softball (21-6)
Opponent: #20 Utah (19-4)
When: 3:30 PM PT, Saturday, March 18, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
GAMEDAY! Bruins vs. Utes, part two, at 3:30 p.m. at Easton. Get there early to watch UCLA take batting practice on the field at 1 p.m. pic.twitter.com/lenL58Wd99— UCLA Softball (@UCLASoftball) March 18, 2017
UCLA began its 2017 Pac-12 campaign in much the same fashion that it ended the tournament portion of the regular season, albeit with one major difference: instead of earning a one-run victory, the Bruins were the victims of a 2-1 loss to the Utes.
What the Bruins discovered yesterday evening--and what they surely already knew--is that scoring a run or two may be good enough to beat an average team like Texas or Long Beach State, but it likely won't be good enough against a team as strong as Utah.
To be fair, the Bruins out-hit the Utes 7-6, and had three extra-base hits while Utah had none, but the Bruins didn't draw a single walk in seven innings and repeatedly failed to come up with clutch hits. Needless to say, against tough competition, that's a formula for failure.
Johanna Grauer started in the circle for the Bruins. Unfortunately, she didn't make it out of the third inning. Three singles produced two runs for Utah before Rachel Garcia was summoned to get the final out. I admit that I don't understand Coach Inouye-Perez' use of her pitching staff, but hopefully that will become clearer as the season progresses.
In any case, Garcia was solid in relief, holding the Utes scoreless the rest of the way while her teammates struggled to produce runs.
UCLA finally got on the scoreboard with one out in the seventh when Brianna Tautalafua smashed a one-out solo home run to left center. Garcia followed with a double, but the Bruins couldn't find a way to bring her home.
UCLA's 2-1 loss to Utah was a pretty painful way to kick-off what was projected to be a season in which UCLA will contend for the Pac-12 title. Of course it's far too early to write-off the Bruins' chances of capturing the conference crown, but based on the first few weeks of the season, and the last three games in particular, UCLA doesn't look ready for the challenge of facing elite opponents game after game.
For the most part, UCLA's pitching staff has taken care of business. Bruin hurlers have allowed more than three runs in just five games so far. On the flip side, UCLA's lineup has failed to produce more than three runs in nine contests, and that lack of run support puts a lot of stress on the pitching staff.
The Bruins have scored just five runs total in their last three games and have hit just .233 during that stretch. Unless UCLA's bats heat up quickly, the Bruins will find themselves in a deep enough hole that they'll be playing catch-up throughout the conference season.