#10 UCLA Softball (21-7, 0-2)
Opponent: #20 Utah (20-4, 2-0)
When: 5:00 PM PT, Sunday, March 19, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
UCLA dropped the second game of its three-game series against Utah yesterday by a score of 7-2, but the score hardly tells the story of the game. The Utes out-classed the Bruins in every aspect of the game, and for the second straight day, UCLA's batters looked over-matched against Utah's pitching staff.
To be fair, Bruin hitters have been in a batting slump for a week now, but UCLA's ineptitude at the plate reached a new level yesterday. For six innings the Bruins weren't just hitless--they couldn't even find a way to get a runner on base. UCLA didn't get its first baserunner until Bubba Nickles drew a one-out walk in the seventh. Seeing a runner on base must have been such a shock to Utes' starter Katie Donovan that she promptly surrendered a hit--a double by Delaney Spaulding--and eventually conceded two runs when she gave up a two-out single to Brianna Tautalafua.
Of course the game was no longer in doubt at that point because Utah took a 7-0 lead into the final frame. Rachel Garcia started for the Bruins, and following on from her strong 4+ innings of relief on Friday, she kept the Utes in check through the first four innings on Saturday.
Everything came apart for the Bruins in the fifth, though. It started with a pair of fly outs. So far, so good. Then Garcia struck out the next batter for what should have been the third out, of the inning except that the pitch got by the catcher. That put a runner on first, and a walk later, the Utes had runners on first and second.
Utah's next batter knocked a single to center, and all of the Ute runners advanced an extra base on Gabrielle Maurice's throwing error. Down 1-0 with runners on second and third, Garcia intentionally walked Utah's next batter to get to the clean-up hitter, Anissa Urtez. Urtez made the Bruins pay by singling to left, and each of the runners advanced an extra base on Zoe Shaw's fielding error.
In the end, Utah tallied three runs on just two hits along with the generosity of the Bruins.
After retiring the side in the sixth, Garcia was replaced by Paige McDuffee. While I can't claim to see any underlying philosophy to Coach Inouye-Perez' use of her pitching staff--and in particular, her decision to use Garcia in long relief on day 1 and then start her on day 2--I can't fault her for wanting to give McDuffee an inning of work.
Unfortunately, it was a disastrous inning of work. McDuffee gave up a pair of singles sandwiched around a walk to load the bases, and then served up a grand slam to the fourth batter of the inning. A 3-0 Utah lead instantly ballooned into a 7-0 seventh-inning lead, effectively putting the game out of reach of the so far hitless Bruins.
Though the Bruins eventually got a couple of hits and a couple of runs, they never seriously threatened to take a lead in the contest.
Based on the way the Bruins have played in the first two games of the series, it's hard to see UCLA as a serious Pac-12 contender. If that's going to change, UCLA has to start bunching some hits, finding other ways to get runners on base, and being opportunistic when runners are in scoring position. Something has to change. The Bruins are hitting under .200 since last Saturday. That may be good enough to eke out wins against mediocre teams like Long Beach State and Texas, but it's a formula for failure in the Pac-12.
Eventually the Bruins will snap out of their hitting slump, but in the meantime, they need to find a way to manufacture runs. Let's hope they do better this afternoon in the series finale against Utah.