#15 UCLA Softball (21-8)
Opponent: BYU (21-7)
Game 1: 12:00 PM PT, Saturday, March 25, 2017
Game 2: 2:30 PM PT, Saturday, March 25, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
After a finals week break, the 15th-ranked Bruins return to the diamond today for a doubleheader against #26 BYU.
UCLA is carrying a three-game losing streak after being swept by Utah last week, and has been fighting a two-week long hitting slump that has seen the Bruins score just seven runs in their last five contests. UCLA has hit a measly .189 during that stretch. As good as the Bruins' pitching has been in 2017, that level of hitting and run production won't get the job done against good teams.
BYU is a good team. It's fair to say that the Cougars are hot, too, as they bring a nine-game winning streak to Westwood. To be fair, BYU's winning streak has come at the expense of some pretty average teams, but earlier this week, the Cougars earned a good win over the 11th-ranked Utes.
In other words, the Bruins will have to play better softball than they have recently if they hope to get back to wining ways. With a road trip to Seattle to battle #6 Washington on the schedule for next weekend, UCLA needs to find answers for its batting woes sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the Bruins will be out of contention in the Pac-12 after just two weeks of conference play.
UCLA's pitching hasn't been bad during the team's batting slump, but bouts of wildness and fielding errors have contributed to the Bruins' problems. Those are exactly the kinds of mistakes that teams fighting to break out of hitting slumps can't afford. On top of that, there's a positive feedback effect that magnifies the impact of every problem: pitchers and fielders feel additional pressure when they can't count on run support, and struggling batters feel additional pressure when they are constantly trailing in games.
That's why it's essential for the Bruins to put some runs on the board in the early innings today. UCLA's pitchers haven't pitched with a lead for nearly two weeks, and UCLA's batters haven't scored a first inning run since they put up seven against Longwood on March 10th. A couple of early runs today would give UCLA's hitters a much-needed confidence boost. Any kind of runs will do, whether they come via home runs, walks, errors, or sacrifices. It's not just a matter of clutch hitting; the Bruins have to manufacture runs any way they can.
I know that this has been a really frustrating stretch for the Bruins and Coach Inouye-Perez. I'm particularly sympathetic to senior Gabrielle Maurice who battled through a long hitting slump last year and has been ineffective at the plate in the last few weeks. It's been a couple of weeks since she's had a hit, and as a result, her batting average has dipped well below the Mendoza Line. It's hard to find a silver-lining when you're struggling to break out of a slump, but Maurice has proven her mental toughness and her ability to contribute to the team in other meaningful ways. Let's hope that she's back to spraying pitches into the outfield gaps this weekend.
If the Bruins can put a few early runs on the board, UCLA's hurlers should be able to take care of the rest of the job. Today's doubleheader is a big opportunity for the Bruins to reboot before resuming the conference season. That reboot needs to start with the UCLA's bats heating up and giving its pitchers some much-needed run support.