#13 UCLA Softball (24-8, 0-3)
Opponent: #8 Washington (26-6, 3-3)
When: 6:00 PM PT, Friday, March 31, 2017
Where: Husky Softball Stadium, Seattle, WA
Video: Pac-12 Network
Live Stats: Washington Huskies StatBroadcast
The last-place Bruins (24-8, 0-3) are in the northwest this weekend for a three-game series against the eighth-ranked Huskies (26-6, 3-3).
Although the conference season started just two weeks ago, UCLA is already four games behind #3 Oregon and four and a half games behind #4 Arizona in the Pac-12 standings. As I wrote in my season preview and have written many times since, the Pac-12 schedule promises to be brutal this year, and if the Bruins don't begin to climb out of the cellar this weekend, their opportunity to contend for the conference title will realistically be gone.
Last weekend UCLA got back to winning ways with a doubleheader sweep of BYU on Saturday and a single game victory over Dartmouth on Sunday. The three-game winning streak will give the Bruins a confidence boost as they begin this week's road trip, but the fact that UCLA continues to struggle to put runs on the scoreboard is very worrisome.
The win over Dartmouth was typical of the Bruins' performances of late. Johanna Grauer put in a workman-like effort in the circle, holding Dartmouth to a couple of runs on five hits, but the Bruins couldn't find a way to give Grauer a safe lead. Against a team that had won only once in 19 attempts, UCLA scratched out just eight hits--only one of which was for extra bases--and scored only one earned run. Thanks to three Dartmouth errors, the Bruins put four runs on the scoreboard. That was enough to beat Dartmouth, but it didn't give anyone any reason to believe that UCLA's three-week long batting slump is nearing an end.
UCLA's pitching has been generally very good while Bruin bats have been slumbering. During the eight game stretch in which UCLA's lineup has produced little in the way of run support, Coach Inouye-Perez' pitching staff has allowed more than two runs in a game only twice. But during that same span, UCLA's hitters have scored more than two runs in a game only three times, and the Bruins' offensive production has topped out at four runs. That level of performance is good enough to beat teams like Dartmouth and Long Beach State, but it's unlikely to be good enough to beat the Huskies.
Washington is one of the best hitting teams in the Pac-12. The Huskies are hitting .340 so far this season and have smacked 32 home runs. Those numbers are pretty similar to the Bruins' stats before UCLA's hitting went south. Likewise, there's not much difference between the Huskies' and the Bruins' pitching stats, but the Bruins have been more generous than the Huskies in passing out unearned runs.
After enjoying a 12-game winning streak in March, the Huskies ran into trouble in Tucson last weekend. The Wildcats dominated the Huskies in a three-game set, holding Washington to just two runs for the entire weekend. The sweep was a big setback for Washington's conference title hopes and will surely have dented the Huskies' confidence.
To the extent that there's a good time to play Washington, this may be it. UCLA has to take advantage of the opportunity. If the Bruins drop the weekend series to the Huskies, UCLA's conference championship dreams may very well be over before the Pac-12 season really got started.