#13 UCLA Softball (29-12)
Opponent: Cal State Fullerton (23-18)
When: 7:00 PM PT, Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The Bruins are back in Easton Stadium this evening after returning from an ugly and disappointing road trip to Corvallis. UCLA managed to salvage one of the three games, but even then the Bruins pitching staff came dangerously close to giving Oregon State a seventh inning, come-from-behind victory.
That doesn't come close to describing how poor UCLA's pitching was last week, however. In game 1, the Bruins' pitchers gave up eight runs in five innings, and that was enough for OSU to claim a five inning, mercy rule win.
In game 2, the Bruins jumped out to a 7-0 lead before letting the Beavers back into the contest in the last few innings. In fact, the Beavers had the tying run at second and the winning run at first with no outs in the seventh before Rachel Garcia finally extinguished Oregon State's rally.
Then in game 3, after fighting back for a 5-3 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth, Garcia allowed the Beavers to even the score in the bottom of the sixth before conceding three more runs in the bottom of the seventh.
UCLA's hurlers gave up 21 runs over the course of the three-game set against one of the Pac-12's weaker teams. That's a pretty troubling stat. Even worse, with the top four teams in the Pac-12 playing each other, the Bruins had a wonderful opportunity to gain ground in the standings, but the Bruins actually managed to fall further behind while battling seventh-place OSU.
Simply put, there will be no Pac-12 title for UCLA Softball in 2017.
At this point, it looks like the Bruins will only finish with a .500+ record in the conference if they can sweep at least five of the next six games against Pac-12 foes. UCLA has a three-game homestand this weekend against eighth-place Cal, and then travels to Palo Alto next weekend for a three-game series against ninth-place Stanford. Winning five or more of those six games is definitely doable if the Bruins' pitching staff gets back to its early season form.
The Titans are a good bet to be an NCAA Tournament team in 2017, and might well end up being an early round opponent for UCLA. The two teams met earlier this season with the Bruins escaping with a 2-0 win. However, UCLA only managed to score in that contest because of four Titan errors that gifted the Bruins both of their runs. Neither team produced much at the plate; each team's hit total was four singles.
I suspect that the Bruins will see Fullerton's ace, senior Kelsey Kessler, this evening. Kessler sports an impressive 1.81 ERA and averages nearly a strikeout per inning.
I won't even try to predict which of UCLA's four pitchers will start in the circle today. There had been chatter last week that freshman Bubba Nickles was working on her pitching in practice, but so far Coach KIP seemingly hasn't been tempted to use her.
It's fair to say, though, that none of UCLA's hurlers pitched well in Corvallis. That has to change this week, starting today against Cal State Fullerton. While it's not really quite accurate to describe this as the start of the home stretch of the regular season, with the start of the postseason just one month away, the Bruins have to begin to establish some consistency. If they do, they have the talent to return to the Women's College World Series; if they don't, they won't be playing in June.