#13 UCLA Softball (30-12, 5-7)
Opponent: Cal (26-13, 3-8)
When: 7:00 PM PT, Friday, April 21, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Network
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
As the Bruins prepare to embark on the second half of the Pac-12 season, they find themselves sitting in the middle of the conference standings, six and a half games behind first place Arizona, and six games ahead of last place Stanford. UCLA trails four conference foes and leads four others.
Fifth-place is certainly not where the Bruins expected to find themselves 12 games into the Pac-12 season. It's a disappointing position to be sure, but with back-to-back series against eighth-place Cal and ninth-place Stanford, there's plenty of opportunity for UCLA to gain ground in the standings over the next two weeks. In fact, if the Bruins can somehow manage to sweep the Bears, they will finally raise their conference record above .500.
Of course, this is the same situation that the Bruins found themselves in last weekend against Oregon State. While the Pac-12's four top teams were playing each other, UCLA missed an opportunity to climb back into the conference title race when the Bruins dropped two out of three against the Beavers. Worse yet, UCLA played poorly, and in particular, the Bruins' pitching was woeful.
UCLA looked a bit better in their midweek game against Cal State Fullerton. The Bruins hammered out 13 hits against a decent Titan pitching staff, and Brianna Tautalafua drove in four of UCLA's seven runs with a pair of homers.
That's the good news. Unfortunately, neither UCLA's pitching nor its defense was impressive. Paige McDuffee, Selina Ta'amilo, and Johanna Grauer conceded 11 hits and three runs, and UCLA's fielders tossed in a couple of errors to ensure that Fullerton had runners on base in all but one inning. In fact, the Titans had multiple baserunners in five of the seven innings, which is especially worrisome given that Fullerton is at best an average hitting team.
Ta'amilo was awarded the win, although she gave up six hits and two runs in three and two-thirds innings in relief. She now has a perfect 8-0 mark for 2017, but her record doesn't accurately reflect the quality of her pitching.
Coach Inouye-Perez has become increasingly dependent on freshman hurler Rachel Garcia in conference play. She will no doubt be today's starter, and I suspect that she'll start game 3 as well. While I don't doubt her ability to lead UCLA's pitching staff, she needs help from UCLA's other hurlers. Simply put, Garcia's effectiveness is diminished if she has to pitch every game.
Although the Bruins have been hitting better of late, they're still not doing a great job of demonstrating patience at the plate. It was true against Fullerton too, with none of UCLA's batters getting aboard via a base on balls. It shows up in the pitch count as well: Fullerton's pitch count was 99 while UCLA's was 136.
UCLA should be careful not to underestimate the Bears. Cal is still receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, and the Bears have an excellent non-conference record. Furthermore, Cal's aggressive style of play will put plenty of pressure on UCLA's pitching and defense.
There's a lot at stake for the Bruins this weekend. If UCLA can string together a half a dozen strong performances over the next two weeks, the Bruins should be in position to pass Washington and Utah in the closing weeks of the season against the Arizona schools.