#13 UCLA Softball (31-12, 6-7)
Opponent: #27 Cal (26-14, 3-9)
When: 7:00 PM PT, Saturday, April 22, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Video: Pac-12 Network
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
For six and a half innings, the Bruins were a clear second-best to the Golden Bears. And then, in the bottom of the seventh, trailing 2-0, UCLA's batters finally awoke from their slumber, hammering out three hits which brought home three runs and earned the Bruins a much-needed win.
Rachel Garcia had kept UCLA in the game with a seven inning six hitter that included nine strikeouts. Although Cal had managed to score a pair of runs, they were largely a consequence of UCLA's shabby fielding.
Meanwhile, UCLA's hitters had mostly been spectators. Aside from a single by Garcia in the second and a single by Gabrielle Maurice in the fifth, the Bruins' bats had been awfully quiet. Through six innings, UCLA had left just three runners left on base while putting up a half dozen goose eggs on the scoreboard.
That all changed when the Bruins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. Madeline Jelenicki led off with a single, and Garcia drew a walk to put runners on first and second.
Coach Inouye-Perez then made a questionable tactical decision. With .323-hitting Paige Halstead at the plate, Coach KIP called for a sacrifice bunt, which moved the runners into scoring position for Bubba Nickles (.266) and Maurice (.204) to bring home.
The strategy may not have been sound, but it worked last night. Nickles delivered a single down the right field line to drive in both runners, and she advanced to second on a fielding error in right. That brought Maurice to the plate, and she knocked a double to deep left center to score Nickles and give the Bruins an improbable 3-2 come-from-behind win.
Highlights of UCLA's seventh inning comeback are courtesy of the Pac-12 Network:
Gabrielle Maurice was UCLA's hitting star with a pair of hits, including the game-winner. Despite struggling through a difficult batting slump for a second straight year, Maurice works hard and handles the situation with great class. She was a well-deserved choice for the postgame interview.
Rachel Garcia picked up her 14th win of the season with her complete game effort, and the Bruins moved within a game of a .500 conference mark. The victory allowed UCLA to gain a game on both Utah and Oregon. Depending on how the rest of the weekend plays out, the Bruins may be able to catch the Huskies for fourth place. That would be a big step forward for UCLA after a stuttering start to the Pac-12 season.
One of the Bruins' other hurlers will have to step up today and deliver a strong performance. Although Cal has a strong team, the Bruins desperately need a series win, and a series win would be even better. With a series against #3 Arizona on the horizon, UCLA can't afford to lose games to bottom-of-the-pack teams and still expect to finish the season with a winning conference record.
Finally, even though there's a lot to like about the Bruins' ability to produce these tremendous late game rallies, I'd happily settle for a fistful of early runs and a comfortable win delivered by strong pitching and solid fielding. There are no bonus points for winning games the hard way.