#12 UCLA Softball (33-12)
Opponent: Cal State Northridge (27-16)
When: 3:30 PM PT, Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Where: Matador Diamond, Northridge, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: None
For the second week in a row, the Bruins have a midweek game ahead of a crucial Pac-12 weekend series. With important games against Stanford on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, UCLA would love to make easy work of today's contest Cal State Northridge.
It won't be easy, however. Although the Matadors are not a ranked team, they are exactly the kind of team that the Bruins may end up facing in the first weekend of NCAA Tournament games. in other words, this is the type of game that UCLA has to be prepared for as the postseason looms.
Last week was a very good week for the Bruins. They bounced back from a disappointing end to their series in Corvallis with four straight wins, including a series sweep of 27th-ranked Cal over the weekend.
The Bruins put together their best game of the series on Sunday. Johanna Grauer started in the circle for Coach Inouye-Perez, but she didn't make it out of the second inning. Grauer survived a bout of wildness in the first (two walks and a wild pitch), but it caught up with her an inning later. After retiring the first two batters in the second, Grauer conceded a single, plunked the next hitter, and then walked the following batter.
Once again, Coach KIP turned to Rachel Garcia. Although Garcia allowed one run to score, she snuffed out the threat.
UCLA struck back immediately. In the bottom half of the second, Delaney Spaulding clubbed a two-run homer to right, and an inning later, Bubba Nickles hit a rocket over the fence in left center for a 4-1 lead.
The Bruins weren't finished. Gabrielle Maurice singled and scored when the next batter, Paige Halstead, drilled a double into left center to put the Bruins up 5-1 after three innings.
Nickles struck again in the fifth when she ripped her second home run of the game and eighth of the season. Not to be out-done, Spaulding clubbed her second home run of the day and her tenth of 2017 in the sixth to give Garcia an 8-1 lead heading into the seventh.
Garcia didn't need the additional runs. She retired the side in order in the seventh to wrap up her 15th win of the season. In five and a third innings of work, she allowed just two hits while striking out four.
Highlights from the 8-1 victory over the Golden Bears are courtesy of UCLA Athletics:
Rachel Garcia was a well-deserved winner of both the Pac-12 Player of the Week and Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after earning two wins and a save in the Bruins' weekend sweep of Cal.
In spite of four good wins last week, the Bruins moved up just one spot (to #12) in the NFCA Coaches Poll this week. And despite sweeping a Pac-12 foe, UCLA moved up just one place in the standings--from fifth place into a tie for fourth place with Washington). More importantly, the sweep of Cal finally put the Bruins' conference record over .500, and they have a great opportunity to improve on it this weekend against last place Stanford.
The one worrisome aspect of last week's performances is UCLA's growing reliance on Rachel Garcia. Garcia is a terrific pitcher--especially for a freshman--but if the Bruins are going to be successful in the postseason, the contributions from Coach Inouye-Perez' other hurler have to be larger and more consistent.
I can't imagine that Garcia will start today. Therefore, today's game against the Matadors offers the perfect opportunity for Selina Ta'amilo, Johanna Grauer, and/or Paige McDuffee to show what they can do.