#9 UCLA Softball (26-9, 2-4)
Opponent: #2 Oregon (35-0, 8-0)
When: 7:00 PM PT, Friday, April 7, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Video: Pac-12 Network
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The talk ahead of the weekend series between the Bruins and the Ducks focuses almost exclusively on Oregon's 35-game win streak to open the 2017 season. The second-ranked Ducks are one win away from breaking the record for most consecutive wins to start a season.
The team whose record the Ducks are trying to break is, of course, the Bruins. The 1999 UCLA Bruins won 35 straight to open the season on their way to their eighth national title.
UCLA would love nothing more than to hand Oregon its first loss of the 2017 campaign and to leave the Ducks one game short of setting a new record. But from a more immediately practical point of view, UCLA can't afford to fall further behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 standings. The Bruins currently sit in sixth place, five and a half games behind first-place Oregon. If the Bruins can't at least earn a series win this weekend, any realistic chance of catching the Ducks will be gone.
After being swept by Utah in the first weekend of Pac-12 play, UCLA fought back to win two out of three last weekend in Seattle. Needless to say, the wins were very valuable, but at the same time, not all of the news coming out of the northwest last weekend was comforting to Bruins fans.
For example, aside from Rachel Garcia's excellent stint in the series opener, UCLA's pitching was terrible. Washington scored eight runs in game 2, and then easily topped that total with 12 runs in game 3.
In fact, the Bruins' pitching was bad enough against the Huskies that Coach Inouye-Perez is looking at using freshman Bubba Nickles as a pitcher in addition to her work at third base and in center field. I don't know how much of an impact Nickles can have as a hurler, but UCLA has to do better in the circle than we saw in the last two games of the Washington series.
On the other hand, in spite of UCLA's struggles in the circle, the Bruins' batting slump definitely seems to be over, finally. UCLA hammered out 30 hits over the course of the weekend, with five of the 30 hits leaving the park. That kind of offensive explosion can, to a degree, cover up for some pitching woes, but it won't be good enough to take the Bruins to where they want to go.
Needless to say, the Bruins won't be able to beat the Ducks this weekend without getting solid solid performances in the field, from the circle, and at the plate. As I wrote in my season preview, if the Bruins are going to return to the Women's College World Series, they will need to rely more on their pitching than they did last year.
There's no doubt that the UCLA hurler's have the talent to make this team special. What remains to be seen is if they can deliver against elite opponents like the Ducks.
There's a lot at stake for both teams today. A win by the Ducks will put enormous pressure on the Bruins to keep their conference title hopes alive by winning on Saturday and Sunday, whereas a win by the Bruins will signify that they are serious contenders.
Go BRUINS! Down the Ducks!