#12 UCLA Softball (37-12, 11-7)
Opponent: #3 Arizona (47-5, 17-4)
When: 5:00 PM PT, Friday, May 5, 2017
Where: Easton Stadium. Los Angeles, CA
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The first-place Arizona Wildcats are in town for a three-game series that marks the beginning of the home stretch of the regular season. This weekend's contests are UCLA's final home games of the regular season. Next weekend's games in Tempe constitute the last Pac-12 games of 2017. NCAA Tournament action kicks off the following weekend.
Although the Bruins haven't been mathematically eliminated from the Pac-12 title race, it's highly improbable at this point that UCLA could climb out of fifth place and pass four teams while winning all six of its final games and getting a lot of help from conference foes. Let's not forget that the four teams ahead of UCLA in the most recent NFCA Coaches Poll are all top-10 teams. Therefore, the probability that they'll all crash and burn in the final two weeks of the season is infinitesimally small.
That said, there's still plenty for the Bruins to play for. UCLA will want to finish as strongly as possible to secure a good seed in the NCAA Tournament and to earn the privilege of being a home team for the Regionals. That's still a possibility for this team, and it's a big prize that should keep the Bruins pushing down the home stretch.
UCLA carries an eight-game winning streak into this evening's game. Of course, it's important to note that six of those eight wins came against the two weakest teams in the Pac-12 (Stanford and California), and the other two victories came against moderately strong southland teams (Cal State Fullerton & Cal State Northridge) in midweek games.
The other thing worth noting is that the Bruins have been short of impressive during the streak. There have been games when UCLA's lineup has battered the opposing pitching staff--the Bruins' 21-hit attack against Stanford last Friday is a good example--but in those games, UCLA's pitching has often been shaky. On the other hand, when Coach Inouye-Perez' pitching staff has turned in a strong performance--as in the Bruins' first two wins over Cal--UCLA's run production has been lacking.
On a positive note, UCLA looked solid in its 8-1 win over Stanford on Sunday. Selina Ta'amilo pitched a gem against the Cardinal, limiting them to three hits in five and two-thirds innings while improving her record to 12-0 for 2017. The Bruins' offense looked sharp too, producing eight runs on ten hits. Kylee Perez continued her hot hitting with three more hits, and Delaney Spaulding and Madeline Jelenicki both clubbed homers to left.
BRUINS WIN!!!!!!!! UCLA sweeps Stanford with an 8-1 win on Sunday. Eight straight victories for the Bruins. Home vs. Arizona next weekend. pic.twitter.com/GMtwsB5REN— UCLA Softball (@UCLASoftball) April 30, 2017
Coach KIP will be hoping that the Bruins' momentum carries over to the series against the Wildcats. Apart from UCLA's disastrous opening weekend of Pac-12 play when Utah walked away with a sweep, the Bruins have played relatively well against the other top teams (Oregon, Washington) in the conference. The Bruins definitely have the talent to beat Arizona, but the consistency just hasn't been there for most of the season.
This weekend is the Bruins' last best chance to show the NCAA selection committee that they are a legitimate national title contender deserving of hosting a Regional.