Bubba Nickles hit two home runs including a fourth-inning grand slam to lead the UCLA Bruins softball team past the Missouri Tigers yesterday in the NCAA Softball Los Angeles Regional.
Nickles got things going early for the Bruins when she led off the bottom of the first with a solo homer to center. After Briana Perez reached on an error, Aaliyah Jordan made it 3-0 with another homer to center.
Meanwhile, UCLA starter Rachel Garcia pitched four shutout innings, allowing just a walk in the first inning and a single in the second. After that single, she retired the next seven Missouri batters, and she struck out six over the first four innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Bruins exploded for six runs. With one out, Taylor Pack reached on an error while Colleen Sullivan singled to give UCLA two on with still one out. At this point, Kelly Inouye-Perez went to her bench. She sent Danae Blodgett to pinch-run for Sullivan and Brianna Tautalafua in to pinch-hit for Paige Halstead. Blodgett and Pack advanced on a passed ball. Tautalafua walked on four pitches and Inouye-Perez sent Stevie Wisz in to run for Tautalafua. Kinsley Washington came to the plate with the bases loaded and she reached on an error, which scored both Pack and Blodgett, as Kelli Godin stepped up to the plate with still just one out. Godin laid down a bunt for a base hit. Everybody was safe, and the bases were loaded again with still just one out. Up came Nickles and Bubba absolutely hammered it to left center for a grand slam, putting the Bruins up, 9-0, heading into the fifth.
This is when Inouye-Perez made another strategically odd decision and brought Megan Faraimo in to close out the Tigers, rather than just sticking with Garcia. On one hand, it could be argued that Inouye-Perez was trying to get the freshman some post-season experience. Well, if that’s what she wanted to do, the time to do that was at the beginning of the game. She should have started Faraimo instead of Garcia in this one if she was trying to do that.
Not Kelly Inouye-Perez.
She chose to bring in Faraimo at the worst possible moment — when the Tigers are about to have the mercy-rule end the game if they can’t score a pair of runs in the fifth. It was just the wrong time to make that kind of move.
Faraimo gave loaded the bases on a walk, an error and a hit-by-pitch before giving up a two-out RBI single.
So, what did Inouye-Perez do? Did she let her freshman take her lumps and try to work her way out of the inning with a 9-1 lead? Of course, she didn’t. She showed absolutely no faith in Faraimo and yanked her and put Garcia back in the circle.
Was winning in five innings more important than giving Faraimo that post-season experience? Apparently, it was to Kelly Inouye-Perez and Faraimo’s confidence be odamned.
And, now, the question is: Assuming they can get today’s action in, who will Inouye-Perez start in the circle today? Will she start Faraimo or Holly Azevedo and hold Garcia back for a possible second game, or will she start Garcia again?
The smart strategic decision is to opt for either Faraimo or Azevedo and rest Garcia until she’s absolutely needed. Of course, that means that we’re likely to see Garcia start the first game.
One quick note before I wrap up: NCAA rules dictate that the Bruins will be the visiting team in today’s first game. UCLA will be the home team for today’s second if it’s needed due to a Bruin loss in the first game.
This is your UCLA Bruins vs. Missouri Tigers NCAA Softball LA Regional Day Three open thread.