The biggest knock on UCLA Softball head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez over the past few seasons has been her bizarre strategic decisions. Sometimes, they pay off and, other times like in the WCWS last season, they really blow up.
Today’s strategic decisions were some of the strangest. Thankfully, none of them really blew up, but it still doesn’t excuse them.
In Game 6 of the LA Regional this afternoon, Inouye-Perez finally decided to give freshman Megan Faraimo a start. That was a sound decision because you don’t want her to have to get her feet wet later in the tournament when a win is needed to advance.
But, then, Inouye-Perez made one of the most questionable decisions I’ve seen her make.
After Faraimo gave up two hits to Missouri’s first two batters to start the game, Inouye-Perez brought Rachel Garcia in to pitch 52⁄3 innings of the 6 innings which remained.
In other words, Inouye-Perez sent a message to her freshman pitcher that she has absolutely no faith in her. Well, as it turned out, the two runners who got on base scored and the Missouri pitchers kept the Bruins from scoring more than one run.
So, the pitching change also managed to make sure that Garcia would pitch the bulk of both games today. Inouye-Perez didn’t seem to have a contingency plan in the event that UCLA lost today’s first game.
When you consider that Missouri knocked Garcia around for three runs, there was no reason to believe that they wouldn’t knock her around again, just like Florida State did in the WCWS last season.
As it turns out, the Bruin bats came alive in Game 7 and Garcia was able to stymie the Tigers in the game after she was knocked around in Game 6. It goes to show you that you just can’t predict how things will go.
But, it doesn’t change the fact that Kelly Inouye-Perez’s bizarre in-game strategies are problematic, at best, and destructive, at worst.
Let me recap today’s games.
In Game 6, as I mentioned Faraimo got the start and gave up a single and a double before giving way to Garcia. That gave the Tigers runners on second and third with no outs. When Garcia came in, she threw a pitch which got passed catcher Taylor Pack allowing one run to score. After Garcia struck out the first batter she faced, Missouri scored their second run of the game on a fielder’s choice as the Tigers took a 2-0 lead.
The Bruins cut the lead to 2-1 in the fifth. Briana Perez singled with one out and Aaliyah Jordan did the same. Pack added an RBI single which scored Perez from second.
But Missouri got the run back in the bottom of the inning when Garcia gave up an RBI double which made it 3-1, Tigers.
Inouye-Perez’s bizarre strategic decisions came on the offense as well. With two outs and the Bruins trailing by two in the top of the sixth, Inouye-Perez sent in Malia Quarles as a pinch-hitter for Kelli Godin, the Pac-12 batting champ. Why would she use a pinch-hitter who only had 11 hits in 31 at-bats all season instead over Godin who had 49 hits in 114 at-bats? Quarles’ batting average is about 80 points lower than Godin.
Sure, three of Quarles’ 11 hits have been homers but a homer doesn’t do much with no runners on base when you’re down by two with four outs to go.
In the bottom of the sixth, Garcia gave up a two-run homer that increased Missouri’s lead to 5-1. Game 7 became a necessity when UCLA couldn’t score in tahe top of the seventh.
Now, the circumstances were different from last year in Oklahoma City. Today’s weather in Westwood was in the mid-60s; whereas, it was much hotter in OKC during the WCWS last year, but, after the way Missouri scored three runs off Garcia late in the first game, most coaches would have had a contingency plan for the second game.
Today, like last year in Oklahoma City, Kelly Inouye-Perez’s “contingency plan” was to try to win the first game and worry about the second game if it becomes necessary. Last year, her strategy backfired big time. Today, she was lucky that Missouri couldn’t seem to continue beating up Garcia and that her team found their bats for the second game.
That much was evident from the get-go when Bubba Nickles doubled to start the Bruins’ first inning rally. When Briana Perez reached on an error, Nickles was able to come around and score. Aaliyah Jordan followed with an RBI double which scored Perez from first while Jordan took third on the throw home. Garcia helped her own cause with a drive down the right field line that brough Jordan in and UCLA led 3-0 after one inning.
Godin walked to start the second inning and Nickles reached on a fielding error, giving the Bruins runners on first and second with no outs. A wild pitch saw the runners move up to second and third. When Perez grounded to second, the throw went home cutting down Godin, but leaving UCLA with Nickles on third and Perez on first. Jordan then grounded to first. The throw came home again, but the throw was wide, allowing Nickels to score. Jordan tried to take advantage of the throwing error by taking second but the throw to second by the Tigers’ catcher saw Jordan get tagged out, but not before Perez had also scored. UCLA now led 5-0 after two.
Taylor Pack led off the third inning with a single through the right side of the infield and Colleen Sullivan followed with a walk. Jacqui Prober was sent in to run for Sullivan. Kinsley Washington loaded the bases with a one-out infield single.
Again, Inouye-Perez pinch-hit for the Pac-12 batting champ with Malia Quarles and, again, Inouye-Perez’s over-managing resulted in an out.
Thankfully, Bubba Nickles followed and she cleared the bases with a 3-RBI double. The Bruins now led 8-0.
In the top of the fourth, Missouri finally got to Garcia, but, thankfully, it was only for a solo home run that made it 8-1, UCLA. In the bottom half of the inning, Perez led off with a triple and Jordan walked on four pitches. That was enough to send the Tigers to their bullpen for their third pitcher of the game. It also saw Inouye-Perez send Zoe Shaw in to pinch-run for Jordan. Garcia came to the dish and, while the pitcher was different, the result was the same. She also walked on four pitches loading the bases and Stevie Wisz came in to pinch-run for Garcia. That brought Taylor Pack to the plate and she walked to, just not on four pitches. The walk scored Perez from third, giving the Bruins a 9-1 lead, which would win the game under the mercy rule if UCLA could keep the Tigers from scoring in the fifth.
But, the Bruins weren’t done.
With still just one out, Washington singled to center, scoring Shaw and Wisz at it was 11-1, Bruins. Inouye-Perez went to her bench one more time. This time, she sent Lauren Brzykey in to pinch-run for Pack. If you happen to check the UCLA softball roster listed on UCLA’s website, you won’t find Brzykey’s name on the roster, even though her name may be familiar. That’s because Brzykey was the backup goalie on the women’s soccer team this past season.
Brzykey was added to the softball roster on Friday morning because two of the Bruin pinch-runners were injured. For those who may be keeping score at home next weekend, she is wearing #15.
Anyway, when Godin reached on a fielder’s choice, the bases were loaded again for Bubba Nickles. She hit a 2-RBI single to left which scored Brzykey and Washington, but, after Washington crossed the plate, Godin was thrown out trying to advance to third. UCLA ended up adding five runs in the inning and the Bruins took a commanding 13-1 lead.
I guess I have to give Kelly Inouye-Perez a little bit of credit. She learned from yesterday’s game and didn’t bring in a relief pitcher to close out the fifth inning in this one. Garcia went back to the circle and quickly got the first two outs of the inning before walking a pinch-hitter, but it didn’t matter because she got the next batter to ground out to Perez at short and the Bruins will now advance to the Super Regional next weekend where they will host either Michigan or James Madison.
That won’t be decided until tomorrow because Game 6 of the Ann Arbor Regional was postponed due to rain and will be played tomorrow at 9 am PT on ESPN2.