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UCLA Softball: Can the Bruins Slug Their Way Past the Matadors?

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The Bruins face Cal State Northridge this evening in their opening game of the Los Angeles Regional. With the necessity of keeping UCLA ace Ally Carda as fresh as possible, the Bruins need to score early and often.

@UCLAAthletics

Opponent: Cal State Northridge (41-15)

When: Friday, May 15, 5:30 PM PDT

Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA

Audio: None

Watch: ESPN3

Watch Online:

Live Stats: NCAA GameCenter Live Stats

UCLA Resources: UCLA Official PreviewUCLA Media Guide

Los Angeles Regional ResourcesTournament Central

NCAA Resources: NCAA Bracket

UCLA is hosting the 2015 NCAA Los Angeles Regional Softball Tournament this weekend. Four teams will be taking part in a double-elimination tournament: UCLA, Texas, San Diego State, and Cal State Northridge. The winner of the Los Angeles Regional will play the winner of the Columbia Regional next weekend.

The Bruins open the tournament today with an evening game against the Cal State Northridge Matadors (41-15). If the Bruins win, they will play the winner of today's first game between the Aztecs and the Longhorns; otherwise, they will have to face today's game 1 loser in an elimination game. In either scenario, the Bruins will play their second game of the regional tomorrow.

Scouting the Bruins

UCLA (45-10) advanced to the tournament after finishing second to #1 Oregon in the Pac-12. The Bruins took the race for the conference title to the final weekend, but ultimately wound up two games behind the Ducks in the standings. UCLA is the seventh-seed in the tournament.

Although the Bruins have been playing a lot of long ball of late, they aren't a team packed with sluggers. In fact, UCLA has a remarkably balanced and effective offensive attack, starting with sophomore Delaney Spaulding in the leadoff spot and finishing with freshman Kylee Perez at the bottom of the batting order. Only one of the Bruins' starters is hitting under .300, and as a team, the Bruins are national co-leaders in team batting average at .372.

Spaulding was moved to the leadoff spot late in the season and one of the results was a power surge. She now leads the Bruins with 17 home runs, and is second on the team with a .410 batting average.

Junior Allexis Bennett has been moved to the second slot in the batting order after leading the team in batting average for most of the season. Her .513 batting average ranks second nationally.

Senior Ally Carda now hits third. She has seven homers and is hitting .312. Senior Stephany LaRosa hits cleanup. She is second in home runs with 15 and is hitting .378.

Freshman Maddy Jelenicki usually hits behind LaRosa; she's batting .289 with 7 homers. Sophomore Gabrielle Maurice has had an outstanding sophomore campaign. She hits in the six spot, carries a .397 average and has clubbed eight home runs.

Seniors Mysha Sataraka and Gracie Goulder hit in the seventh and eighth slots, respectively. Sataraka is hitting .329 and Goulder is at .372. Last but not least, batting in the ninth spot is freshman Kylee Perez. Perez is hitting .368 with four home runs.

While the Bruins feature an impressive group of batters, the pitching staff is not particularly deep. Ally Carda leads the way with a 26-6 record and a 2.28 era. Freshmen Johanna Grauer and Selina Ta'amilo are the other two pitchers, but neither has proven a reliable second day starter. Grauer is 10-1 with a 3.26 ERA, and Ta'amilo is 6-2 with a 3.19 ERA.

The Bruins continue to accumulate conference and national honors. Earlier this week, Ally Carda was named Pac-12 Player of the Year, and nine of her teammates joined her in being chosen for All-Pac-12 Conference Teams.

Four of the UCLA award winners were named to the All-Pac-12 First Team, Carda, senior Stephany LaRosa, junior Allexis Bennett and sophomore Delaney Spaulding. LaRosa received her fourth First Team award to become the 26th Bruin to accomplish the feat. Carda's First Team accolade was her third in a row, while it was the first for both Bennett (Honorable Mention in '13 and '14) and Spaulding (Second Team last year). The four First Team awards for the Bruins tied Oregon for the most in the conference.

Sophomore Gabrielle Maurice was recognized on the All-Pac-12 Second Team, while senior Gracie Goulder and freshman Kylee Perez were named Honorable Mention. It is the first All-Pac-12 award for all three players.

Four Bruin freshmen were also honored, as Perez and Maddy Jelenicki were named to the All-Freshman Team, with Johanna Grauer and Selina Ta'amilo receiving Honorable Mention.

In the inaugural year of defensive awards, LaRosa was named to the All-Defensive Team, with Bennett and Carda receiving Honorable Mention.

Yesterday, UCLA announced that seven Bruins were selected to NFCA West All-Region Teams:

A school-record seven Bruins were named to the NFCA West All-Region Teams on Thursday, as seniors Ally Carda and Gracie Goulder, junior Allexis Bennett and sophomore Delaney Spaulding were named First Team, senior Stephany LaRosa and sophomore Gabrielle Maurice earned Second Team honors and freshman Kylee Perez received Third Team accolades.

And Allexis Bennett has been selected as a Top 10 finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.

Today's starting lineup for UCLA will probably look like this:

  1. Spaulding SS
  2. Bennett CF
  3. Carda P
  4. LaRosa C
  5. Jelenicki 1B
  6. Maurice LF
  7. Sataraka 3B
  8. Goulder 2B
  9. Perez RF

Scouting the Matadors

Cal State Northridge advanced to the NCAA tournament as Big West conference champions. Their run to the conference championship rests on the work of two very good pitchers, freshman Zoe Conley and senior Brianna Elder. Conley (19-5) leads the Matadors in ERA (1.58) and shutouts (8), but she's a pitch-to-contact hurler. Elder (18-6) throws harder, has more strikeouts and a lower batting average against (.199), but she's prone to giving up the long ball. Nevertheless, Elder sports a 2.06 ERA in nearly 177 innings of work. Both Conley and Elder earned First Team All-Big West honors, and Conley was named Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year.

CSUN also has the Big West Player of the Year in Katie Hooper. Hooper leads the Matadors with a .391 batting average and 15 home runs. Taylor Glover isn't far behind Hooper with a .386 batting average Freshman Savannah Horvath checks in with a .335 average and nine home runs. Horvath was named Big West Co-Freshman of the Year, and both Glover and Horvath were selected to the All-Big West First team.

The Matadors don't pack a lot of punch, so they rely on small ball to score runs. CSUN averages only about 5 runs a game, which means that they rely heavily on their pitchers to keep their opponents' bats quiet.

The Bruins and Matadors met in the last week of March, and the Bruins escaped with a hard-earned 6-4 win in 10 innings. Johanna Grauer started that game for the Bruins, surrendering four runs in one and two-thirds innings of work. Ally Carda relieved Grauer and pitched eight and a third scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out 11. The Bruins hammered 13 hits and drew five walks against Conley and Elder, but they stranded a lot of runners. By comparison, the Matadors made the most of their five hits.

What to Expect

Ally Carda will almost certainly start in the circle for UCLA. The Bruins have been scoring runs early the past few weeks, and if that trend continues today, then Carda may give way to Grauer or Ta'amilo. This is the dilemma for Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez: how to protect a lead while making sure that Carda gets adequate rest.

To advance from the Los Angeles Regional, the Bruins need to win three games. In order to do so, they might have to play four games in three days. Carda can't pitch every inning of every game this weekend, so it's really important that the Bruins score early and often. The more innings that the Bruins' freshman hurlers can pitch, the better off the Bruins will be at the end of the weekend.

This is a game that the Bruins should win. If the Bruins can meet or beat their season average of eight runs per game against the Matadors, they should be good position to walk away with a win tonight.

Go BRUINS!