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UCLA Softball: Can the Bruins Tame the Tigers?

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The seventh-seeded UCLA Bruins battle the tenth-seeded Missouri Tigers today in the opening game of their Super Regional series. With two wins over the Tigers this weekend, the Bruins can advance to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

@Pac12Networks

Opponent: #10-seed Missouri (42-14)

When: Saturday, May 23, 5:00 PM PDT

Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA

Audio: None

Watch: ESPNU

Live Stats: NCAA GameCenter Live Stats | GameTracker

UCLA Resources: UCLA Official PreviewUCLA Media Guide

2015 NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional ResourcesTournament Central

NCAA Resources: NCAA Bracket

The seventh-seeded Bruins battle the tenth-seeded Tigers today in the 2015 NCAA Super Regionals. This is a double-elimination series, with a second game scheduled for noon tomorrow, and if necessary, a third game to follow at 3 pm. The winner of the Super Regional will advance to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

Scouting the Bruins

UCLA (48-10) advanced to the Super Regionals after sweeping the field in the Los Angeles Regional. On consecutive days, the Bruins beat Cal State Northridge, Texas, and San Diego State. UCLA is the seventh-seed in the tournament.

The Bruins closed out the regular season with a power surge, and it hasn't slowed a bit in the tournament. However, 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 home run spree. She now leads the Bruins with 19 home runs, and is second on the team with a .411 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 .524 batting average ranks second nationally and puts her in elite company in the UCLA record book. Only four Bruins have finished the season with a batting average above .500, and only two have season averages higher than Bennett's--Stacy Nuveman hit .529 in 2002 and Megan Lagenfeld hit .527 in 2010.

Senior Ally Carda now hits third. She has eight homers and is hitting .315. Senior Stephany LaRosa hits cleanup. She is second in home runs with 18 and is hitting .379.

Freshman Maddy Jelenicki usually hits behind LaRosa; she's batting .283 with 8 homers. Sophomore Gabrielle Maurice has had an outstanding sophomore campaign. She hits in the six spot, carries a .390 average and has clubbed nine home runs.

Seniors Mysha Sataraka and Gracie Goulder hit in the seventh and eighth slots, respectively. Sataraka is hitting .341 and Goulder is at .365. Last but not least, batting in the ninth spot is freshman Kylee Perez. Perez is hitting .355 with five 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 29-6 record and a 2.14 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 3.46 ERA, and Ta'amilo is 6-2 with a 3.19 ERA.

The Bruins continue to accumulate conference and national honors. At the conclusion of the regular season, 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.

Last week, 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.

Finally, Allexis Bennett was been selected as a Top 10 finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. Unfortunately, Bennett did not win a spot among the three finalists.

UCLA in the Los Angeles Regionals

For those who missed the Bruins' dominant performance in the Los Angeles Regionals, you can read my recap of the action from earlier this week.

To put into perspective how dominant the Bruins were last weekend, consider this: UCLA outscored its three opponents in the Los Angeles Regional 21-2. In two of the contests, the Bruins earned mercy rule victories. In the course of the weekend, the Bruins added 10 more home runs to their season total.

There were several outstanding individual performances for the weekend. Stephany LaRosa smashed three home runs--one in each game. Allexis Bennett continued her hot hitting with six hits in eight at-bats. Delaney Spaulding hit a pair of homers. And Ally Carda collected three wins by pitching 18 innings and surrendering just two runs.

Scouting the Tigers

Missouri (42-14) advanced to the Super Regionals after sweeping the Columbia Regional. The Tigers beat Indiana State 7-0 in the opener, and then edged Kansas the next day, 5-3. In the final game on Sunday, Missouri battled Kansas a second time, and once again it was close, but Missouri prevailed 7-6. The Tigers used three different pitchers in the final game of the Columbia Regional, which shows how deep their pitching is.

Sophomore Tori Finucane is the #1 pitcher for Missouri. She's compiled a 21-8 record while pitching 150+ innings. Her ERA is 2.97, and her BAA is .246. Those are very good, but not great numbers. Freshman Paige Lowary is the second starter. She's 18-5 for the season with a 3.09 ERA and a .235 BAA. Neither of the Missouri pitchers are likely to substantially shut down UCLA's hitters.

On the other hand, Missouri's lineup is impressive. The Tigers average nearly seven runs a game, with a lot of those runs produced by Missouri's four power hitters.

Redshirt junior Sami Fagan leads the way with a .699 slugging percentage and a .368 batting average to go along with a dozen home runs. Freshman Amanda Sanchez from West Covina might be the most dangerous of the Tigers' batters. Sanchez has clubbed 14 homers this season and sports a .341 batting average. Sophomore Kirsten Mack leads the Tigers with 15 home runs and is hitting .301. Finally, senior Kelsea Roth has a .341 average and 12 home runs.

The Bruins also have to be concerned about a couple of speedsters at the top of the Tigers' batting order. Redshirt junior Taylor Gadbois is batting .352 and has 40 stolen bases in 43 attempts, while junior Emily Crane is hitting .360 and is a perfect 27-27 in steals. The Tigers like to run, and they've been extremely successful this season, with 110 stolen bases in 120 attempts.

What to Expect

Expect to see a lot of Ally Carda this weekend. Carda will certainly start in the circle today, and she will almost certainly start there tomorrow whether the Bruins win or lose today. And if a game 3 is necessary on Sunday afternoon, I suspect that Carda will be in the circle for that too. It should go without saying then, that the Bruins will go only as far as Carda's arm will take them.

The Tigers have a strong lineup from top to bottom, and they have four power hitters that Carda will have to deal with. If Ally can keep the ball in the park, the Bruins should be able to put up enough runs to edge the Tigers. However, because Missouri has two reliable starters, the Bruins will be at a disadvantage if a third game is required.

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

Expect Tori Finucane to start for the Tigers; she started all of Missouri's games in the Columbia Regional.

Go BRUINS!