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Women's College World Series, Day 3 - UCLA vs. Auburn

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UCLA will battle Auburn this afternoon in a Women's College World Series elimination game. It's win or go home time for the Bruins.

@UCLASoftball

Opponent: #4-seed Auburn (55-10)

When: Saturday, May 30, 4:00 PM PDT

Where: ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City, OK

AudioAuburnTigers.com

Watch: ESPN

Live Stats: NCAA GameCenter Live Stats

UCLA Resources: UCLA Official PreviewUCLA Media Guide

NCAA Resources: NCAA Bracket

The Bruins dropped into the losers bracket after being defeated by Michigan yesterday. It means that today's game against #4 Auburn is an elimination game; for UCLA, it's win or go home. If the Bruins win, they'll face #1 Florida in a second elimination game tomorrow.

UCLA Falls to Michigan

UCLA was clearly second-best against the Wolverines yesterday. It simply wasn't Ally Carda's day, and the Bruin bats weren't as potent as usual. However, the final score of 10-4 doesn't show that the Bruins took an early 3-0 lead, that the game was tied after four innings, and that Michigan only pulled away in the final two frames, scoring twice in the sixth and thrice in the seventh. This morning's recap provides details of the scoring.

There are a few issues that arose with respect to Coach Inouye-Perez' game management that deserve further discussion. First, as I mentioned in the recap, with the Bruins trailing 4-3 in the third, with runners on first and second with no outs, Gabrielle Maurice advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. In my opinion, that seems a poor strategic decision in the middle of a high scoring game. Moreover, with a .375 batter at the plate, conceding an out is an awfully high price to pay to move an extra runner into scoring position, especially against a high scoring team. As sabermetrics has shown, the cost of a sacrifice increases with the hitter's batting average. Or more specifically, except in special circumstances, playing small ball with a team that has a .370 batting average is counterproductive.

Second, in the same inning, Coach Inouye-Perez chose not to use a pinch runner for Mysha Sataraka. That was a bit surprising since UCLA frequently uses a pinch runner for Sataraka. Unfortunately, the decision cost the Bruins, as Sataraka was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Finally, as I mentioned in the recap, it's hard to believe that fatigue wasn't a factor in Ally Carda's ineffectiveness in the latter part of yesterday's game. If so, it will be interesting to see how Coach Inouye-Perez manages her pitching staff while balancing the necessity of winning today against the need to be competitive tomorrow.

A Statistical Comparison of the Bruins and the Tigers

While Auburn doesn't quite have the firepower of the Bruins, the Ducks, or the Wolverines, the Tigers have a formidable lineup. Most of the damage is done by the first three hitters--outfielder Tiffany Howard (.419 BA), second baseman Emily Carosone (.441 BA, 18 HR), and third baseman Kasey Cooper (.397 BA, 18 HR). By batting that trio at the top of the order, Auburn has been able to score runs in bunches, which is reflected in the Tigers' superb scoring average of 8.06 runs per game. In terms of offensive firepower, the Bruins have very similar team statistics. However the Bruins have a better balanced lineup and they get more production from the bottom of their batting order.

Although the Tigers have a deep pitching staff, they don't have a true ace. Auburn has three pitchers with over 100 innings pitched this season. Rachel Walters leads the Tigers in ERA (2.83) and innings pitched (148.1), but she has the fewest starts (19) of the group. Lexi Davis leads the team in starts (23) and wins (24), but has an unimpressive 3.96 ERA. Marcy Harper (12-5, 3.88 ERA) is the third Auburn starter, and like the other Auburn pitchers, averages significantly less than a strikeout per inning. By comparison, the Bruins have a substantially better team ERA (2.63), but rely heavily on Ally Carda.

As the table below shows, the Tigers field well, but they aren't aggressive base runners.  Both of those facts play to Auburn's strengths: offensively, the Tigers play long ball and play for big innings, so there's reduced value in base stealing, and defensively, Auburn doesn't have strikeout pitchers, so it's important to have a solid defense.

Statistically, UCLA holds a significant edge in the matchup, but that doesn't take into account today's circumstances. With the Bruins relying heavily on Ally Carda throughout the postseason, there has to be some concern that fatigue is diminishing her effectiveness.

UCLA Auburn
Batting Average .370 .343
On Base Percentage .471 .465
Home Runs/Game 1.43 1.56
Slugging Percentage .616 .587
OBS 1.087 1.052
Runs/Game 7.97 8.06
ERA 2.63 3.57
RA 3.17 3.97
Fielding Percentage .969 .978
SB/Game 1.05 0.41
SB Percentage .778 .867


What to Expect

Although Auburn has already played today--eliminating Tennessee 4-2 in an early losers bracket game--fatigue shouldn't be a factor for the Tigers. Lexi Davis started for Auburn but pitched only 4.2 innings before being relieved by Rachael Walters for the final 2+ innings. Walters was particularly effective, striking out five of the eight batters she faced. Considering how well she threw the ball this morning, she's very likely to be in the circle at some point against the Bruins, either as a starter or in relief.

Ally Carda has started every postseason game for the Bruins. It's almost a certainty that she'll be in the circle for the start of today's game. However, as I noted above, it's hard to believe that fatigue wasn't a factor in Carda's ineffectiveness in the latter part of yesterday's contest against the Wolverines. Nevertheless, Coach Inouye-Perez doesn't have a lot of choice given that the Bruins are playing an elimination game.

The Bruins have to make the most of their opportunities today. In my opinion, that means that Coach Inouye-Perez has to avoid the temptation to play small ball; UCLA simply doesn't have a pitching staff suited for it, especially in tournament play. There are very few teams with a lineup as potent as UCLA's. If precious outs aren't squandered advancing runners, Bruin bats can produce big innings.

Throughout the course of the 2015 season, the Bruins have demonstrated their resilience. They'll need to draw on that strength today to keep their WCWS dream alive.

Go BRUINS!

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