No. 2 UCLA softball continues to dominate
March 18, 2021
UCLA completed the 2021 softball preseason in prime form as the Bruins swept back-to-back doubleheaders this past weekend, with each game a shutout, and almost as if expected. And the two-year wait is over as the team hosts the Arizona State Sun Devils for their PAC-12 season opener, a four-game series starting this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 19-21 at Easton Stadium on the UCLA campus.
Due to COVID protocol measures, PAC-12 Softball was cancelled the week before the season was scheduled to start in 2020. The Conference title was shared for the very first time in 2019, as both UCLA and Washington finished with 20-4 records. The PAC-12 will once again be toughest softball Conference in the country as five of the nine schools are ranked in the Top 11 nationally according to D1 Softball. This is Kelly Inouye-Perez' 15th year as UCLA's head coach, including a very solid 200-94-1 PAC-12 career record.
UCLA (15-1) is ranked No.2 behind Oklahoma (22-0), while Oregon (16-1) is ranked third. Washington (20-2),is No. 6, Arizona (14-3), is No.9 and Arizona State is No.11 and that rounds out the PAC-12's strongest programs. PAC-12 schools have won 25 of the 38 National Titles since the NCAA officially took over the Women's College World Series in 1982. However, the Conference recently suffered a seven-year drought until UCLA recaptured the title in 2019. Previously, Arizona State was the last PAC-12 school to win it all in 2011.
The Sun Devils are led by Trisha Ford, currently in her fifth season as ASU's head coach. The team has a 152-59 record overall and are 38-31 in PAC-12 play during her tenure. ASU finished in fourth place with a 13-11 record during the 2019 PAC-12 season. Lindsay Lopez (6-1), Allison Royalty (5-1), and Meza Cielo (6-0) lead the team in pitching this year. Combined, they have a team ERA of 2.49, have struck out 143 total batters in 118 innings and have walked only 19 in 19 games.
ASU's potent offense is led by Maddi and Kindra Hackbarth, batting .491 and .450 respectively during the preseason. Nine batters are batting over .300 and four are batting at least .400: including Makenna Harper (.432), Alli Tatnall (.429) and Jazmine Hill (.421). Maddi Hackbarth leads the team with 12 home runs and 34 runs batted in. Five other batters have at least five homers each, with the team hitting an impressive 48 homeruns so far this season.
Offensively, UCLA can counter with the best of programs. Ten fulltime players are batting over .300 with five over the .400-mark. Rachel Garcia leads the team with a .500 batting average, Briana Perez is hitting .479, Kinsley Washington is at .429, Kelli Godin at .424 and Alyssa Garcia is batting .409. Perez leads the team with six homeruns and 21 runs scored while Wisz has five homers and six doubles. Nickles and Wisz lead the team with 18 runs batted in each. Washington leads the team with nine doubles. This season the Bruins have outscored opponents by a combined score of 134 to 21.
On Thursday, March 11, the Bruins delivered two identical 8-0, five-inning shutouts over U.C. Santa Barbara. UCLA scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to end the first game early as Thessa Malau'ulu singled to right field, driving in Kinsley Washington for the final run. The Bruins rapped out 11 hits, including three total home runs by Bubba Nickles, Delanie Wisz and Maya Brady. Nickles drove in four runs while Wisz, Brady and Washington scored two runs each. Starter Holly Azevedo scattered six hits, two walks and struck out two for the win to improve her season W-L record to 3-0.
Lexi Sosa pitched three innings to win the nightcap, allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out four batters. UCLA also banged out three homers, one each by: Wisz, Briana Perez and Alyssa Garcia. Wisz hit a three-run homer in the five-run third, followed by Garcia's shot that sent the game into mercy-rule territory, which was finalized two innings later.
Under the threat of showers and rain the Bruins repeated the twin-killing the following day against visiting UNLV. It was punctuated by sophomore Kelli Godin's first homerun of her career that immediately ended the second game in the fifth inning with a five-run burst and an 8-0 victory. The spirited team celebration that ensued on the field was a fitting curtain call to end the two-day affair.
Megan Faraimo (8-1) won her eighth game of the season, pitching five complete innings, allowing only one hit while striking out 12 of the 15 UNLV batters she faced. The Bruins took the opener, 10-0, as Rachel Garcia (2-0) also pitched a one-hit, five-inning complete shutout, striking out 14 of the 19 batters she faced. Garcia is quickly and efficiently working back into pitching form as she hasn't allowed an earned run in five mound appearances. In 10.1 total innings pitched, Garcia has allowed only one hit, two walks and has struck out 28 of the 35 batters she has faced.
UCLA has won 11 of the last 12 games against Arizona State. The last time both teams met in 2019, the Bruins swept all three games at Tempe, Arizona. And it wasn't close by scoreboard standards. Megan Faraimo pitched a complete game, five-inning, two-hit shutout while striking out nine as UCLA won the series opener, 10-0. The Bruins took the second game, 9-0, as Rachel Garcia pitched a six-inning shutout, striking out 12 batters. Holly Azevedo pitched five complete innings to clinch the final game, 16-5. Pitching will be the decisive factor in this weekend's PAC-12 opening series in Westwood.