Bruins continue their quest to win the Pac-12

The 2nd-ranked UCLA Bruins continued in their quest to win the 2021 PAC-12 Softball Championship outright, taking three of four games from the 4th-ranked Washington Huskies this past weekend at Easton Stadium in Westwood. The Bruins prevailed, 4-2, in Sunday's deciding Game 4, withstanding late-inning rallies by Washington. UCLA grabbed the initiative, winning Friday night's opener, 6-1. The Huskies struck back in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, 7-4, setting the stage for Sunday afternoon.

"It's always good to win a series, especially in the PAC," said UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. "Washington is a respected program, they're very offensive, and they have pitchers. So, it was nice to get an opportunity to see them in 2021 and to be able to get a lot of good information about things that we did well and things that we can continue to work on.

"I love how we finish and really proud of Megan (Faraimo, pitcher) being able to come back out and have the opportunity to get the ball after she didn't have her best game." The Huskies touched up Faraimo for a loss in Game 2, knocking UCLA's 12-game winning pitcher this season for six runs on ten hits in 5.1 innings. Faraimo quickly returned to form with a gutsy performance on Sunday against the potent Husky offense, allowing only two runs on six hits while winning her fifth 7-inning complete game of the season.

"I didn't look at it as vengeance against Washington," responded Faraimo. "I was just more thinking, Man, I really got to step it up for my team. Because in the game that we lost, I felt that they fought for me and I didn't compete as I should have. So, I was just trying to focus today on getting back into the dugout."

The Bruins used the long ball to score all four runs against a trio of Huskie pitchers they didn't expect to face. Their ace pitcher, Gabbie Plain, was slated to start but Kelley Lynch took the mound instead. "I think when we saw Kelley on the mound we just went with the flow and we didn't think too much about it," said UCLA's versatile infielder Delanie Wisz.

"So, we kind of came out swinging and said, we have nothing to lose. It's very important because we know that we might see them in the postseason. So, it kind of gives us confidence going into the rest of PAC and even postseason. It's a huge win for us."

Back-to-back home runs by Rachel Garcia's two-run blast followed by Wisz' deep launch over the left-center field wall gave the Bruins the early edge they were looking for. "If we prepare for a game plan and it's not who we think we are, or who we think is going to throw, and then our ability to face everything and rise," said coach Inoouye-Perez. "And today was a challenge. They threw three different pitchers at us, obviously who we weren't preparing for.

"It's not always an easy task to make those adjustments but I'm glad that we were able to strike first in that first inning. It was a big inning for us to come out and answer to the change of plans. So, super proud of them."

Washington scored on a solo shot by freshman Sarah Willis in the third inning and threatened in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings. Faraimo struck out Lynch with two outs and two runners on in the fourth. Two Huskies got two singles with one out in the sixth but Faraimo got a pop out and fly out to end the inning. Willis also knocked in the Huskies' second run with a double in the seventh with one out. Faraimo beared down with a strike out before shortstop Bri Perez caught a line shot to take the game and series.

"Those situations where the pressure is on, it's fun to be playing in the game," said Faraimo. "That's why I get a little fired up. I used to try to control it, but I just perform better if I compete 100%. It feels really good, and it especially feels good when you come out on top."

Pitcher Holly Azevedo improved her season record to a perfect 6-0 with a complete seven-inning gem in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. The second game of Saturday doubleheaders do not count in the Conference standings but immediately righting the ship after Game 2's loss was a key component for the weekend. Azevedo allowed only one homerun and scattered seven hits in the 6-1 victory.

Coach Inouye-Perez continued to say, "It's good pitching. Good pitching will stop good hitting. There's a lot of change in speeds today on both sides and that doesn't allow for very consistent offense. That's the name of the game. So, good pitching will always stop good hitting. And we all know that it really comes down to defense."

The Bruins hit seven home runs in the four-game series. Perez hit her team-leading ninth home run in the third inning. Perez also leads the team with 36 total runs scored and 28 RBI's. "She set a goal this year to be able to hit 10 home runs. It's literally something she's been striving for. So, I was really proud when she came around," said coach Inouye-Perez. "She has power. We know it's there. She's worked on her approach and swing. She's a strong, phenomenal athlete, which is not surprising. I just love that she's getting a payback during the game."

Maya Brady, who hit two homeruns Saturday, and Wisz have eight homers each. Rachel Garcia has seven dingers and leads the team with an .852 slugging percentage. Her pitching and homerun in set the tone in Friday's win and for the rest of the series. She out-pitched Plain in Game 1, allowing only one run on three hits and a walk in the complete game win. Garcia is 8-0 record with a 0.52 ERA, the lowest of her 4-year UCLA career, and has allowed only two homeruns this season.

The Bruins will travel to Salt Lake City this weekend to take on Utah, currently in last place in the PAC-12 with a 2-13 record. Yet, the team focusing on what they need to do to win the next game in the nation's toughest Conference. "I just say we play our game," said Wisz. "No matter what or who our opponent is in other dugout, we always try to be consistent and play how UCLA Softball is played because at the end of the day if we don't play our game, it doesn't matter."

Faraimo is more than aware of Utah's potential. She came in relief during UCLA's last-inning 6-5 comeback win, a non-Conference thriller on March 1 in Tempe, Arizona: "We get to make adjustments a little sooner than we usually would since we have film and stuff on them. In terms of an approach, it's always us competing against ourselves, so we have to focus on that first. And then after that, whatever they throw we'll adjust."

Coach Inouye-Perez reiterated, "I would never say someone's playing at the top or the bottom because we play in the PAC because anybody can beat anybody on any given day. We say things like, respect the game. But I break down the season into segments. So, we're in the end phase and that's never let up.

"So, you think that Utah is a team you can go in there and beat but we're also playing in their house. That's where they have a very large field and the ball flies in Utah. So, anything can happen. Our goal is to play UCLA ball and consistently. And I'm looking for that. I'm still looking for consistency from us."


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