Bruins Advance to Host Super Regionals
Virginia Tech visits Westwood this Weekend
May 27, 2021
UCLA Softball's path to repeat as National Champions is starting to look familiar. The Bruins completed a three-game sweep while hosting the NCAA Los Angeles Regionals over the weekend... but it wasn't easy. Like in 2019, the team earned the right to host the Super Regionals this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, May 27-29, at Easton Stadium, located just south of Sunset Blvd in the northwest corner of the campus.
The Bruins will face Virginia Tech, winner of the Tempe Regionals this past weekend. The Hokies will be looking to eliminate their second PAC-12 school from the tournament as they beat Arizona State, 8-2, last Friday before knocking BYU out on Saturday to advance to Westwood. Virginia Tech (36-13) finished fourth in the ACC this season with a 23-11 Conference record. The nationally second-ranked Bruins (44-4) won the PAC-12 with a 19-2 mark.
Pitcher Rachel Garcia proved why she's a two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year by shutting down an aggressive Minnesota lineup in the bottom of the seventh with the tying run on second and the winning run at the plate with only one out. Garcia registered a strike out for out number two before forcing the Gophers' leading hitter, Makenna Partain, to fly out to left fielder Kelli Godin for the 2-1 victory. The Bruins won their eighth consecutive Regional series dating back to 2013.
"Rachel Garcia did what she does best," said Bruins head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. "She faced head-to-head, I think their best hitter going all the way to the end, which is what I love about our sport. You've got to be able to go head-to-head with the best and she did that... and got that last out which was a big one. So, proud of my team. Ready to move on to Super Regionals."
Garcia gave her defense the credit: "Just the talent that I have behind me and behind the plate. When they make great plays it makes me feel very confident. In Pitching, obviously balls are going to be put in play and when they make those phenomenal plays, it takes a lot of pressure off me."
The UCLA bats were hitless against Minnesota starting pitcher Autumn Pease and trailed 1-0 going into the fourth inning when Garcia singled and moved to third on Maya Brady's two-out single. That set the stage for Kinsley Washington's laced single up the middle, driving in both Garcia and Brady with the eventual winning runs.
"When I got the opportunity, I just wanted to jump on the first pitch," responded Washington: "Definitely our plan going in was knowing that she (Pease) does throw a lot of changeups... we definitely had a plan to attack, but I think we were just attacking too late in the count. So, definitely getting on it, first pitch, second pitch, trying to get into an advantage with this pitcher was really important for our team."
Coach Inouye-Perez: "In postseason it doesn't matter if you score first or score later in a ballgame. The bottom line is we want to throw the last punch. And in a game like today where we're visitors, defense wins championships and we had to stop them for the "W".
The Bruins 5-4 extra-inning affair on Saturday afternoon with Fresno State was even more dramatic. UCLA trailed 1-0 going into the top of the seventh inning as the Bulldogs' 22-game winning pitcher, Hailey Dolcini, scattered six hits through the first six innings. Aaliyah Jordan opened the inning with a single, moved to second on Bri Perez' sacrifice bunt, and tied the score when Garcia ripped a single to the right field wall.
UCLA appeared to have locked it up by sending nine players to bat in the eighth inning to score four runs. Jordan drove in the first two runs with a two-out single. Perez doubled in Jordan and scored on Delanie Wisz' single up the middle for a 5-1 lead. Garcia, who allowed only two hits through seven innings, hit a batter and was touched for three singles in the bottom of the eighth as Fresno State trailed only 5-3 with the bases loaded and one out. An RBI groundout left runners on second and third with two outs before Garcia slammed the door shut with a clutch strikeout.
"The experience that we have, the mentorship, there's a sisterhood as well. They talk a lot, they share experiences," said Coach I. "Just every little thing matters. How they train and their attention to detail in the classroom, and on the field, and the decisions they make on a day to day... It's not just about softball to be able to get to the end. So, I think it's a strength in our program, absolutely."
The Bruins began the postseason with a methodical 8-0, five-inning shutout over Long Beach State on Friday night. It was the third win of the season over Long Beach as pitcher Megan Faraimo allowed only two hits and one walk to improve her season record to 18-3. It was Faraimo's seventh complete-game shutout of the season as she struck out 11 batters.
"We struggled in the circle. We struggled defensively and offensively. Credit UCLA and Megan Faraimo. She pitched lights out. We couldn't seem to make any adjustments at the plate," commented 14-year Long Beach State head coach Kim Sowder.
"We've been preparing more than a year for this and I'm just really excited to here and for the freshmen to get to experience it as well," said Faraimo. "I do try to tell myself when I'm on the mound that it's a 0-0 ballgame. I'm competing just as hard and just trying to get my team back in the dugout so they can keep scoring runs."
Delanie Wisz led the Bruins' offensive thrust by crushing two homeruns, including a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth for the eight-run cushion. Wisz leads the team with 14 round trippers and 43 RBI's. UCLA batters had unloaded in the bottom of the second inning with three consecutive blasts over the wall by Bri Perez, Garcia and Wisz. The 7-0 lead virtually sealed the game at that point.
Virginia Tech batters wrapped out eight total home runs during their three-game series sweep in Tempe. Cameron Fagan, Alexa Milius and Kelsey Bennett had two homers each as the Hokies had 15 total extra base hits and batted a composite .418 against the BYU and Arizona State pitchers. Leadoff batter Kelsey Brown leads the team in batting (.395), hits (64), runs (45) and triples (5). Kelsey Bennet leads the team in home runs (13) and slugging percentage (.657). Jayme Bailey led the team with 42 RBI's and 13 doubles.
The Hokies' leading pitcher, Keely Rochard (27-8), pitched all 21 innings in the three victories at Tempe. Rochard had 13 complete-game shutouts, struck out 326 batters in only 226 innings while compiling a 1.24 ERA this season.
Rochard is Virginia Tech's all-time winning percentage leader with a .795 average, is second in strikeouts per innings pitched (9.3), third in total strikeouts (770) and second in lowest batting average by opposing hitters. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Bruins will face Rochard every single game.
"I think playing as one, definitely right now," said Washington. "We always say that our arrows are all pointing in the same direction trying shoot for that one goal to make it to the Women's College World Series. So, definitely playing with a lot of energy, a lot of positivity, and a lot great mindsets focused on the same goal is definitely going to push us through."
Garcia reiterated: "Once you get to postseason you're playing for something bigger than yourself. Everyone's going in the same direction. That's what's most important. It's the things we do as a team before game-time, just being able to keep it loose, having fun, sticking to a process, just being able to play for each other."