The Reluctant Bruin : Top Softball Pitcher Tiffany Boyd Almost Took Mound in Texas

Times Staff Writer

Depending on who you listen to, Tiffany Boyd's decision to attend UCLA was either the quickest and easiest recruiting job softball Coach Sharon Backus has pulled off in her years of coaching the Bruins, or it was one that she very close to missing out on.

"Once Tiffany made her visit and saw UCLA, she knew she was coming. There were no midnight phone calls or anything like that, like we went through three years earlier with Samantha Ford (a star pitcher for UCLA)," Backus said. "She committed to us right after her parents picked her up. I've never had a recruit do that before. What I thought would be one of my most nerve-racking recruiting trips turned out to be one of my quickest."

Boyd, who graduated from Woodbridge High School in Irvine, laughs when informed of Backus' version of her recruitment. Yes, she committed to Backus when her parents picked her up in front of the dormitory where she spent her two-day trip, but UCLA was also the first school Boyd had taken off her list of prospective universities.

Boyd and Cal's Michelle Granger were the nation's top two high school recruits last year. According to Boyd, when she asked Backus how much playing time she would have if Granger also chose UCLA, she was told that her playing time would be limited until Ford, a senior, and Lisa Longaker, a junior who is considered the top pitcher in the country, graduated.

Not wanting to wait for a chance to contribute, Boyd eliminated UCLA from consideration and went on recruiting trips to Texas A & M, Arizona, Fresno State and Michigan.

"I was all set to go to Texas A & M," Boyd said. "Then I asked the coach how often I could come home. He said twice, and I panicked. I'm an only child and I'm very close to my family. My parents have always been at my games."

Boyd then called Backus, who told her that "whether Michelle comes to UCLA or not, we'll find playing time for you."

Still, Boyd almost didn't become a Bruin. When she arrived on campus for her recruiting visit, she got lost.

"UCLA had everything for me. Great athletics, great academics, good support programs and it was close to home," Boyd said. "I just love UCLA. The people and the staff are great. I have no complaints."

Whatever led Boyd to Westwood, her presence is one of the major reasons the Bruins are expected to repeat as national champions. Through the first 25 games of the season, Boyd has compiled an 8-1 record and has not given up an earned run in 63 innings. (Boyd's only loss was to Oregon when the winning run scored on an error.) Boyd has 85 strikeouts to just 14 walks and has completed all nine of her starts. She is also the first Bruin pitcher to bat for herself since Tracy Compton in 1985.

"Tiffany's about where I expected her to be," Backus said. "I set high standards for someone like Tiffany. We haven't been disappointed too many times. About the only thing that can stop them once they come in is injuries."

Along with Longaker (11-1) and Ford (4-0), Boyd gives Backus one of the best pitching staffs in the country. The Bruins are hoping that Boyd follows more closely in the steps of Longaker, however, than of Ford, who has had her collegiate career hampered by injuries.

One of Boyd's strongest assets, according to Backus and herself, is her extreme sense of competitiveness.

"When we go to Oregon, I'm going to win. I'm going to beat the University of Oregon. That's my goal," Boyd said. "I want to beat anybody not wearing the blue and the gold.

"One of my friends, Tony Dardin, who is on the baseball team, went to one of my games for the first time and told me, 'You stare down people. You give the meanest looks.' I'm hard-nosed when I'm on the field. If I'm pitching, I want you to go back to the dugout feeling awful."

Even though she has a lot of strikeouts, Boyd insists that she tries to induce ground balls and pop-ups.

"I have a great deal of strikeouts, but it's not like I'm going to get paid per strikeout. I just want to go in, get the win and then the (national championship) ring."

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