With the season on the line in the NCAA softball regionals Sunday, UCLA rallied the same way it has all season — with a dance party.
In the locker room, the Bruins blasted music, shouted the lyrics and then returned to the field. The tactic worked immediately. After falling to Missouri in the first game, UCLA defeated the Tigers 13-1 in the second game to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals for the sixth straight year.
“We just wiped the slate clean after that first game,” redshirt junior pitcher Rachel Garcia said, “came in our locker room and just danced. And we were like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ ”
UCLA had hoped to beat Missouri in Game 1, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said, but she was not disappointed by the loss. After all, the Bruins’ seasonlong success has kept them from facing much adversity. And their response Sunday, with the season on the line, was telling.
“I tell them all the time, stuff’s gonna happen, but what you do next is most important,” Inouye-Perez said. “And the way they were very resilient to be able to come back and be very convicted to win today, I’m very proud.”
In the first game, UCLA’s offense lagged. After freshman starter Megan Faraimo gave up hits to the first two batters she faced, Garcia took over in the first inning. On the first pitch Garcia threw, the ball bounced off senior catcher Paige Halstead’s mitt, and a Missouri batter bolted for home, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead. A second Missouri batter scored on the next at-bat.
Garcia stifled the Tigers’ attack for the next four innings while the Bruins’ offense struggled to ignite until the fifth inning, when Briana Perez scored on an RBI single by senior Taylor Pack.
Missouri responded by loading the bases and scoring a run in the next inning, but Garcia retired two straight batters to end the Tigers’ scoring chances. Missouri senior Regan Nash hit a two-run home run off of Garcia in the sixth inning, extending the Tigers’ lead to 5-1, a lead UCLA would not contest. Only three Bruins got a hit in the game.
“Not our best ball game,” Bubba Nickles said.
Once it ended, Inouye-Perez gathered the team and urged them to focus on their adjustments, on the benefit of experiencing adversity early in the postseason. The batters strategized a new approach against Missouri’s pitchers while Garcia adjusted her pitch mix to throw off the Tigers.
“I just got very clear about what the message was,” Inouye-Perez said. “You know, this is who we are, this is what happened, but this is what we’re gonna do next.”
Junior Bubba Nickles went hitless in the first game but hit a lead-off double to center field to start the second. Nickles scored on the next at-bat, sparking a three-run first inning for UCLA. The Bruins scored two more in the second, as Aaliyah Jordan reached first on a fielder’s choice.
Garcia stifled Missouri’s offense, holding the Tigers to two hits and one walk while striking out four.
When the Bruins loaded the bases in the third inning, Nickles hit a bases-clearing double with two outs, giving UCLA an 8-0 lead. Missouri mustered one run in the fourth inning, but UCLA responded with five runs, sealing the game in five innings with the mercy rule.
It was a difficult path, but maybe that was a good thing. The experience proved that in adversity, UCLA could rise to the occasion. By making adjustments, remaining optimistic and focused.