UCLA’s Brianna Tautalafua shows her excitement after hitting a grand slam in the fifth inning during finals of the NCAA Softball Regional against Cal State Fullerton at Easton Stadium in UCLA in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 21, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Orange County Register/SCNG)
A grand slam by Brianna Tautalafua and a clutch strike out by Rachel Garcia decided two critical bases-loaded situations for the UCLA softball team that allowed the fifth-seeded Bruins to advance to the NCAA Super Regional after a 9-1 win over Cal State Fullerton on Sunday.
Garcia, who was starting her third straight game Sunday, was stellar down the stretch as she retired 12 of the final 13 batters. She worked out of a third-inning jam that proved to be one of the critical moments of the game. With the bases loaded and UCLA holding on to a one-run lead, Garcia struck out CSF catcher Kylie Padilla to retire the side and keep the Titans scoreless.
Tautalafua then hit a grand slam in the fifth inning, which was part of a five-run frame for the Bruins that broke a previously tight game open. She had three home runs and eight RBIs during UCLA’s three regional wins as the Bruins collected 27 total runs.
UCLA hosts Ole Miss in the Super Regional, which starts Thursday at Easton Stadium. Unlike previous years, the best-of-three series to decide who will advance to the Women’s College World Series, will be played with one game a day, with the third game if necessary instead of a three-game, two-day format.
Redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia knocked out her first career postseason appearance and her first no-hitter on the same night.
The ace from Highland High led UCLA to an 8-0, run-rule win over Lehigh on Friday night in UCLA’s regional opener. The Bruins will face San Jose State in the second round Saturday at 2 p.m. at Easton Stadium.
Of Garcia’s 80 total pitches, 54 were strikes as she faced only one batter more than the five-inning minimum. Working with catcher Paige Halstead, Garcia struck out eight, including five of the first seven batters she faced. The only blemish on the perfect game was a hit-by-pitch in the second inning.
“She was dominating today,” head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.
Delaney Spaulding led the Bruins on offense with three RBIs.
Rachel Garcia won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award while helping UCLA softball to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy Katie Meyers)
Kelly Inouye-Perez knows great pitchers. The former UCLA catcher and current UCLA softball head coach won three NCAA titles as a player and caught games for Bruin legends Lisa Longaker and Lisa Fernandez who combined for seven first-team All-American honors.
So when Inouye-Perez says her newest ace Rachel Garcia reminds her a bit of Fernandez, it’s not just hyperbole.
“No one really got comfortable in the box with Lisa (Fernandez) pitching,” Inouye-Perez said. “It was her presence and ability to attack hitters really aggressively that put them in that position. Rachel is very similar.”
Garcia is possibly the next great UCLA pitcher as the redshirt freshman leads the Bruins into postseason play this weekend. .
More on Garcia, who will start against Lehigh on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at Easton Stadium.