The college softball postseason atmosphere will be restored this weekend at Easton Stadium on the campus of UCLA. For the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, full capacity is allowed as the NCAA Los Angeles Regional is slated for Friday through Sunday.
On Friday, Ole Miss plays Loyola Marymount in the 4:30 p.m. matinee game, then UCLA hosts Grand Canyon at 7 p.m.
“This year is the loudest it’s been,” UCLA redshirt senior Briana Perez said. “The fans are locked in so definitely just a lot of fun and so thankful to be able to play at home at Easton.”
UCLA, the No. 5 national seed, swept California to end the regular season. The Bruins outscored the Golden Bears 23-4 in the three-game series after losing their series against Arizona the week prior to finish second in the Pac-12.
With confidence restored, UCLA (43-8) heads into the four-team, double-elimination regional with positivity and focus. The Bruins are also still in the midst of the spring semester, adding an academic layer to the postseason.
“Everyone knows going into this time of year, we can’t allow anything going on in our personal lives or softball lives besides just team, winning and getting good grades,” Bruins redshirt senior Holly Azevedo said. “Because it is an interesting time where we are still in school, we have our priorities straight.”
Azevedo has been sharing the circle this season with Lauren Shaw and Megan Faraimo, who was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year. Azevedo and Shaw lead the Pac-12 in earned run average with 0.89 and 1.15, respectively. Faraimo, who boasts a 1.75 ERA, is on top of the Pac-12 with 252 strikeouts.
“We work so hard throughout the year that everyone has an understanding of what each pitcher likes or how we like to warm up,” Azevedo said. “Once postseason comes, we’re like ‘OK, we’re going to have a ton of fun doing this.’”
Delanie Wisz, who transferred from LMU ahead of the 2020 season, has been leading UCLA offensively with 13 home runs, 46 RBIs, 27 walks and a .506 on-base percentage.
Briana Perez will end her career as a Bruin after contributing in nearly every department. At the plate, she has more than 300 career hits and is tied for the program record in single-season triples with six.
She was also named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year with 59 putouts and a .934 fielding percentage at shortstop.
“If a pitcher gives up a hit, the defense has their back and then vice versa,” Perez said of UCLA’s defense. “If I make an error, I know my pitchers have my back and we’re always looking to be there for each other.”
While UCLA has appeared in the NCAA Championships 37 times and won its most recent national title in 2019 under 16th-year coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, LMU has qualified for the tournament for the third time in program history.
The Lions (36-15) earned the West Coast Conference’s automatic bid after going 13-2 in conference play. They are led offensively by WCC Player of the Year Georgia Blair, who paces her team with a .389 batting average and .466 on-base percentage this season.
Jenna Perez was named WCC Pitcher of the Year after leading the conference in ERA, strikeouts and hits allowed per seven innings.
Coached by former UCLA All-American Tairia Flowers, LMU enters its first Los Angeles Regional since 2007 having won eight of its last nine games and took a short bus ride to UCLA on Thursday morning to begin its NCAA postseason journey.
The Lions have done plenty to prepare, including practicing at all hours of the day in anticipation of evening games.
“It’s pretty special,” said Lions shortstop Megan Dedrick, an All-Conference Honorable Mention player. “We haven’t done it in a long time, we haven’t been back here. I think everyone’s really excited to make more LMU history.”
Ole Miss (39-17) vs. LMU (36-15)
When: 4:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Easton Stadium, UCLA
UCLA (43-8) vs. Grand Canyon (39-14)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Easton Stadium, UCLA