TALE OF THE TAPE:
UCLA BRUINS BASEBALL –
Record: 42-14, 22-8 in the Pac-12 Conference (Pac-12 Conference Champions)
National Rank: 2
Coach: John Savage (2015 Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
Pac-12 Championships: Nine, including three in the past five years
National Championships: One, in 2013
James Karprelian, 9-4, 1.94 ERA
David Berg, 7-1, 0.94 ERA, 12 saves (2015 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year)
Ty Moore, .335 average, 5 home runs, 47 RBI
Kevin Kramer, .328 average, 6 home runs, 31 RBI
Current Team Status: #1 overall ranking for this year’s NCAA Tournament, will host Regional and Super-Regional if they achieve that level.
UCLA BRUINS SOFTBALL
Record: 50-10, 19-5 and second place in the Pac-12 Conference
National Rank: 8
Coach: Kelly Inouye-Perez
Conference Championships: 14, including ten Pac-12 Titles
National Championships: 12, the last one in 2010
Ally Carda, 31-6, 2.27 ERA, 270 strikeouts, .316 average, 8 home runs, 50 RBI (2014 & 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year)
Alexis Bennett, .514 average (2015 Pac-12 Batting Champion and 2nd in the nation)
Delaney Spaulding, .408 average, 20 home runs, 71 RBI
Stephany LaRosa, .380 average, 19 home runs, 69 RBI
Current Team Status: In the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, OK for the 24th time in program history after winning their regional and Super Regional, hosting both. They are seeded 7th in OKC and will begin play tonight.
It’s a rarity that a school’s baseball and softball teams are ranked in the top ten with a chance of winning a national championship.
In fact, the first school with teams in both the Men’s and Women’s College World Series in the same year was…UCLA in 2010.
Folks in Westwood have a good reason to be excited as both the Bruin baseball and softball teams are in line to win what would be the second NCAA crown for the men and 13th for the women.
Which as an alumnus and a longtime fan has led me to wonder something:
Which Bruin team – baseball or softball – has the better chance to win the school’s NCAA-leading 113th national championship?
I’ll waste no time in giving my opinion of this now:
My vote goes to the baseball team, and here’s why…
Despite losing their last series to conference foe Oregon – who needed it more as they were playing for a berth in the postseason – Coach Savage’s band of Bruins have been on a tear lately as their 22 conference wins set a school record.
Which, as has been the case for the past few years, was done on the strength of their pitching as UCLA’s staff has an earned run average of 2.16 – tops in the country.
It was pitching that got those Bruins the 2013 title, and though their hitting has markedly improved, it will be pitching that will determine how far they will go.
With an ace who has an ERA of under two and a closer who set the single season record for saves in 2013 and whose ERA is third lowest in the country, how can Bruin Nation not be optimistic about this team’s chances?
As for the softball team…
The fact that these Bruin ladies made the Women’s College World Series after a five-year absence, an absence marked by disappointing setbacks in postseason play, particularly a loss to Kentucky in last year’s best-of-three Super Regional at home when they lost the last two contests,
Makes it to safe to say that Coach Inouye-Perez and her staff, which includes all-time Bruin great and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Lisa Fernandez, did an outstanding job in getting the team to overcome last year’s disappointment and make it to Oklahoma City.
An illustration of UCLA’s power at the plate:
However, as much as I’m rooting for UCLA to win it all, in spite of their hitting prowess – the team batting average is a nation-leading .370 with all but one of their regulars hitting .314 or better – in all honesty their chances at that 13th title aren’t overwhelming.
The reason? Actually there are two…
1. The old adage of “Good pitching beats good hitting”.
Of the eight teams in the Women’s College World Series, three of them – top seed Florida, third-seeded Michigan (who is in the Bruins’ bracket) and sixth-seeded Alabama all have team earned run averages of 1.83 or lower and are ranked in the country’s top ten.
Meaning this World Series will have teams that are more than capable of shutting down the Bruin bats.
and more importantly…
2. As great as UCLA’s leading pitcher Ally Carda has been, her back-to-back conference player of the year honors offering indisputable evidence of that, there was something I noticed while watching her in the Super Regional’s clinching game against Missouri.
The Bruins had a 9-1 lead, and it looked like the eight-run mercy rule, in which a game is called when one team is up by eight runs after five innings, would be invoked, when Carda proceeded to give up five runs in the later innings, letting Missouri back into the game as she failed to slam the door, Inouye being forced to go to the bullpen to get the final outs.
Which clearly told me one thing:
Carda – her arm, that is – is tired.
Even though a softball pitcher’s arm is more durable than a baseball pitcher’s due to the natural motion, having pitched over 760 innings in her Bruin career to date, plus all the work she undoubtedly did in summer travel ball, has taken at least a bit of a toll.
Plus her 106 walks this year is a little high, a sign of the number of pitches she has thrown.
Ally Carda, the Bruins’ dual threat and back-to-back Pac-12 Player of the Year
Despite the natural pitching motion of softball, an arm can still tire, and as excellent as she has been and is Ally Carda is NOT Supergirl.
That is why unlike past seasons, UCLA can not depend solely on one arm in Oklahoma City if they are to earn that national title plaque. They will need to rely on all of their pitchers.
In other words, while Carda should start the games, Inouye should not hesitate one millisecond to pull her at the first sign of trouble.
If she does that, their chances of winning the big prize will be that much better.
Especially since the Bruins are seeded seventh and will face a familiar opponent in their opening game: #2 seed Oregon, who beat UCLA head-to-head and won the Pac-12 Championship.
Having said all of this, it does not mean that I don’t think UCLA has any chance of winning. If their hitters perform like they have all year, their chances are pretty good.
It’s just that due to their pitching dominance, I feel that the Bruin baseball team’s chances at the school’s 113th NCAA crown are better.
It should also go without saying that I dearly hope that both teams come out triumphant.
Here is a clip of what hopefully will be the scene at the end of the College World Series Finals:
And highlights of UCLA Baseball’s greatest hour – that national championship triumph of 2013: