Despite a 13-strikeout performance by sophomore pitcher Gabbie Plain, a series of unfortunate events bedeviled the fifth-ranked Washington softball team Saturday, resulting in a 4-2 defeat in eight innings against No. 1 UCLA in front of a sellout crowd of 1,491 at Husky Softball Stadium.
“We’re a good team,” said UW coach Heather Tarr, whose squad fell to the Bruins 3-0 Friday night in the opener of a three-game showdown between the two highest-ranked teams in the Pac-12. “We’re not where we need to be yet, and that’s OK. We’re not scared about it.”
The Huskies (22-5, 0-2 Pac-12) had their chances. In the bottom of the seventh, a potential walk-off home run by Sis Bates bounced off the left-field wall instead of clearing it. In a 2-2 game, UW had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth and seventh innings, but could not push a run home against Rachel Garcia, the 2018 national player of the year who entered as a relief pitcher in the fourth.
Garcia delivered the game-winning hit for UCLA (24-1, 2-0) in the top of the eighth, smashing a home run to left moments after freshman right fielder Ari Quinones misjudged a catchable fly ball (and third out) that instead dropped in front her and put Aaliyah Jordon on second. Garcia smoked a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left for the decisive runs.
“She’s a two-way player,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said of Garcia, whose record rose to 12-0. “She does a great job of helping us out on both ends.”
The Huskies left nine runners on base, two in the fourth and three in the fifth. They led 1-0 in the first after Bates, who went 3 for 4, raced home from third when Noelle Hee drew a throw to second attempting to steal before retreating to first.
Bubba Nickles stroked a two-run single in the third to give UCLA a 2-1 lead. In the fourth, sophomore third baseman Nawai Kaupe, who entered the game batting just .056, blooped a single down the left-field line to drive in pinch runner Megan Vandegrift.
Clutch hitting has been a struggle for the Huskies, the 2018 national runners-up. “It’s frustrating,” Tarr said. “It’s putting a lot of pressure on our pitching.”
Pitching and defense have been key for UW, and Plain (9-1), the 6-foot import from Australia, has been exceptional. Until UCLA, ranked seventh nationally in batting (.353), reached her for three hits in the third inning, she had pitched 23 1/3 innings of no-hit ball. The Bruins, who went hitless in four innings against Plain on Friday night, finished with seven hits.
What has been working well for Plain? “Just consistency,” the affable right-hander said. “Maintaining my head space as well as what my pitches do. I’m pretty happy with how I’m going so far, but I’m even happier with my team. They’ve got my back at all times, getting balls that I don’t even think are possible to reach. I just believe in them.”
Tarr applauds Plain’s growth. “She’s composed, mature, keeps the game simple, and kind of just plays for fun.”
Inouye-Perez said she thinks Plain is even better than a year ago, when she was 22-5.
“It’s her command,” she said “She’s attacking the strike zone. Last year she wasn’t ahead of the count as much as she is this year. And clearly she has great movement—a good drop, a great rise ball. And with that movement it’s not always easy to have command and throw strikes. She’s doing that.”