UCLA softball focused on the journey as postseason gets underway

Every single UCLA softball senior was late for practice Wednesday morning. And when they did show up, they came tearing into Easton Stadium on motorized scooters and wearing glitter, temporary tattoos and colored hair extensions.

It was all part of senior practice – the one practice out of the year that the most veteran Bruins get to break all the rules. It’s a UCLA tradition and provides some levity just before the Women’s College World Series NCAA Los Angeles Regional gets underway Friday.

“It’s our last postseason practice we have here that is guaranteed,” Bruins graduate student Aaliyah Jordan said. “So it just makes us think about our journey here and not so much like, we have to do this and we have to do this.”

No. 2-seeded UCLA (52-5) plays Grand Canyon University (46-11) at 5 p.m. Friday. Liberty and San Diego State will play in Friday’s 8 p.m. game. The winner of each of those games will play at 2 p.m. Saturday and two games will be played if necessary Sunday to determine which team advances to the next super regional round.

The Bruins are making their 38th NCAA tournament appearance while coming off a loss to Utah in the title game of the inaugural Pac-12 tournament. The Utes put up three runs in the sixth inning for the win.

“I like how we responded after that day,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “We came to practice on Monday and it was very dialed in. It was a productive practice. That’s what we need right now, is just to really fine-tuned focus on being able to execute the little things.”

Earlier in the single-elimination Pac-12 tournament, Bruins pitcher Brooke Yanez improved to 16-1 in the circle against Stanford, throwing a complete-game shutout in which she gave up only two hits.

With Yanez, a sixth-year transfer from Oregon, Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Megan Faraimo (29-2) and freshman Taylor Tinsley (6-1), the Bruins have proven talent and depth.

“We’re all locked in together, just talking every inning,” Yanez said. “And I think that is the huge difference-maker between a staff. You can either constantly compete day by day, practice (by) practice, game by game, but at the end of the day, we’re on the same team.”

Since the tournament, redshirt junior Maya Brady has been named a USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 3 finalist, along with Clemson’s Valerie Cagle and Florida’s Skylar Wallace.

Brady, who bats in the No. 2 spot after freshman Megan Grant, was named the Pac-12 batting champion with a .456 average at the end of conference play. She now owns a .458 average, which ranks sixth in the country, with 59 RBI and 18 home runs.

The Bruins had 10 players receive All-Pac-12 honors, including Freshman of the Year Jordan Woolery and first-teamers Brady, Faraimo and Grant. Four players were named to the All-Freshman Team, but the Bruins are also leaning on experience from veterans like Jordan, who is in her seventh and final postseason with UCLA.

Jordan’s photo is permanently pasted to the outfield wall at Easton Stadium as part of the 2019 NCAA championship-winning team. She hit her second walk-off home run of the season in her final regular-season game at the park against San Diego State and currently ranks No. 15 in program history in career hits with 256.

She posted an Instagram video recently of herself standing in a crowd, smiling, with fans rushing around for player autographs with the caption: “When you’re too old and no one wants our autograph.” Still, she knows the value of her behavior modeling.

“It’s kind of like passing the torch,” Jordan said with a laugh. “It’s tough as a freshman regardless, just because it’s your first postseason, if you make to the World Series and there’s all these crowds. Just act like you’ve been there before. It’s still the same game. 60 feet, turn left.”

NCAA Los Angeles Regional: UCLA vs. Grand Canyon

When: 5 p.m. Friday

Where: Easton Stadium, Westwood


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