#8 UCLA Softball 2016 Preview

UCLA Bruins
Overall Rank: #8
Conference Rank: #2 Pac-12
UCLA continued to regain its swagger during the 2015 season as the Bruins won 51 games, giving the Bruins consecutive 50 plus wins in back to back years for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The Bruins can crush opposing teams with their power and speed on any given day and this season should bring more of the same style of play. In the circle, there will be the challenge of replacing Ally Carda and her 32 wins.
2015: 51-12, 19-5
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Kelli Inouye-Perez
Field Players:
Senior outfielder Allexis Bennett took her game up to even greater heights in 2015. Bennett hit .492 with 93 hits, 28 runs batted in, 61 runs scored, and 21 stolen bases out of 26 attempts. It will be interesting to see if opposing teams try to pitch differently to Bennett in 2016. However, Bennett should be able to adapt just fine to any strategic changes by opposing pitchers and be a finalist for national player of the year honors. Junior infielder Delaney Spaulding will provide plenty of power for UCLA as Spaulding hit 20 homeruns and drove in 72 runs last season. Spaulding also has a great eye in regard to pitch selection and she walked 37 times last season, while only striking out 20 times.
Pitching coach Lisa Fernandez will have some work to do in the early portion of the season to get the pitching staff up to speed after the graduation of Ally Carda. Sophomore Johanna Grauer will be back in 2016 and will be looking to take another step forward after a solid freshman season. Grauer was 10-1 with a 3.44 earned average last season and will need to have a better balance between walks and strikeouts this season. She walked 45 batters and struck out 51 last season. Selina Ta’amilo, Paige McDuffee, and incoming freshman Rachel Garcia should all get plenty of opportunities in the circle to take over one of the starting rotation slots for the Bruins.
Who to Watch:
Junior utility player Gabrielle Maurice will lengthen the UCLA lineup with her ability to hit for a high average and hit the ball out of the ballpark. Maurice batted .376 with ten homeruns and 46 runs batted in last season and should be able to expand on those numbers in 2016. Incoming freshman catcher/utility player Paige Halstead should make an immediate impact after making the USA Elite Softball Team recently. The combination of power at the plate and defensive ability for Halstead will set her up to make the Bruins everyday lineup that much stronger.
Final Projection:
UCLA will be tested early and often in 2016 with trips to College Station to play Texas A&M and several high quality neutral site matchups at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. The home opener on March 2 will be tough as well as national runner-up Michigan comes to Easton Stadium. A trip to Berkeley will kick off the Pac-12 schedule and that won’t be easy as six of the first nine conference games are on the road. If UCLA can be 5-4 or better after playing Cal, Washington and Oregon, then they should be fine and be in position for a top eight national seed in the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, if the pitching struggles, it will be a tougher challenge to get to 50 wins and will take the offense outslugging opposing teams to get back to the Women’s College World Series. Bottom line, the Bruins are going to eventually overcome any pitching issues and peak as a team by the time the postseason rolls around.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Allexis Bennett, OF, 189; Delaney Spaulding, IF, 189
Hits: Allexis Bennett, OF, 93
Home Runs: Delaney Spaulding, IF, 20
RBIs: Delaney Spaulding, IF. 72
Runs: Delaney Spaulding, IF, 69
Stolen Bases: Allexis Bennett, OF, 21
Wins: Johanna Grauer, P, 10
Innings Pitched: Johanna Grauer, P, 83.1
Strikeouts: Selina Ta’amilo, P, 61
Saves: Two with 3
Madness 2016 Softball Draft Rankings:
#6 Allexis Bennett
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#7 Paige Halstead
#13 Rachel Garcia
#25 Taylor Pack
#29 Brianne Tautalafua