Bru­ins can’t bear fo­cus­ing on past

Last year’s early exit is ir­rel­e­vant as UCLA be­gins World Se­ries full of con­fi­dence.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

UCLA has long ruled the Women’s Col­lege World Se­ries, mak­ing 27 ap­pear­ances and win­ning a record 11 NCAA cham­pi­onships, but in its trips the last two years the Bru­ins went 1-4 on col­lege softball’s big­gest stage.

Last sea­son, UCLA lost its only two games. How­ever, painful flash­backs won’t be an is­sue when the Bru­ins (4713) face Louisiana State (4720) in their opener at 11:30 a.m. PDT Thurs­day at ASA Hall of Fame Sta­dium in Ok­la­homa City.

“I mean, that was 2016,” UCLA first base­man Made­line Je­lenicki said last week when asked if the quick ouster was driv­ing the Bru­ins to do bet­ter in their third con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance in the World Se­ries. “We’re mov­ing on.”

Je­lenicki’s dead­pan de­fi­ance drew laugh­ter from team­mates Rachel Gar­cia and Selina Ta’amilo as well as coach Kelly Inouye-Perez when the group met with re­porters af­ter UCLA elim­i­nated Mis­sis­sippi in a su­per­re­gional.

“I love it,” Inouye-Perez said.

The coach went on to ac­knowl­edge that she had not put the dis­ap­point­ment from last sea­son be­hind her as quickly as she would have liked.

“I’m go­ing to be hon­est,” Inouye-Perez said. “I started in fall and I sim­ply said, ‘We’re not go­ing to start over a new sea­son, we’re go­ing to pick up where we left off,’ and that was a mis­take. Mad­die’s ex­actly right. That was 2016 and it took some time for us to find out who we were in 2017, but that’s what the sea­son was for; it’s a jour­ney.

“And what we came to is, in­stead of get­ting caught up on the past or what we did or needed to do, we kind of fig­ured out who we were. And this team is bet­ter, stronger for it be­cause the past is as old as dirt.”

The tra­jec­tory of UCLA’s 2017 sea­son changed af­ter the Bru­ins were swept by Utah in their first Pac-12 Con­fer­ence se­ries of the sea­son. Inouye-Perez dras­ti­cally al­tered her de­fense, jug­gling her en­tire out­field and mak­ing a hand­ful of moves else­where.

The re­sult­ing align­ment has made UCLA far more well-rounded than the team that tried to out­slug op­po­nents a year ago.

“I be­lieve we have the best de­fense in the coun­try,” said Ta’amilo, who started UCLA’s World Se­ries opener last year but is now the No. 2 pitch­ing op­tion be­hind ace Rachel Gar­cia, the Na­tional Fast­pitch Coaches Assn.’s fresh­man of the year.

The Bru­ins’ of­fense re­lies on con­tri­bu­tions from top to bot­tom, with each hit­ter in the lineup hav­ing scored and driven in at least one gamewin­ning run this sea­son. UCLA’s hit­ters also seems to pos­sess the clutch gene, hav­ing driven in five runs with two out against Mis­sis­sippi.

“We don’t rely on one per­son,” Inouye-Perez said. “If you don’t get it done, some­body will pick you up, and that’s how our team is so re­silient and con­tin­ues to be suc­cess­ful, be­cause you don’t just ride the highs and lows or one or two peo­ple.”

UCLA has ex­pe­ri­enced only highs in re­cent weeks. The Bru­ins have won 18 of their last 19 games, in­clud­ing eight in a row and all five in the play­offs, in which they have outscored op­po­nents 36-10.

“There’s a feel­ing right now, a cul­ture, and all these things are a part of what al­lows you to be suc­cess­ful in the post­sea­son,” said Inouye-Perez, whose pro­gram is seek­ing its first na­tional ti­tle since 2010. “You’ve got to be able to be to­gether as one, the cul­ture has to be strong and we have to play for each other, and we ul­ti­mately will do what­ever it takes to be able to bring that natty home.”

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