As storm clouds rolled in the distance, Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez made two trips to the pitching circle before her UCLA squad recorded two outs in the Women’s College World Series. The Bruins’ pitching staff found itself in trouble.
Sophomore Selina Ta’amilo faced five hitters and struck two with pitches. Junior Paige McDuffee took over in relief, but the results were no better. She hit two batters, and an error prolonged the agony.
In total, the Bruins allowed five runs in the first inning before falling to Auburn, 10-3, in front of a sellout crowd at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Thursday.
“Those are those things that happen that are inexplainable with what we’ve done to prepare,” Inouye-Perez said emphatically after the game, adding, “I believe my pitchers and players are better. You have got to be in control so you can execute what you came here to do.”
The problematic first inning wasn’t in the game plan, Inouye-Perez said, but she would not call it a surprise. UCLA (40-15-1) overcame deficits in 17 games this season.
Last weekend in a Super Regional, the Bruins stunned Pac-12 Conference champion Oregon in a come-from-behind series victory that earned them their second consecutive trip to the Wold Series. They were eliminated from the World Series last season by Auburn.
“Nothing about this year has been easy,” Inouye-Perez said. “We have lost the first game and we’ve gotten to the championship and we’ve actually won it, so it is possible.”
The Bruins, seeded 12th in the 64-team tournament, have relied heavily on defense behind their pitchers, but three errors allowed Auburn, the fourth seed, to score six unearned runs Thursday.
Ta’amilo, McDuffee and Johanna Grauer, who threw three innings of relief, combined to allow nine hits and four walks, with one strikeout.
“Like always, [we’re] just trying to take it pitch by pitch. We didn’t really get the outcome that we wanted,” McDuffee said.
In the fourth inning, with the Bruins trailing 7-0, sophomore Kylee Perez hit a double to left field and junior Delaney Spaulding singled up the middle before Mysha Sataraka hit a home run, her 14th of the season, to make it 7-3.
But the Bruins rally fell far short of a comeback as Auburn scored a run in the fourth inning and two more in the sixth to seal the victory.
“I don’t think it was jitters or butterflies,” Sataraka said. “I think we just didn’t come out how we wanted to.
“We have been in this position before, dropping the first game, so we are just going to come back tomorrow, get a good workout in…that’s all we can do.”
The Bruins had seven hits, but stranded five runners.
UCLA will play eighth-seeded Florida State (53-9), which lost an opener to Georgia, in an elimination game Saturday.
“The best thing we have going is that it is a double-elimination tournament and we have the ability to fight back,” Inouye-Perez said.