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No. 2 UCLA on deck for UW, first place in Pac-12 standings up for grabs

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No. 2 UCLA on deck for UW, first place in Pac-12 standings up for grabs

Sami Reynolds prepares to bat during Washington's game versus Oregon at Husky Softball Stadium on April 18, 2021. Reynolds and the Huskies have their work cut out for themselves this weekend, as the UW heads to Los Angeles to face No. 2 UCLA in a four game series.

No. 4 Washington vs. No. 2 UCLA. 

The Pac-12’s top two softball teams square off this weekend in Los Angeles in a four-game series that will likely determine the conference champion.

For the Huskies (34-6, 12-2 Pac-12), the upcoming series is all about revenge. The most recent time the two teams met was a 10-inning thriller in 2019 in the Women’s College World Series semifinals. Washington pitchers Gabbie Plain and Taran Alvelo combined for 9 2/3 scoreless innings before UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia helped her own cause, hitting a three-run walk-off home run to send the Bruins to the championship.

“I actually watched that game a few weeks ago,” head coach Heather Tarr said. “I’m like, ‘Dang, so many of our gals are still on this team from that experience.’ Obviously same with UCLA, but they’re older, they’re wiser. It’s kind of the same deal but, great, sometimes you win ‘em, sometimes you lose ‘em.”

The Huskies will not only have 2019’s loss in mind, but they will be looking to snap a seven-game losing streak against the Bruins (25-2, 8-1 Pac-12), which began in 2017. In fact, Washington has not won a road game against UCLA since 2016.

To do so, the UW will be looking to produce more offense than previous games against UCLA. Throughout the course of the seven-game losing streak, Washington has been shut out four times and has hit just two home runs, both coming in a 15-6 loss in 2019.

This year, the Huskies have been powerful, hitting 56 home runs, already eclipsing their 2019 mark and just three shy of 2018’s total. The two through four hitters in the Washington lineup have been the catalyst, combining for 31 home runs this season. Junior Baylee Klingler is the team-leader with 13 home runs, while junior Sami Reynolds follows with 10 and graduate senior Morganne Flores with eight.

Reynolds, who moved from the three-hole to cleanup against Oregon last weekend, has increased her productivity at the plate since the most recent meeting with the Bruins. Her freshman year home run total has been doubled this season, and she is on a tear, hitting home runs in all three Pac-12 games against the Ducks.

“I think the more pitches that I can see, the more chance that I can get one that I like to hit,” Reynolds said. “For me it’s just a matter of being patient.”

Patience has paid off for Reynolds, as she’s been able to reach base in more ways than one. She’s drawn 18 walks this season, reflected by her .355 batting average and .455 on-base percentage.

Some Washington bats, such as sophomore Kelley Lynch, have relied on patience during times of struggle to reach base. Despite only one hit in the Oregon series, Lynch was able to draw six walks, signifying the marked difference between her .280 BA and .395 OBP.

With Garcia and fellow UCLA pitcher Megan Faraimo both sporting sub-1.00 ERAs, making contact will be tough sledding for the UW, but drawing walks may be a key to production. Although Garcia has thrown a no-hitter this season and Faraimo a perfect game, both pitchers have been plagued by walks at times. In her only loss of the year, Faraimo surrendered two walks, while Garcia has allowed double-digit free passes in three consecutive games, including three in her most recent outing against Oregon State.

“It’s never a guarantee that you will be able to have crazy success against arms that are around 1.00,” Tarr said. “We have to execute and be able to play our short game and maybe hit a couple of home runs here or there and play good defense. Kind of a basic recipe.”

Washington will be relying on Plain’s arm to get the job done yet again. The senior may be starting to feel some arm fatigue, as she is less than 35 innings shy from her career high of 186 set as a sophomore. Even with the heavy workload this year, Plain has been sensational, sporting a 0.93 ERA next to her name to go along with her nation-leading 23 wins and 252 strikeouts.

Against Oregon, Plain was again dominant, allowing two earned runs in 17 1/3 innings, striking out 25 along the way. She has given up more than two earned runs just twice in 22 starts this season, giving the Huskies a chance to win nearly every game.

Much as Tarr alluded to, Washington will need a strong performance from Plain and the defense as the offense tries to figure out the UCLA pitching staff this weekend. With one game separating the two teams in the Pac-12 standings, the series-winner will emerge on top of the conference standings.

Game 1 of the series is scheduled for Friday, April 23 at 7 p.m.

Reach Co-Sports Editor Anthony Edwards at Twitter: @edwardsanthonyb

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