The clouds had cleared, the storm had passed and an earthquake even shook – it was time for Opening Day.
Softball was finally back.
“Today is a part of the whole story in the journey of a team,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “It’s day one of a long season.”
No. 8 UCLA softball (1-1) started its 2024 campaign Friday, splitting a doubleheader in the Stacy Winsberg Tournament at Easton Stadium, defeating Maryland (1-1) by a score of 6-5 and losing 3-2 to No. 5 Texas (2-0), led by redshirt senior shortstop Maya Brady’s late-inning heroics in the first contest and the emergence of a returning face stepping into a new role.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth against the Terrapins, the Bruins were down one run and in need of a spark.
Enter Alexis Ramirez.
The sophomore catcher/utility spent all of last season in a role positioned behind two redshirt juniors – tallying only seven hits all season – which she said led her to reevaluate her offseason preparation. She added that she knew she would have to step into the role that former UCLA catcher Alyssa Garcia left behind and eventually replace redshirt senior catcher Sharlize Palacios after this season.
Starting Opening Day for the first time in her career, the Whittier local stepped into that role and more. In her third plate appearance, after getting on base for the first two, Ramirez took a swing.
Boom. Tie game. Her first career home run.
“It felt good to be out there and play like a little kid again,” Ramirez said.
Inouye-Perez said Ramirez’s performance was a payoff for the hard work she had put in throughout the recruiting process before UCLA and over the past year-plus of practices.
“She was a diamond in the rough,” the Bruin coach said. “We’re not surprised. If you saw her bang the ball, she’s really been doing that.”
By the end of the inning, UCLA had the lead – all it needed was to hold on for the win.
The game stayed close all game long.
The Bruins fell behind early against the Terrapins after freshman pitcher/outfielder Kaitlyn Terry allowed four runs in the first inning during her first collegiate outing. Junior pitcher Jada Cecil was able to provide some stability for her defense and lineup, pitching the next 4.2 innings and only forfeiting one run.
After Ramirez’s no-doubt home run tied the game for the Bruins, the veterans of the lineup did what they do best – get on base.
A single from graduate student outfielder Jadelyn Allchin – a transfer from Washington – and a walk from redshirt senior outfielder Janelle Meoño brought up Brady with two runners on.
The redshirt senior drove a line drive up the middle, scoring Allchin from second, which gave sophomore pitcher Taylor Tinsley all she needed to close the game out in the seventh.
“I’m going to have my teammates’ back,” Tinsley said. “I just wanted to do it for them and do it for the other pitchers that were in the game and just shut it down for them.”
Tinsley got the start against Texas in the nightcap. The 2023 Pac-12 All-Freshman Team hurler pitched seven innings and struck out eight against the Longhorns, only conceding one earned run.
Out of the eight runs given up by the Bruin pitchers, only three were earned, with UCLA committing three errors Friday – a fact that Inouye-Perez said was a turning point against Texas.
“We did some things on defense that allowed them to have runs, and it ended up being a one-run ballgame,” Inouye-Perez said. “If we don’t make those errors on defense, then we win.”
However, the longtime UCLA coach said the team has to take in its lessons from Friday and pivot toward Saturday’s games – against San Diego and a rematch against Texas.
Ramirez said the team always has to focus on itself and not let the competition get the best of it.
“We always talk about that it doesn’t matter the jersey and the other side of the dugout,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to do our game and do what we know how to do best.”