Bruins Register Successful Season Despite Loss Of Key Players
One of the most interesting years in UCLA softball history, 1998 marked many firsts for the nation's all-time winningest softball program. Since UCLA was not able to participate in post-season competition, five Bruins from UCLA's 1997 national runner-up team, elected to redshirt. Among the redshirts were third baseman Julie Adams, who sat out 1998 while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and true freshman Crissy Buck. This left quite a dilemma for the coaching staff, which was forced to field a team, with only three scholarship players and nine newcomers, that could compete in the highly competitive Pac-10 Conference.
UCLA started strong winning its first six games, however, though the Bruins had the talent to compete on a national level, they lacked the experience necessary to win the close games against the top-ranked teams. Following its perfect start, UCLA dropped games to No. 14 Long Beach State and No. 4 Michigan at the San Diego Campbell/Cartier Classic. The Bruins picked up their first win over a ranked opponent when they defeated No. 22 Kansas 6-3 at the Fresno State Classic. In that same tournament, the Bruins fell 2-3 in extra-innings to No. 5 Fresno State, a team that would go on to win the 1998 NCAA title. The Bruins rebounded two days later, knocking off a very talented Notre Dame squad 4-3 in 10 innings.
UCLA opened conference action at home, hosting Stanford and Cal. The Bruins dropped both games to the No. 14 Cardinal on Saturday and a flooded field due to rain the night before forced the cancellation of the Cal doubleheader on Sunday. However, UCLA would need the rest in preparation for its toughest road trip of the season. From April 3 to April 15, the Bruins had eight straight road games, including matchups with No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 Washington, No. 7 Arizona State and No. 25 Cal State Northridge. UCLA opened its Pac-10 road season with two losses to the top-ranked Wildcats, however bounced back for a strong showing the following day, managing a split with No. 7 ASU. From there, it was off to Seattle and a showdown with No. 4 Washington. After dropping game one, UCLA nearly upset the Huskies in game two, falling 2-1 in seven innings. Despite heading back to Los Angeles, UCLA still had one more road trip to make, as it traveled up the freeway for a meeting with No. 25 Cal State Northridge. Exhausted from its 12-day road trip, UCLA couldn't manage a win over its local rival, falling 4-5 in a close game two.
Despite its 11-16 overall record, UCLA was beginning to show signs of improvement heading into its home series against No. 23 Oregon and No. 18 Oregon State. The Bruins split both doubleheaders, recording one of its best wins of the season: a 10-4 offensive explosion over the Ducks. With added confidence from its victories over two ranked teams, UCLA next traveled to the Bay Area for meetings with No. 19 Cal and No. 9 Stanford. Though Cal got the best of UCLA on Saturday, the Bruins managed to step it up for its doubleheader with the Cardinal on Sunday, winning game two 1-0. With the victory, UCLA picked up its second win of the season over a top-10 opponent. Just two days after its thrilling win over the Cardinal, UCLA notched its biggest win of the year in the form of a 3-2 victory over the third-ranked Washington Huskies. With the victory, UCLA proved that they were capable of playing with any team in the country. UCLA's series with Washington marked the 10th-straight meeting with a ranked team and second versus a top-10 opponent. The Bruins finished the season on a high note, knocking off No. 16 ASU 2-1 in their final game of the year.
Before the season was over, UCLA registered wins over No. 3 Washington, No. 7 ASU, No. 9 Stanford, No. 18 Oregon State, No. 23 Oregon and No. 22 Kansas. The Bruins finished with an 18-27 overall mark and an 8-18 Pac-10 Conference slate.
On an individual level, second baseman Laurie Fritz, utility specialist Casey Hiraiwa, shortstop Nicole Odom and first baseman Kim Wuest earned All-Pac-10 honors. Wuest, who was also named second-team All-Pacific Region, highlighted her senior season by moving into first place all time at UCLA in home runs, finishing with 30 for her career. Odom, who sat out the entire 1997 season while recovering from shoulder surgery, joined Wuest as UCLA's other all-region selection.
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