In March, Kelly Inouye-Perez looked at her team after getting swept by Utah at home in the first series of Pac-12 play.
The 11th-year head coach saw a talented team she still believed in. But she also saw one that lacked its own identity.
That UCLA team’s character was still tethered to the 2016 squad that went to the Women’s College World Series, hoping to carry the momentum over. Only when the 2017 Bruins cut the cord could they fully flourish.
Now as the fifth-seeded Bruins start their College World Series run Thursday against No. 13 LSU at 11:30 a.m. in Oklahoma City, they have full confidence in a 2017 team set on blazing its own path back to the top.
“I know we’ve learned a lot this season and that has nothing to do with 2016. It’s all about this team in 2017,” Inouye-Perez said. “We’re not perfect, but we stick together.”
UCLA, the leader in national titles, hasn’t hoisted the ultimate prize since 2010. The seven-year gap is tied for the longest championship drought in UCLA’s storied history because the school’s 1995 NCAA title was vacated.
The Bruins are inching closer to reclaiming the title. This is their third consecutive appearance in Oklahoma City. Compared to the 2015 team that had no players with College World Series experience, this squad has a “vibe of more experience and comfort,” Inouye-Perez said.
While happy to be back in Oklahoma City, UCLA isn’t content on just enjoying the experience.
“Third time’s the charm,” senior Gabrielle Maurice said. “We’re hoping to get after it this year.”
Maurice was the focal point of UCLA’s major defensive overhaul early in Pac-12 play. Her transition to left field from center after the Utah series caused a string of six changes in the field. She made an instant impact at the position, Inouye-Perez said.
The 5-foot-7 Modesto native can make a leaping catch at the wall, a diving catch in shallow left, cover foul territory and unload big throws. At the World Series,…