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UCLA Loss Has Familiar Look

Five former Bruins, including the stellar Fernandez, lead the U.S. to an 11-0 exhibition victory in a game that more than anything is a celebration of the Bruins' influence on the national team.

March 29, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Being a member of the powerhouse UCLA softball team is an opportunity few receive each year. But on a glorious Sunday afternoon, the Bruins wouldn't have minded switching their blue and gold uniforms for some in red, white and blue.

In the other dugout was the U.S. national team as it culminated play against college teams on its tour in preparation for the Olympics. For the capacity crowd at Easton Stadium, many of them youngsters in their uniforms, it was an opportunity to watch the best team in the world and maybe dream about the future.

The scoreboard will show the USA with a dominating 11-0 mercy-rule victory in five innings. The Bruins shouldn't feel too bad; the U.S. has gone 136 games without a loss in pre-Olympic competition.

More than anything, it was a chance to celebrate what UCLA has meant to the national program. Five former Bruins -- Lisa Fernandez, Stacey Nuveman, Natasha Watley, Tairia Mims Flowers and Amanda Freed -- are part of the squad that will head to Athens in an attempt to win a third consecutive gold medal.

"What I'm most proud of is the level of talent we bring into this program," UCLA Coach Sue Enquist said. "The pinnacle is representing your country. We take pride in wearing the blue and gold but we all know that when you wear the red, white and blue, it's a special thing."

Last year, Watley was leading the Bruins to a record ninth NCAA championship on the way to a Broderick Award selection as the nation's top female college athlete. Now she is fulfilling a lifelong goal as the starting shortstop on the Olympic team.

"It will be fun to be a part of something so much bigger than the college experience because you have a bunch of girls from all around coming together for one common goal," Watley said.

As for the game, the U.S. showed its experience in a matchup against the second-ranked Bruins and the nation's top college pitcher, senior Keira Goerl. The 33-year-old Fernandez, long considered the best player on the planet, is also a volunteer assistant for the Bruins and she showed her fans there's no drop-off in her game.

She struck out six and gave up one hit in 4 2/3 innings. At the plate, she ripped two singles and drove in two runs.

"She has incredible respect for the game of softball," Enquist said. "She trains harder than anybody else. She gives her time to any of our players but when you get her in the [pitching] circle, she gets cold-blooded."

It was a tough day for Goerl, one of the final cuts for the 2004 squad.

Fernandez sparked an eight-run third inning with a two-run single, while Kelly Kretchman delivered the big blow with a grand slam over the left-center field fence. UCLA also committed two errors and played shaky defense behind its All-America pitcher.

"I'm disappointed that we couldn't have put on a better show," catcher Emily Zaplatosch said. "Both of our programs respect each other. When we get between the lines, it's all about competition."

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