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Seldom Seen

UCLA pitcher Selden is being counted on for more than most freshmen

June 02, 2005|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

Anjelica Selden says she came to UCLA for the challenge, and she found it.

The UCLA softball team was two-time defending national champion, and Selden, a freshman, came in as the national high school player of the year. But don't get the idea that the joining of those forces resulted in an easy run.

The Bruins, perennially among the top teams in the nation, open play today in the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City having weathered a season that included two four-game losing streaks, a fifth-place finish in the eight-team Pacific 10 Conference, and five elimination games during the playoffs.

A challenge? Selden gets a new one every game. The 5-foot-8 right-hander from Vacaville, Calif., has pitched every inning -- 59 of them -- of UCLA's eight playoff games, and she'll be back at center stage today at noon when the Bruins (36-18) face California (52-13).

"That's what I wanted to be a part of, and it really did attract me to come to this school," she said. "That's what I came here for."

Selden has a 25-12 record, a 1.15 earned-run average, 11 shutouts and a school-record 426 strikeouts in 280 innings.

"In all my years of coaching we have never asked a freshman to carry us like we've asked Jeli Selden," said Sue Enquist, who has coached at UCLA for 26 seasons (17 as head coach) and has been a part of 10 national championships.

Caitlin Benyi has been the Bruins' top hitter, with a .358 batting average and 13 home runs, but she knows who has been leading the team.

"She's it for us," Benyi said of Selden. "She's been carrying us the whole way."

Selden made her debut in UCLA's second game, and her performance was a harbinger. She struck out the first 10 batters she faced and fanned 14 overall in a 5-1 victory over UC Santa Barbara.

"She came out, and she was blowing pretty hard, and we all jumped right on her coattails," UCLA catcher Emily Zaplatosch said.

Selden throws five pitches, the best of which is her drop. She also possesses maturity beyond her years, which has helped her out of tight spots during games.

"Even when I was younger, I feel like I always had that kind of businesslike personality when I'm pitching," Selden said. "I try the best I can to just stay like ice, you know? Once I get in the dugout, it's a whole different story and I'm cheering and it's fun. But I have to keep my composure out there."

Which is why she got the ball back after losing to Cal State Fullerton in the second game of the NCAA regionals two weeks ago, responding with consecutive 4-1, 6-0 and 3-1 victories over the next day and a half.

And that's why she got it back last weekend after losing the opening game of a super regional, 4-1, to Georgia. With another loss again meaning elimination, UCLA forged 5-4 and 3-2 victories to advance to college softball's final, eight-team tournament.

As a high school senior, Selden put together 10 consecutive no-hitters, including seven perfect games.

But this season two of her better performances came in losses within a week of each other, in late February and early March.

She struck out 13 and pitched a four-hitter but got beat, 3-0, by Texas, which took advantage of three UCLA errors and got an 18-strikeout performance from its pitcher, 2004 Olympian Cat Osterman.

Then Selden dropped a 3-2 decision to Mississippi in 14 innings, a game in which she struck out a season-high 23.

Her season strikeout total is fourth-best in Pac-10 history, behind only Arizona's Alicia Hollowell, who had 508 in 2004 (and 417 this season) and Cal's Michelle Granger, who fanned 458 in 1991 and 484 in '93.

"It's been fun, a huge learning experience for me, especially coming in here with all the hype, about the history and the back-to-back national champions, and is there going to be a three-peat," Selden said.

UCLA is the only school that has won three consecutive softball titles -- in 1988, '89 and '90 -- but the Bruins seemed longshots to make it three in a row again this season, because they have only one senior in the lineup.

And few were counting on the freshman to become such a force so soon.

Selden was a first-team All-Pac-10 choice and was the conference's newcomer of the year. And despite being thrust into the spotlight, she said stress management was never an issue.

"I didn't feel any pressure coming in here," she said. "I came in having fun and just willing to learn, and have just kind of taken everything that my coaches have to give to me."

Today and from here on out, they'll be giving her the ball.



Women's CWS

At Oklahoma City; all games on ESPN2:


* Game 1: Tennessee vs. Arizona, 10 a.m.

* Game 2: California vs. UCLA, noon

* Game 3: DePaul vs. Michigan, 4:30 p.m.

* Game 4: Texas vs. Alabama, 6:30 p.m.

* Remaining schedule: Friday, winner's bracket games; Saturday, elimination games; Sunday, 9 a.m.-11 a.m., semifinals; Monday-Wednesday, best-of-three championship series, all games at 4:30 p.m. PDT.

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