2019 NCAA softball tournament: UCLA title hopes boosted by pair of talented freshmen

Courtesy Don Liebig

Only a handful of players in the NCAA softball tournament have a better batting average than Kelli Godin's .426.

LOS ANGELES -- Kelli Godin rarely hits the ball into the outfield, but for the UCLA freshman, that hardly matters. When you have speed like hers, all you need to do is put the ball in play.

And Godin is very good at that.

"She's just a pure athlete that has eye-hand coordinator and speed," UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "She just touches the ball and runs."

A somewhat unheralded recruit from Southern California, who also starred on her high school track team, the 5-foot-6 Godin has wasted no time proving her ability for the Bruins, who closed out the regular season over the weekend by dropping a three-game series to Arizona. A series victory would have given the Bruins' their first outright Pac-12 Conference championship since 2009. Instead they will share the conference title with the Washington Huskies.

The Bruins (46-5) enter the postseason as a No. 2 seed and will open regionals against Weber State (26-19) on Friday in Los Angeles. Led by junior superstar Rachel Garcia, the Bruins are expected to make a fifth consecutive trip to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series. Godin and fellow freshman Megan Faraimo are two reasons the expectations are so high.

Godin, a utility player who has recently found a home in left field, is typically the ninth hitter in a lineup that features six players who were named to the Pac-12's first team.

But hitting last is certainly no slight.

"Every team in the country has a one, two and three hitter," Inouye-Perez said. "But where teams separate out is your ability to continue to have strength. So if I can have a Kelli Godin in the nine spot, that's why we've been successful and why she's been able to be successful also, because of the lineup."

Godin boasts a .426 batting average, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and is among the top 25 in the nation. Her on-base percentage is .483.

"She's able to just put the ball down like it's nothing, regardless of what type of pitch it is or who is pitching to her," junior outfielder Bubba Nickles said. "She's able to read the defense really well and I think that she just does a really good job using all the tools that she's able to incorporate with her hitting."

Inouye-Perez is among those who have asked Godin how she's done it. But Godin insists there's no secret formula.

"The biggest thing is just trying not to do too much," said Godin, who is right-handed but at age 12 learned to hit from the left side of the plate. "All I try to do in there is put my bat on the ball and let my speed take over."

Godin has 46 hits, including three doubles and a triple. Her speed has earned her a team-best 22 stolen bases (on 24 attempts). She was named to the Pac-12 all-freshman team and is one of 10 finalists for national freshman of the year.

Courtesy Don Liebig

Megan Faraimo gives UCLA a strong and steady second option to Rachel Garcia.

One of the players she's competing with for the award is teammate Faraimo, a pitcher who was named the Pac-12 freshman of the year.

"Megan has really taken the ball and has been able to prove and beat some top teams and come out of some big situations," Inouye-Perez said. "She's a competitor."

The top recruit in the nation, Faraimo started the season navigating a role behind Garcia, who was named the Pac-12 player and pitcher of the year, a first in UCLA history. But Garcia told her that she should not settle for the second spot in the rotation.

"When she first came in ... we were just chatting and she was like, 'I'm here to take off innings from you,'" Garcia recalled. "And what I told her was, 'I want you to try to take my position because it's only going to make us both better.'"

Garcia has remained the Bruins' ace. She is 20-1 with 207 strikeouts and a 0.98 ERA. But Faraimo, who favors her rise ball but has developed two more pitches -- including a drop ball -- to add to her six-pitch arsenal, isn't far off pace.

Faraimo is 15-3, has 134 strikeouts and a 1.31 ERA.

"There are a lot of expectations for this team and for me," Faraimo said. "So it's been a little bit challenging, but it's all fun."

The Bruins have not won a national championship since 2010. Last season, they fell in the semifinals after losing back-to-back games to Florida State.

With the addition of Godin's speed -- at the plate and in the field -- and Faraimo's pitching, Inouye-Perez said the Bruins are in a better place to complete a run to a national title.

"We have the tools to be able to, and the depth and versatility," Inouye-Perez said. "We're very balanced this year. We have pitching, we have hitting. ... I'm excited about what we can do."

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