LOS ANGELES -- The battle of the West ensued over the weekend at Easton Stadium (Westwood, Calif.) as No. 2 UCLA, UNLV, Fresno State and Long Beach State dueled in softball's Los Angeles Regional. In the end, the Bruins earned a spot in the super regionals, but it wasn't easy. Here is what we learned about UCLA this weekend:
The Bruins are solid, 1 through 9
Opponents never have time to relax when they face the Bruins. I don't want to be a pitcher and see someone like Julie Burney in the 7 hole.
The top of their lineup is as good as it gets, but what is more impressive is how the bottom of the lineup performs for the Bruins.
Burney hit two home runs in the three games played this weekend. Amanda Kamekona, the sixth batter, went 2-for-4 in the championship game with a home run. Not to mention their No. 9 batter, Monica Harrison, is arguably the best ninth batter in the country.
Furthermore, their defense is crazy good.
Kamekona at second base dove and caught a line drive up the middle against Fresno State in the second game of the tournament. In the first game, right fielder Amy Crawford threw out a runner at third. In the final game, Burney made a diving catch to end the second inning. Harrison is a rock in the middle infield, and the outfield could cover the state of Texas if it needed to.
Need I go on? This team is fearless, delivers throughout the lineup and makes the tough plays. The Bruins are straight talented.
Can you say "clutch?"
In all three games of the regional, UCLA faced one pressure situation after another. In fact, the first two games, against Long Beach State and Fresno State, were each tied up at one point until, of course, the Bruins came up big with timely hitting. These girls are clutch and they are not easily shaken.
In the final, UCLA was even down by two to start the second inning. The Bruins started strong with a run in the first, before Fresno countered with three runs in the same inning. It was in the second inning that the Bruins busted it wide open and scored seven to give themselves a nice lead.
They must be confident going into the supers knowing that they perform well under pressure and have what it takes to push runs across when it gets down to the wire.
Megan Langenfeld is the ace
Langenfeld started her career on the bench, became a closer and now is most definitely UCLA's ace. Let's just say I wouldn't want to see her at the plate or on the mound, and certainly wouldn't want one of those inside pitches coming at me.
Langenfeld pitched two out of the three games for the Bruins over the weekend. It can be assumed that she didn't pitch the final game only to give her a rest and because Fresno had to beat UCLA twice.
Donna Kerr pitched the last game. Although it was a decent performance, Langenfeld is more impressive on the mound. Kerr gave up five runs to the Bulldogs, and Langenfeld gave up four in two games, one of which was unearned.
Furthermore, maybe it is her experience as a closer, but Langenfeld got stronger as the games progressed. Not a bad quality for a pitcher to have going into the postseason.
Did I mention her killer inside pitch? The teams know that she is going to throw that inside pitch and they still can't hit it.
And talk about how Langenfeld can also hit the life out of a softball. She can pretty much do it all.
UCLA could take it all
Without a doubt, this was one of the toughest regionals in the country.
UCLA played Long Beach State their first game, a team the Bruins had lost to earlier in the season. In that first game, which is always the toughest, it was tied up in the third and remained tied until the sixth when the Bruins scored to take the lead.
In the first game against Fresno State, the game was tied from the second inning until the sixth inning. In the second game against the Bulldogs, the Bruins were trailing in the first but were able to come back in the second and score seven runs. Even in the end of that game, Fresno was putting pressure on UCLA by plating a run in the fourth and fifth inning.
While UCLA proved to be the best of the regional's four, the other teams were very evenly matched. Long Beach State and UNLV played a 13-inning game, and UNLV lost 2-1 to Fresno State.
None of the games UCLA played were easy wins, and several of the regional games were close decisions. It wasn't easy to win out, but the Bruins did, proving they have what it takes to go all the way.
That's right, I said it. This team could win a championship. The Bruins have the talent, the experience and the guts to play for a title and this just might be the year they put another mural on their outfield fence.
Garland Cooper is an editor for ESPNRISE.com. Check out her stuff on the ESPN RISE softball page.