Danielle O’Toole remembers her first time facing the UCLA Bruins, though she probably wishes she didn’t.
“We were down by some runs and I just remember looking as runners were going by me and everything was happening so fast,” she recalls.
On that night in April of 2016, the Arizona Wildcats’ ace surrendered seven runs on 12 hits as the Bruins won 8-6 to begin a three-game series in Tucson.
The magnitude of the UCLA-Arizona rivalry was greater than O’Toole had imagined.
“I think I was mentally unprepared last year and I’m not afraid to say it because it was not a good outing for me,” said O’Toole, who mentioned UCLA-Arizona contests are “100 percent different” from other series.
“And I think I’ll be better prepared this time. I just didn’t realize the immense meaning it had to everybody. I’ve been here and I kinda thought I felt it, but I didn’t until I lost, and then I was like ‘oh my goodness.’”
But just how big is the UCLA-Arizona rivalry? Well, from Arizona’s standpoint, UCLA is the only school it has a losing all-time record against (with a minimum of three games played).
From an accolade perspective, UCLA has 12 national championships, while Arizona has eight. Both schools have 10 Pac-12 titles.
Simply, UCLA and Arizona are traditionally the two premier softball schools in the West.
“We’ve had some very good battles and some very good talent on both sides of the ball,” said Arizona head coach Mike Candrea. “It’s always a hard-fought battle, no matter what year it is or who we have.”
This year’s series in Westwood doesn’t figure to be any different.
Arizona (47-5, 17-4 Pac-12) enters as the No. 3 team in the country, while UCLA (37-12, 11-7 Pac-12) is No. 12.
“There’s a lot of alumni that have spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears beating those guys and playing those guys, and it’s definitely one of those games on the schedule that you circle,” Candrea said.
“But truthfully my approach with this team is every game counts, every day matters. We have to continue to do the things that we’ve done to get where we’re at right now and know that from here on out that we’re going to be playing games that are pretty darn important.”
The Wildcats currently hold a 2.5-game lead on second-place Utah (32-9, 12-4) in the Pac-12 standings, and can clinch their first Pac-12 title since 2007 with a sweep of the Bruins this weekend.
Arizona has not swept UCLA since 2003, and the Bruins have won eight of the last nine games against UA in total.
In other words, the Wildcats have their work cut out for them in their final regular season series.
“I’ve grown up going to UCLA games and watching them,” said UA freshman Jessie Harper, who will be playing in the rivalry for the first time this weekend.
“Playing in that environment, it’s going to be a step up, it’s going to be a dogfight all seven innings or more.”
Friday, May 5
- Arizona at UCLA | 5 p.m. | Pac-12 Networks
Saturday, May 6
- Arizona at UCLA | 6 p.m. | ESPN2
Sunday, May 7
- Arizona at UCLA | 1 p.m. | ESPN2
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