Know Your Enemy: The Mighty Bruin’s Joe Piechowski on UCLA softball

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 12:38 PM EDT
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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (WCTV) - For the eighth time in Women’s College World Series, Florida State will face off against the UCLA Bruins to open each team’s run in Oklahoma City.

It’s a matchup of the two most recent reigning champions: Florida State won the program’s first ever WCWS title while the Bruins captured the last title in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

Ahead of first pitch Thursday (9:30 p.m., ESPN) between the Seminoles and Thursday, WCTV reached out to Joe Piechowski of The Mighty Bruin to get the lowdown on the still-defending champs.

Due to technical difficulties, the entire video portion of the Q&A is not available, but a majority of Joe’s video answers are available. Head to the video player above to hear Joe in his own words.

Fletcher Keel: It’s been over 700 days since UCLA was crowned champions of the 2019 campaign. How does this year’s Bruins squad compare to the one that won the last Women’s College World Series Title?

Joe Piechowski: Well, there’s actually a lot of last year’s team still on the team because the NCAA allowed everybody to have that extra year, just about everybody from last year’s squad is back on the squad. They didn’t lose anybody.

In fact, this year’s squad actually gained two players back in Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nichols, who had taken a year off to go play for the national team.

FK: The Bruins boast four double-digit home run hitters (Briana Perez, Rachel Garcia, Maya Brady, Delanie Wisz). Is it fair to say UCLA lives and dies by the long ball?

JP: I think that’s a good assessment. They don’t always win by the long ball, but I like to refer to them as the Bruin Bombers, because they do have a tendency to hit the ball out of the yard. Not only have Rachel Garcia, but you have Maya Brady - Floridians will be familiar with that last name because her uncle just won the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a Super Bowl title. She is Tom Brady’s niece, and Tom has actually said she’s the best athlete in the family - so they’ve definitely got some pop in their bats, that’s for sure.

FK: It’s not just the home run numbers that are gaudy: UCLA slashes .320/.409/.561 as a team. On nights the ball isn’t flying for the Bruins, how else can they beat you on offense?

JP: The thing is, like I said, they’re not just a home run-hitting team. They’re very good at playing the short game; they’ll play small ball when they need to in order to generate runs. What they really rely upon though is their pitching to hold their opponents to as few runs as possible, whether it’s Garcia in the circle or Megan Faraimo - these are two pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this year. It’s something where if you don’t get one, you’ve got the other. That’s ultimately how they got to the College World Series this year, because they lost their first game against Virginia (Tech), but they came right back the next night and Faraimo held the Hookies scoreless. It’s a 1-2 punch from the Bruins pitching staff.

FK: You mention that 1-2 punch of Faraimo and Garcia, who held VT To three hits over the last two games of the Los Angeles Super Regional. What is it about both of them that make them so effective in the circle.

JP: It’s a situation where you don’t have to throw the same person three games in a row. That’s what Virginia Tech tried to do last weekend with Keely Rochard and, sooner or later, the Bruins got to her. It was on Sunday, it took three games to really get to her, but they got to her and when they got to her, they really did - they tagged her for six runs over four or five innings last weekend, and they were able to do something no team was able to do, and that’s chase her form the game - up to that point, she had thrown every inning of the tournament for Virginia Tech, and they managed to chase her. So, it’s something where, by having that 1-2 punch in the circle, if it’s a down night for the Bruins hitters, they can make up for it by playing some small ball.

FK: UCLA will win Thursday night if...

JP: They can get to Florida State’s pitching. If they can get to Florida State’s pitching faster and for more runs than Florida State can get to Garcia or Faraimo, they’ll win. If Florida State’s pitching comes out the same way Rochard did last week, then it may be a long night for the Bruins. It’s just a question of, it comes down to the old adage in baseball and softball: Good pitching beats good hitting. Whichever team’s pitching staff is able to hold the other team to fewer runs, they’ll be the team who can come out on top.

FK: Florida State will win Thursday night if...

JP: Same thing. If Florida State’s pitching is better than the Bruins, then the Seminoles will come out on top. I think the Bruins might come into this with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder because Florida State did beat them two games in a row in 2018 en route to their title back then. But, there’s been a lot of turnover since 2018 on the Bruin roster, so you’ve still got seniors like Rachel Garcia who remember those two games, but it’s something where I think she’s definitely going to have a chip on her shoulder, looking for payback from 2018. I don’t know how much that’ll play into things tonight, but I think it’ll make things interesting for the fans.

FK: Before we let you go, tell FSU fans - and WCTV viewers - about your site, The Mighty Bruin.

JP: The Mighty Bruin is actually about a year old. We cover everything UCLA-related: Football, basketball, as well as the so-called Olympic sports. Feel free to check us out,!

I’d like to once again thank Joe for taking the time to speak with us. For coverage from OKC with a Bruin Blue-tint, be sure to check out Joe and his team over at TMB.

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