The lowest moment of Megan Faraimo’s career — watching on TV last year as her team struggled at the Women’s College World Series — is still difficult for the redshirt junior to discuss. An untimely right-hand injury she suffered days before the Bruins left for the tournament haunted UCLA’s short-lived stay in Oklahoma City. What Faraimo wants to talk about is what came next.
She picked up a book, one an auntie recommended. The fiery pitcher’s family knew she could relate to the message in Kobe Bryant’s “The Mamba Mentality.”
Reeling from the disappointment of letting her teammates down, Faraimo channeled the legendary Laker’s famous mind-set into a Pac-12 pitcher-of-the-year campaign. She leads the No. 5-seeded Bruins into a best-of-three super regional series against No. 12 Duke at Easton Stadium, beginning at 8 p.m. PDT Friday.
The redshirt junior’s ability to rebound from disappointments — whether she’s resetting after giving up a home run or rededicating herself after an injury delayed her long-awaited World Series debut — has defined Faraimo’s successful UCLA career more than her four career perfect games, school-record six saves this season or Pac-12-best 261 strikeouts.
As Faraimo was growing up in the San Diego area, the Lakers were always on TV at her house. They were her grandmother’s favorite team and if she was asked to choose a favorite player, it would have been Bryant. While a shared No. 8 jersey is more coincidence than intentional imitation — it’s a family number, Faraimo said, and the number her older brother Matthew wore as a volleyball player at USC — the All-American believes some things are just “signs from the universe” that there’s a deeper connection.
Facing a crossroads in her career last year, Faraimo felt drawn to Bryant’s success as a road map to recapture her own.
“I could choose now to just get myself together or I could completely fall apart,” Faraimo said. “I decided, ‘No, this is my Kobe moment, I’m going to come back from this.’ ”
Faraimo worked out twice, sometimes three times, a day during the offseason. She leaned on her faith to ground her and, inspired by Bryant, revamped her approach to preparation and competition.
The former Gatorade national player of the year was always one of UCLA’s fiercest players. When the 6-foot right-hander strikes out opponents with her devastating riseball, Faraimo pumps her first and stomps her foot as the long, thick braid of black hair bounces off her back. The relentless competitiveness is something she shares with Bryant, but reading his 2018 memoir showed Faraimo another side of the five-time NBA champion.
The book detailed the meticulous workout routines and pregame rituals he honed over a 20-year NBA career. Everything was planned to the minute. The tactic seemed foreign to Faraimo. She just showed up on game day and played with “sheer grit and fight.”
“As great of a competitor as Kobe was, he still had all these things in line,” Faraimo said. “He was still an incredible, responsible athlete.”
Faraimo started building her own pregame routines. She tested different kinds of music, whether she wanted to talk to her teammates or stay silent and when was the best time to dial into her game mode. She even decided the best tactic to take with her hair, learning that if she didn’t braid it herself, she only trusted bullpen catcher Taylor Sullivan to do it.
The result is Faraimo being “mentally, physically just in the best shape of her life,” head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.
If Faraimo and UCLA’s deep pitching staff lead the Bruins (46-8) past the Blue Devils (44-9), the Bruins will head to USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium for the sixth consecutive postseason. But it will be Faraimo’s first experience pitching on the sport’s biggest annual stage. She can’t wait.
Her supposed World Series coronation was spoiled by the pandemic in 2020 and delayed even longer last year. The injury was an unceremonious end to a stellar season that included first-team All-American and All-Pac-12 acclaim after she led the Pac-12 with a 1.10 ERA.
It pained her to watch Olympian Rachel Garcia, whom Inouye-Perez said recently was not 100% healthy in the tournament, throw 323 pitches in three games and give up 18 hits and 14 runs. The Bruins, who jostled with eventual champion Oklahoma at the top of the rankings all season, did not even reach the national championship series.
Motivated by the disappointment, Faraimo vowed to “make sure no rock was left unturned.”
With a growing arsenal of pitches covering all four planes, includes two off-speed options and the same trusty riseball that helped her win Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2019, Faraimo is no longer just a thrower, pitching coach Lisa Fernandez said.
She is a true pitcher.
Faraimo’s 10.7 strikeouts per seven innings is her best rate since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when she was named Softball America pitcher of the year after the coronavirus outbreak abruptly canceled the postseason. She struck out all 15 batters in a five-inning perfect game against Cal State Bakersfield in March — one of three perfect games for UCLA in an eight-day span — and ranks second in perfect games at UCLA with four total. Only Debbie Doom, with six, has more.
Faraimo, who has the responsibility of calling her own games with catcher Delanie Wisz this season, is known among teammates for her ability to deliver pitches in the most pressurized situations. Although she thrives in such moments, she more quickly remembers the situations that went awry. It took Faraimo several days to recover from the anguish of giving up six late runs to Arizona State in a May 8 loss.
But the following weekend, she rebounded by helping UCLA to a regular season-finale sweep of California. She pitched seven innings, giving up three hits and two runs in the three games and was named Pac-12 pitcher of the year.
“What a lot of people don’t really see because she gets all the accolades … she’s been tested a lot this year and she hasn’t always come out with wins,” Wisz said. “But the thing about Megan, she’s not going to let that define her. Her next moment is what’s going to define her.”
The pitcher’s ability to shut out all distractions, whether it’s Fernandez shouting in her ear during a bullpen session or thousands of fans in the stands, impresses even Faraimo’s teammates who watch her work daily. The pressure of the moment is a privilege, Faraimo said, echoing a mantra from Inouye-Perez. It’s what makes softball fun.
Call that her “Megan mentality.”