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Stage Set For Epic WCWS Finals Between OU, UCLA

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(Photo courtesy of Linda Donnelly)

OKLAHOMA CITY – After weeks of NCAA softball tournament drama and excitement, the stage is at last set for a Women's College World Series championship round for the books.

It will be No. 1 versus No. 2—Oklahoma (57–4) versus UCLA (54–6)—in the best-of-three championship series beginning Monday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. For the first time since the WCWS moved to a best-of-three format for the finals in 2005, the top two national seeds will meet for the title.

The Sooners will make their fifth championship series appearance in eight years, as they seek their third national title in four seasons, and fifth overall. The Bruins, however, are seeking their first NCAA softball championship since 2010, and 12th overall. The two teams met earlier this season, with the Bruins outlasting the Sooners, 7–1, at the Mary Nutter Classic in February. 

This year marks only the second time Oklahoma and UCLA have met for a national title, with the Sooners defeating the Bruins, 3–1, in 2000 for their first NCAA championship.

Oklahoma Will Need To Solve And Shut Down Rachel Garcia

It's no secret that the biggest key for Oklahoma in this year's WCWS championship series will be its ability to tame UCLA stud pitcher/hitter Rachel Garcia, both in the circle and at the plate. The USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year put on a legendary show against Washington on Sunday to send her Bruins to the championship series. Garcia (27-1, 1.09 ERA, 282 strikeouts), who tossed a season-high 179 pitches in 10 shutout innings on Sunday, also belted the game-winning, three-run home run for UCLA against the Huskies.

"She's just an absolute athlete," Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso told reporters about Garcia on Sunday. "We were watching her today, not just kind of handle her stuff on the mound, get out of big innings, but she also hit the walk-off. You don't find athletes like that, maybe once in a blue moon."

A major key for the Sooners against the Bruins will be their ability to score in each game's opening innings to give ace Giselle "G" Juarez (28–2, 1.16 ERA, 259 strikeouts) some early run support. Oklahoma is 3–0 at the 2019 WCWS when scoring in the first inning.

"We have got to have some crazy fight," Gasso added. "I know both teams are a little worn out. You have a chance -- there's two teams that have a chance to win a national championship. There's no such thing as tired, no such thing as hurt. Nothing like that."

UCLA Will Need Some Support For Its POY

While Garcia may appear to be invincible, she will need some run support—and possibly some pitching relief—from her teammates in UCLA's championship series against Oklahoma. The Bruins, who ranked second in the country this season in team batting average (.342) ahead of the WCWS, will need their top run producers (Bubba Nickles - 17 HRs, 70 RBIs and Aaliyah Jordan - 11 HRs, 59 RBIs) to step up in a big way against the Sooners.

The Bruins may also need their other two arms to log some quality innings for their squad against Oklahoma. Freshman Megan Faraimo and sophomore Holly Azevedo will need to rise to the occasion if they are called upon.

“I think it's really going to come down to the team that settles in and plays their game,” UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez told reporters on Sunday.

The championship series will begin Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Game 2 of the series will take place Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the if-necessary contest slated for Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET. All three games will air on ESPN.

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