UCLA, Oklahoma Advance To WCWS Championship Series
OKLAHOMA CITY – Fans, both in attendance at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium and around the country, were treated to a Women's College World Series semifinal round of epic proportions.
Semifinal Sunday marked the first day since 2006 that multiple extra-inning games were played at the WCWS. Game 1 of the semifinals featured a thrilling 10-inning, 3–0 win by UCLA over Washington to grant the Bruins their first finals appearance since 2010. Game 2 saw Alabama upset Oklahoma, 1–0, in eight innings to force an if-necessary game for a spot in the championship series. In the deciding game that followed, the Sooners defeated the Crimson Tide, 7–3, to advance.
Next up, UCLA and Oklahoma will square off in a best-of-three championship series for the national title beginning on Monday night.
The Bruins, who are the owners of 11 NCAA softball championships, are looking to break the Pac-12's eight-year title drought, while the Sooners are seeking their third national championship in four years, and fifth overall. Monday will mark the first time since 2005 that the NCAA tournament's No. 1 and 2 seeds meet in the WCWS finals.
Below, you will find our top takeaways from Sunday's semifinals at the WCWS.
The Pac-12's Best Pitchers Showed Out
A battle of the Pac-12's best pitchers more than lived up to expectations on Sunday in an old-fashioned pitchers' duel in Oklahoma City. UCLA's Rachel Garcia and Washington's Gabbie Plain were equally as good through much of Sunday's matchup, as both starters allowed no runs and just three hits each through five innings.
Plain, a sophomore who finished with seven strikeouts in the loss, was relieved by senior Taran Alvelo in the bottom of the seventh inning when UCLA's Taylor Pack reached first base on a lead-off walk. Alvelo, who recorded 16 strikeouts less than 24 hours before, went on to retire the side and send the game to extra innings. Plain later re-entered the game in the 10th before giving up a walk-off home run to her fellow starter.
Garcia, who amassed six strikeouts after just one time through the Washington batting order on Sunday, tallied 16 total strikeouts in her 10-inning, complete-game effort. The redshirt junior stranded 12 Huskies en route to helping her team to its fourth win over Washington this season.
"First, she's a solid athlete, she's conditioned and fit, she likes to work hard," UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said about Garcia after her performance on Sunday. "I think the mental preparation working with Lisa [Fernandez] has really paid off for all the pitchers because they prepared for extra innings, super-hot, Oklahoma games. And here we are. She's been put in a position to succeed. I definitely credit my [assistant] coaches for that."
Rachel Garcia Called Game
After tossing a season-high 179 pitches in 10 shutout innings, Garcia stepped up to the plate and did what any superhuman would: She blasted a game-winning, three-run home run to end Washington's season and send UCLA to its first championship series since 2010.
In the bottom of the 10th, Kelli Godin led off with an infield single, which resulted in Plain's re-entry to the circle. After a single up the middle from Aaliyah Jordan, Garcia stepped into the batter's box and sent a game-winning home run into the left-field bleachers.
"[I had] a lot of emotions. I'm not going to lie," said Garcia, who lost her grandfather earlier this season. "I think I shed a tear a little bit. During that battle all I could think about was my grandpa. That kept me calm and collected. Just seeing everyone run out to home plate just really put a smile on my face. I was just super excited for all of us."
Garcia is the first player ever to be named the Pac-12 Player and Pitcher of the Year in the same season. Last week, she became just the fourth player in college softball history to be named USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons.
Alabama Proved Its Toughness
After seven innings of scoreless softball in Alabama's first game of the day on Sunday, the Tide demonstrated their resolve against the Sooners and their ace Giselle "G" Juarez.
Led by a complete-game, shutout performance from freshman pitcher Montana Fouts, Alabama pushed a run across on a single from Caroline Hardy in the bottom of the eighth inning to keep its season alive. The single marked just the 13th hit of the season for Hardy.
Oklahoma Wouldn't Be Denied
Though the top-seeded Sooners fell just a bit short in their first game on Sunday, they would not be denied in the winner-take-all contest.
A run-scoring double from Caleigh Clifton, followed by a wild pitch by Alabama starter Krystal Goodman, gave Oklahoma a 2–0 lead in the first. The Tide answered back with a home run from Reagan Dykes in the top of the second to cut the Sooner advantage in half. A few innings later, Oklahoma scored two more runs when Jocelyn Alo blasted a monster two-run home run to center to move her team's lead to 4–1.
But Alabama did not go away quietly, as freshman Skylar Wallace hit a two-run shot to bring the Tide within one run in the top of the sixth. The Sooners sealed the deal in the bottom of the frame, however, when Nicole Mendes hit a two-run shot and Grace Lyons added a solo bomb to extend Oklahoma's lead to four runs.
Juarez, who started the if-necessary game for Oklahoma, was relieved by junior Mariah Lopez in the second inning. Lopez, who went on to get the win, pitched 4.1 innings in relief, surrendering just four hits and two earned runs.