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UCLA's Malia Quarles Earns Her Moment In WCWS Win

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(Photo By Linda Donnelly)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Invincible can be defined as someone too powerful to be defeated.

In the sixth inning on Friday night, Malia Quarles stepped in to pinch hit during a 1-1 tie between her UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats.

“October 31, 2018, I had a meeting with Coach I (Kelly Inouye-Perez),” said Quarles with a smile that filled the press conference room. “I was writing a note in my notebook. When I think of one thing, I'm invincible.”

Entering her at-bat on Friday, Quarles was batting .324 in 34 at-bats. Her 35th at-bat was a solo home run to deep center field that jumpstarted a UCLA rally that ultimately led to a 6-2 win.

“In practice we do a lot of one shots,” said Quarles. “You get one opportunity to hit one ball and see if you square it up. I just practiced one shots. Before I went up to bat, I talked to a lot of my teammates. Colleen Sullivan came up to me, 'You've been here before. Don't make it bigger than it is.' I just hit the ball."

Over her first two seasons with UCLA, Quarles has been used primarily as a pinch-hitter. In 2018, she had 26 at-bats. She recorded five hits, eight runs batted in and five walks. The numbers might seem minimal but repetition of practice and the opportunity was preparing her for this moment.

“As a coach, there's certain players that you hone in on for those personal opportunities. Sometimes you put them in, it doesn't work. Sometimes do you and those big moments happen,” said Inouye-Perez. “I have literally prepared Malia for this role all season.”

The moment didn’t change Quarles from being her normal, bubbly self. When she walked into the press conference room, she joked that she couldn’t believe she was in there. A few questions later, she accidentally hit the brim of her visor on the microphone before answering a question.

“I'm usually pretty happy all the time,” she laughed. “It's kind of just added more happiness to me. Yeah, I'm just happy about life. But that just made me happier. I just hit the ball really well.”

The home run off Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin was the fourth long ball of the season for Quarles. That one hit raised her batting average to .361.

Watching in the stands and holding onto the ball was her mother, Tracy Quarles.

“As soon as she hit that ball I just thought, ‘Oh, my God! Get out of here,’” Tracy said. “I’m super proud of her, couldn’t be prouder. I knew she could do it. I knew she would do that.”

In the seventh inning, UCLA extended the lead to 6-1 via an Aaliyah Jordan RBI-double, a Brianna Tautalafua sacrifice-fly and a bases-clearing outfield error when Carli Campbell dropped a fly ball on the warning track off the bat of Colleen Sullivan.

“We just didn't have our moment till that last inning,” said winning pitcher Rachel Garcia, who only surrendered four hits in the contest. “We were swinging at balls, but they were going right to people. Started making a little bit more of an adjustment, hitting it to the gaps, coming up huge in moments that were needed.”

The performance from Garcia in the circle was her first win against Arizona this season. Her only loss came against the Wildcats in Westwood the last weekend of the regular season.

But even with her outstanding performance in the circle, the moment belonged to Quarles. With one swing, she etched her name into the epic history book of the Arizona-UCLA rivalry.

“I've seen this girl hit since she's been 10 years old,” Inouye-Perez said. “She came here to do exactly that. For her to come through in that critical moment is why she's here, why she's a Bruin. She is happy all the time, but I think she's super happy right now.”

Happy is an understatement.

“I felt invincible today,” Quarles said.

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