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UCLA softball runs out of comebacks in season-ending loss to Florida State

The Comeback Kids were back in their element.

An early four-run deficit against Florida State on Sunday put UCLA in a familiar situation at the Women’s College World Series. The Bruins had twice rallied from that same hole in recent days, including a wild comeback victory over the Seminoles in their Series opener.

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When UCLA’s Taylor Pack whacked a two-run home run in the second inning Sunday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, it seemed like the Bruins might be on their way to doing it again.

“No matter how far behind we get,” Pack said, “we never give up the fight.”

But there was one crucial difference this time: The Bruins didn’t have Rachel Garcia, the USA Softball collegiate player of the year, on the mound for the whole game.

Garcia had thrown 111 pitches in the Bruins’ earlier game and lasted just an inning at the start of third-seeded UCLA’s season-ending, 12-6 loss to the sixth-seeded Seminoles, whose superior pitching depth proved critical.

Florida State battered UCLA relievers Selina Ta’amilo and Holly Azevedo for a combined 10 runs on the way to extending the Bruins’ program-record national-title drought to eight years.

“We all can definitely tip our cap and say Florida State swung it big against all our pitchers,” said UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, whose team surrendered more runs than it had in any game this season.

The Seminoles will face fifth-seeded Washington in the best-of-three championship series starting Monday evening. The Bruins (58-7) needed only one win in two games against the Seminoles on Sunday to get there but came up empty.

Garcia lost the first game and started the second but gave up two singles and another hard-hit ball before giving way to Ta’amilo to open the second inning. Inouye-Perez said she made the move knowing she could bring back Garcia at any point.

Ta’amilo (10-3), making her first appearance since May 6, didn’t last long. She recorded one out before giving up a homer and a double. Garcia stepped back into the pitcher’s circle but made it through only two more batters, yielding a two-run homer before being removed again. Enter Azevedo, who retired the next two batters before getting shelled for three runs in the fourth inning and five more runs in the fifth.

That was more than enough for Florida State to offset Pack’s four-RBI game and solo homers by Briana Perez and Bubba Nickles.

Perez’s homer in the fifth inning prevented the Bruins from being victimized by the mercy rule. Nickles went three for three despite colliding with the outfield wall in the second inning and hitting the back of her head when she landed on the warning track. The collision came as Nickles raced into right-center trying to track down Jessie Warren’s deep fly ball, which glanced off Nickles’ glove and over the wall for a two-run homer.

Nickles had robbed Florida State’s Dani Morgan of a homer in the first game when she reached over the yellow padding atop the wall and caught the ball without even watching it.

“I didn’t feel anything in my glove,” Nickles said, “so when I saw it in my glove, I was kind of really pleasantly surprised.”

Garcia pitched the final two innings of the second game and retired the Seminoles in order, though it was little consolation considering the way her Series had gone. The right-hander was gutsy but hardly masterful in her four appearances, compiling a 3.65 earned-run average and giving up five home runs — one fewer than she had given up in 185 innings this season.

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Garcia was four outs from finishing off the Seminoles in the first game Sunday when Elizabeth Mason belted a two-out, three-run homer in the sixth inning to provide her team with a 3-1 victory. It was UCLA’s first loss of the season in a game in which the Bruins held a lead after they had gone 58-0 in those situations.

Things would only get more trying a few hours later.

“A tough loss today, but I couldn’t have been more proud of my team,” Garcia, a sophomore, said with welled eyes. “We weren’t going down without a fight.”

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