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UCLA routs Oklahoma and moves to within one win of NCAA softball title

UCLA’s Aaliyah Jordan gestures to her team as she runs in after hitting a home run against Oklahoma
UCLA’s Aaliyah Jordan celebrates after hitting a home run against Oklahoma in Game 1 of the Women’s College World Series on June 3.
(Alonzo Adams / Associated Press)

The UCLA softball team’s historic win in the Women’s College World Series, with a 13-run margin, began in crisis.

“Oh, it was horrific,” coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.

The trouble started when the Bruins began chasing pitches outside the zone at batting practice. In an attempt to reset, Inouye-Perez had them take one hit each in succession at the plate. It got worse.

Batting practice became a downward spiral of botched swings.

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Inouye-Perez addressed it in a team huddle. The Bruins visualized the game plan and took deep breaths.

“Redirect,” Inouye-Perez said, “and trust the process.”

Afterward, UCLA was unstoppable. The No. 2 Bruins earned a 16-3 win over No. 1 Oklahoma on Monday in the first game in the best-of-three championship series. The 13-run win was the largest in a game in a championship series in the history of the World Series.

In UCLA’s first appearance in the championship series since 2010, it seemed that everything went the Bruins’ way.

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There were the three errors Oklahoma committed in the second inning, the four home runs by the Bruins, the five strong innings from pitcher Rachel Garcia, the six-run sixth inning and five-run seventh.

The Bruins (55-6) face the Sooners (57-5) again Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. PDT. They are a win away from what would be the program’s 13th national championship in softball.

After Giselle Juarez retired UCLA’s first two batters, Aaliyah Jordan drilled a home run to right field. It was Jordan’s second home run of the World Series. She has at least one hit in each of UCLA’s four games here.

“That was just the deciding factor for everyone on the team,” Garcia said, “that we’re just gonna pass the bat and just play for each other.”

Shay Knighten answered for Oklahoma with a solo home run in the second inning. But in the third inning the Sooners, who have the best fielding percentage in the nation, crumbled.

There were two bobbled catches at first base and a dropped ball in the outfield on three straight plays. The slipups allowed sophomore Kinsley Washington and freshman Kelli Godin to score, giving UCLA a 3-1 lead.

This time Garcia kept Oklahoma from retaliating. After throwing 179 pitches the day before, Garcia held the Sooners to three hits. The Bruins used the opportunity to extend their lead. Washington hit an RBI double in the fourth inning and senior Taylor Pack hit an RBI single in the fifth to give UCLA a four-run lead.

Juarez was replaced after four innings.

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Brianna Tautalafua stepped up to bat in the sixth inning hitless in the postseason. She drilled the ball over the corner of left field for a solo home run. Washington threw a cup of water she was holding in excitement.

“All of her time has gone into this,” Washington said, “and I’m just really happy that it paid off for her.”

UCLA’s momentum continued. Perez hit a three-run home run over the right-field fence, giving the Bruins a 9-1 lead. Garcia then hit a two-run home run to left field.

With UCLA holding a 10-run lead, Garcia was replaced by Megan Faraimo, who gave up a solo home run in the sixth inning.

UCLA was not done scoring. Julie Rodriguez added a two-run double in the seventh inning in her second at-bat of the postseason. Bubba Nickles followed with an RBI single and Garcia hit a two-run single.

“They were telling me they were passing the bat,” Inouye-Perez said. “They wanted opportunities for their teammates.”

That attitude carried UCLA to a dominance that not even a shaky batting practice could hinder.

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“Our main thing is just to trust within each other,” Tautalafua said, “play for each other.”

blake.richardson@latimes.com

@rblakerich_


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