The outfield wall at UCLA’s Easton Stadium is shielded by history.
Any team wishing to knock off the Bruins must face that wall, that list of a record 12 NCAA softball titles and the tradition it carries. Arizona claims its own tradition of excellence, but on Thursday night, in front of a crowd of 1,328, only UCLA looked like a longtime powerhouse.
Rachel Garcia led the Bruins (55-5) in the pitcher’s circle and the batter’s box in a 7-1 victory over the Wildcats. The sophomore pitched five scoreless innings and smacked a towering two-run homer in Game 1 of a best-of-three super regional. A trip to the Women’s College World Series awaits the winner.
“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some phenomenal players in the history of UCLA,” Bruins coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said, “and it’s awesome to see Rachel Garcia carrying on that tradition.”
Garcia was dominant on the rubber. She opened the game with a 1-2-3 first inning, gave up one hit, struck out eight, walked one and exited amid a swarm of teammates and high-fives following her blast to straightaway center field.
“A pitcher like that, you’ve got to hit her mistakes,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea, whose team is 43-15. “We didn’t.”
Arizona starter Taylor McQuillin, meanwhile, exited to scattered applause from the Arizona faithful with the game already out of hand.
McQuillin gave up seven runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings. The outing added to a season of frustration for her against the Bruins, who have tagged McQuillin for 19 earned runs in 13 innings.
“Taylor didn’t really trust herself,” Candrea said, “and it showed.”
Third-seeded UCLA’s barrage against McQuillin started with an innocent-looking chopper to second base.
Arizona second baseman Reyna Carranco smothered it and fired to first, but her throw was too late to beat UCLA’s Kylee Perez. Perez’s sister, Briana, moved her to second with a sacrifice bunt and Aaliya Jordan doubled into the left-center-field gap to drive her home and give UCLA its first run.
The Bruins added another run in the second on a solo homer by Madeline Jelenicki, another in the third on a solo homer by Kylee Perez and four more in the fifth on two-run homers by Jelenicki and Garcia.
Arizona scored its only run in the seventh against Bruins reliever Holly Azevedo, who forced a groundout that scored Dejah Mulipola. It was of little comfort to Candrea, who said his team needs to “reset” ahead of Game 2 on Friday night at 6.
“Tough game on our part,” he added. “I don’t think that we really did anything well.”
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri