It was not until late in the game Friday night that the UCLA softball team began to gain momentum.
But a big finishwas all the Bruins needed. They scored five runs in the final two innings, earning a 6-2 victory over Arizona at the Women’s College World Series. UCLA, unbeaten in two games in the Series, advances to the semifinals on Sunday against either Washington, Minnesota or Oklahoma State.
“It’s about trusting the process,” catcher Paige Halstead said of the late offensive surge, “and trusting the hard work that you put in. And it’s gonna come at a time that you want it to.”
The Bruins (53-6) need only one victory Sunday to reach the best-of-three championship round. Their opponent will have to beat them twice.
UCLA lost two of three games to Arizona in the final series of the regular season, costing the Bruins the outright Pac-12 championship. UCLA has won 12 national championships, more than any other school. Arizona has the second most with eight. The teams have faced each other in the national championship game seven times.
UCLA has made five straight World Series appearances, but this year marks Arizona’s first time in Oklahoma City since 2010.
The Bruins struggled to play their game at first. They loaded the bases in the third inning, starting with a single by junior Bubba Nickles, who later scored on Rachel Garcia’s sacrifice fly. But UCLA could not score the other two runners. In the first five innings the Bruins left seven runners on base.
They had quality at-bats, Garcia said, but the hits weren’t falling.
Arizona (48-13) answered in the bottom of the third, when Alyssa Palomino hit a home run to right. It was Garcia’s only mistake on the mound in the first five innings. She held Arizona to two hits in that span.
The pitching duel persisted. Arizona’s Taylor McQuillin struck out five batters, Garcia six.
The spark for UCLA’s offense was not one of its six All-Americans, or even a member of the regular lineup. It was Malia Quarles, the sophomore pinch-hitter. She stepped up in the top of the sixth with the score tied 1-1. On a full count, Quarles drilled a solo home run to center.
“I saw the pitch right there and I was like, I’m swinging this as hard as I can…” Quarles said. “It felt pretty good.”
Quarles beamed as she ran the bases. Her team engulfed her after she crossed home plate, patting her shoulders and her helmet. Quarles’ success was no surprise to the Bruins. They have seen her power and her work ethic in practice.
“I have literally prepared Malia for this role all season,” coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.
Arizona junior Malia Martinez doubled in the bottom of the sixth and another Arizona batter was hit by a pitch; the two reached second and third on a bunt. UCLA’s one-run lead was in jeopardy, but Garcia retired the next two batters to escape the jam.
Sophomore Aaliyah Jordan extended UCLA’s lead with an RBI double in the seventh inning, as sophomore Briana Perez scored. UCLA scored three more runs off Arizona mistakes. Sydney Wisz, pinch-running for Jordan, slid home on a sacrifice fly when catcher Dejah Mulipola bobbled the ball, and senior Taylor Pack and junior Jacqui Prober scored as Arizona left fielder Carli Campbell dropped a fly ball.
Palomino hit another home run for Arizona in the seventh inning. But UCLA’s late offensive surge ensured the win.