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UCLA defeats James Madison to advance to the women's college world series

UCLA defeats James Madison to advance to the women's college world series
UCLA center fielder Bubba Nickles runs the bases during a UCLA softball game. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Before UCLA softball’s postseason began, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said the key to the Bruins’ success would be depth at pitcher.

Freshman Megan Faraimo proved that she could be part of that success. She started Saturday at Easton Stadium and helped No. 2 UCLA (50-6) earn a 7-2 victory over James Madison (51-10), clinching the series in the NCAA super regional.

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The Bruins advanced to the Women’s College World Series for the fifth straight year.

They will open against No. 7 Minnesota (46-12).

“I literally feel that we’ve played some of our best softball in these last two days…” Inouye-Perez said. “I can say they were just who they were, you know, starting with Megan.”

Faraimo held James Madison to four hits in 51/3 innings while striking out eight batters.

The game was a duel between pitchers — Faraimo, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, and the Dukes’ Megan Good, a top-three finalist for USA softball college player of the year.

Both gave up a hit in the first two innings but kept the contest scoreless.

In the third, redshirt junior Rachel Garcia put UCLA ahead with a single that scored Kelli Godin and Briana Perez. Taylor Pack then drilled the ball over the center-field fence for a two-run home run.

As the Bruins held the lead, Faraimo was unwavering in the circle.

She high-fived catcher Paige Halstead and shouted when the first inning ended with two James Madison runners stranded on base. She maintained that energy and confidence as the game proceeded.

“When I see Megan getting after it like that and pumping her fist,” Inouye-Perez said, “if I’m a batter, I’m not feeling really great about stepping into the box.”

Faraimo struggled a week ago in the NCAA regionals, posting a 10.50 ERA in two games. When she started the first inning against Missouri last Sunday, Garcia relieved her in the first inning after giving up three hits, a walk and three runs in two-thirds of an inning.

UCLA went on to lose that game as Garcia shouldered the bulk of pitching that weekend — totaling 21 innings in three days.

But in the middle of the week, Inouye-Perez told Faraimo she believed in her. As Saturday’s game approached, Faraimo’s teammates repeated the message.

“A lot of good vibes coming my way,” Faraimo said, “so that helped a lot.”

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She proved them right. Led by Faraimo and an unbending defense, UCLA extended its lead with a two-run, bases-loaded single by sophomore Aaliyah Jordan.

As closer Holly Azevedo relieved Faraimo in the sixth inning, the crowd erupted with a standing ovation as Faraimo stepped out of the circle.

Two James Madison runners who had gotten on base against Faraimo scored with Azevedo pitching. But the slip wasn’t enough to overcome the Bruins’ early lead.

It helped that in the seventh inning Pack hit her second home run of the game. It was Pack’s second time this season hitting two home runs in a game, and her first home runs since May 10.

“I wasn’t thinking about myself,” Pack said. “I was just thinking about just doing whatever I could to help the team so every at bat.”

The Bruins’ offense was electric Saturday, but in order for UCLA to remain successful as the postseason continues, the team needs strong pitching, too, Inouye-Perez said.

That’s what made Faraimo’s start reassuring for the Bruins.

“Down to the last pitch, she’s gonna give it her all,” Inouye-Perez said.

“She’s a beast, she’ll do it for this team. And I think that’s something we have great confidence now going into the World Series.”

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