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UCLA Sports

UCLA defeats Minnesota 7-2 in opener at Women’s College World Series

UCLA sophomore Aaliyah Jordan approached the plate in her first at-bat of the Women’s College World Series with a plan — to hit the inside pitch.

It did not come. Jordan struck out looking on a full count, but she stayed patient.

In the sixth inning she got the inside pitch she longed for and drilled the ball well over the fence in right-center for a three-run home run. As the Bruins leaped from the dugout and gathered around home plate, Jordan thrust her hands into the air.

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The play was part of a four-run sixth inning that secured No. 2 UCLA’s 7-2 win over No. 7 Minnesota on Thursday.

“Being able to throw punches back after they threw some punches … is what we do when we’re at our best,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “You know, our ability to have each others’ backs, our ability to have hitting be contagious.”

Entering the sixth inning, it looked like UCLA had a win all but secured. The Bruins had a 3-0 lead and redshirt junior Rachel Garcia had held Minnesota to one hit.

Junior outfielder Bubba Nickles ignited UCLA with a solo home run to left in the first inning. It was the second time in the postseason that Nickles led off a game with a home run.

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“I just wanted to come out for them the best I could and have a quality at-bat,” Nickles said. “I wasn’t trying to hit a home run, but you know, it worked out.”

Kinsley Washington added to UCLA’s lead the next inning by drawing a bases-loaded walk, and Taylor Pack hit a sacrifice fly in the third inning.

Freshman Natalie DenHartog got the Gophers on the board with an RBI double in the top of the sixth, and Allie Arneson hit an RBI single later in the inning.

Entering the bottom of the sixth, the Bruins had a one-run lead.

Washington and Kelli Godin singled, and Washington scored when Nickles reached on a fielding error by second baseman Makenna Partain.

With two out and two on, Jordan broke it open with her blast..

“I just waited for that pitch,” Jordan said, “and I finally got it.”

UCLA (52-6) will play No. 6 Arizona (48-12) on Friday in a winner’s bracket game. The Wildcats defeated No. 3 Washington 3-1 in eight innings in the first game Thursday. The Huskies (50-8) will play Minnesota (46-13) on Saturday.

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Garcia, the two-time USA Softball national player of the year, finished with seven strikeouts while giving up four hits and two runs.

UCLA’s success summons a scenario that gave the team extra motivation as it prepared for the World Series — facing Arizona again.

The Wildcats defeated the Bruins in two of three games in their final regular-season series, keeping UCLA from winning the Pac-12 title outright.

Arizona is playing in its first Women’s College World Series since 2010. UCLA is playing in its fifth straight.

The Bruins have won 12 softball titles, the Wildcats eight. The teams have faced each other in the national championship game seven times.

Inouye-Perez recalled competing against Arizona as a UCLA athlete. The history between the programs heightens the excitement of their frequent Pac-12 clashes, Inouye-Perez said.

“Every year,” she said, “it’s an epic battle.”

But to beat Arizona, UCLA will turn inward.

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Said Garcia: “I think we just have to play for each other.”

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