So this was the pinnacle that took five tries for the UCLA softball team to reach. After falling short in the Women’s College World Series four consecutive seasons, the Bruins finally did it Tuesday night.
It came down to a two-out, walk-off hit by Kinsley Washington, to pinch-runner Jacqui Prober sliding around Oklahoma’s catcher. Once she scored, the Bruins exploded from the dugout, forming a dogpile on top of Washington between second and third base.
The Bruins were national champions.
No. 2 UCLA (56-6) earned a 5-4 victory over No. 1 Oklahoma (57-6), sweeping the Sooners in two games in the championship series to win the national title.
It was UCLA’s 13th national championship, its 12th NCAA title and the Bruins’ first since 2010.
“They’re a really gutsy, relentless, fighting team, but ... I am so proud that they enjoyed it,” coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said of the win, the 600th of her career. “They had fun. They had each other’s backs.”
Bubba Nickles and Briana Perez started the first inning by hitting back-to-back home runs, giving UCLA the lead. Oklahoma’s Sydney Romero and UCLA’s Aaliyah Jordan exchanged solo home runs in the third inning. The Bruins maintained a two-run lead but ended two of the first three innings with the bases loaded.
In the fourth inning the Sooners tied the score, behind an RBI single from Falepolima Aviu and Lynnsie Elam’s RBI double. After getting three hits off of Rachel Garcia in the first three innings, Oklahoma got four in the fourth.
But an inning later Brianna Tautalafua drilled a long solo home run to left field, reclaiming the lead for UCLA. Tautalafua was hitless in the postseason before hitting home runs in both games of the championship series.
The Bruins were one out away from clinching the national championship, but Oklahoma’s Shay Knighten hammered a solo home run over the center-field fence. The Sooners celebrated. Garcia simply smiled.
“Every home run that I gave up,” Garcia said, “I literally just looked at every single one of my teammates and just laughed and said, ‘We’re gonna be OK. We’re gonna punch back.’”
For UCLA to clinch, it would need a walk-off hit. A rally appeared to be stopped by a baserunning mistake, but then Washington delivered with her single. Once it was all over she dropped to the ground in tears.
The Bruins collected their trophies and celebrated under white confetti. They screamed. They cried. They embraced their families and each other. And of course, they danced.
Washington, Jordan, Nickles and Garcia were selected to the all-tournament team, with Garcia honored as the most outstanding player.
After UCLA’s 16-3 rout in the first game of the championship series, this was an epic ending, fit for the back-and-forth game, fit for UCLA’s successful season. The Bruins avenged last season’s loss in the College World Series semifinals, as they earned a combined 113 wins over the last two seasons, the most by UCLA in consecutive seasons since 2001-2002.
“This team got on a mission,” Inouye-Perez said. “You know, last year’s team … we got a little heartbroken on how things ended. So they were very convicted of being able to bring it back to Westwood in 2019.”
UCLA softball alumni, family and even recently retired gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field came to Oklahoma City to watch.
To Inouye-Perez, the cluster of Bruins in a crowd dominated by Oklahoma fans was a reminder of what they were fighting for, what they spent the entire season grinding for: each other. A UCLA softball family that spans decades. It is bigger than any one player, any one team.
These Bruins, this World Series, will forever be a part of it.
Said Perez: “Everyone had each other’s backs.”