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Ninth-inning blunder pushes top-seeded UCLA softball to the brink of elimination

Put the ball in play and anything can happen.

That philosophy served the Cal State Fullerton softball team well in the ninth inning of Saturday afternoon’s Los Angeles Regional game against UCLA at Easton Stadium.

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Sammie Vandiver’s grounder was bobbled by shortstop Briana Perez, allowing Shianne Brannan to score from third and give the Titans a 3-2 victory that pushed the top-seeded Bruins to the brink of elimination.

UCLA returned Saturday night to beat 22nd-ranked Texas State 14-1, to stay alive. The Bruins’ reward is another crack at Fullerton, but they must beat the Titans twice Sunday in order to host the Super Regionals. The first game is at 4 p.m. and if UCLA prevails, a second game will follow at 6:30.

Fullerton (35-23) needs one more win to advance to the Super Regionals.

“I couldn’t have done what I did without the people who got on base,” said Vandiver, a senior left fielder. “I just did what I do best — put the ball in play and make something happen. Once it got to two strikes I just had to swing at anything close.”

After being held in check for four innings by Sacramento State starter Celina Matthias the night before, the third-ranked Bruins came out swinging against Titans junior Trish Parks, who threw 112 pitches in a complete-game victory over Texas State in Friday’s first game.

UCLA put runners on in each of the first three innings but it was the Big West Conference champions who scored first in the bottom of the third. Brannan led off with a double to the right-field wall and took third on Sam Kennedy’s fielder’s choice.

Rachel Garcia, who threw a one-hitter against Sacramento State, relieved starter Holly Azevedo and Brooke Clemetson worked the count full before hitting a chopper to second baseman Kylee Perez, whose throw home was not in time to get the sliding Brannan.

Madeline Jelenicki singled to lead off the fourth and pinch-runner Imani Johnson moved to second on a groundout. Brianna Tautalafua singled up the middle and Johnson alertly scored the tying run after an errant throw.

Bryanna Ybarra led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and advanced to third on a ground out, but Garcia induced two ground balls to get out of the jam. Perez singled to begin the fifth but sister Briana Perez popped out and Ybarra snared a line drive to third by Aaliyah Jordan and threw across the diamond to double Kylee Perez off first.

Vandiver singled to drive in Clemetson for her 21st RBI in the bottom of the fifth, but Kinsley Washington drew a bases-loaded walk to plate pinch-runner Stevie Wisz and knot the score at 2-2. Parks recovered to fan Kylee Perez and keep the score tied.

Neither team threatened in the eighth, but in the top of the ninth Jordan drew a two-out walk and Garcia singled before Parks got Jelenicki to ground out. After Julia Valenzuela was hit by a pitch to start the bottom half, Brannan hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Valenzuela, Kennedy walked and Clemetson got an infield hit to load the bases with one out, setting up Vandiver’s walkoff grounder.

In the Tempe Regional, Long Beach State was eliminated after losing to Mississippi 1-0. The 49ers defeated New Mexixo State 9-0 earlier.

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