Standing at first base after singling in the bottom of the third inning, UCLA senior Kylee Perez asked for a timeout to offer advice to the batter, her freshman sister Briana Perez.
The younger sibling grounded out to first base, but two innings later she got another chance and showed the poise of an upperclassman, hitting a single to score the go-ahead run, and the Bruins softball team was well on its way to defeating Cal State Fullerton 6-4 on Sunday night in the championship game of the Los Angeles Regional at Easton Stadium.
UCLA avenged Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Titans with back-to-back victories Sunday and will host Arizona in the Super Regionals starting Thursday. The Bruins are seeking their 12th NCAA title.
“It’s a positive that we’re moving forward and it just shows the toughness this team has,” coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “We haven’t had this type of adversity this season. Rachel [Garcia] gutted it out in the [pitcher’s] circle and Bubba [Nickles] was hot at the plate.”
Garcia pitched both games and belted a three-run home run — her 10th of the season — over the left-field wall to give the top-seeded and third-ranked Bruins (54-5) a 6-2 lead in the fifth. Nickles hit her eighth homer to open the scoring in the bottom of the second inning.
“I was hunting for that inside pitch and I got it,” said Garcia, the Pac-12 player of the year. “I knew it was gone as soon as it hit the bat and I was fired up!”
Deshea Hill smacked an 0-2 pitch to the center-field wall to score two runs and give the third-seeded Titans (35-35) their first lead of the day, 2-1, in the third inning.
“This is a special group of seniors. It was a competitive regional and I’m proud of the fire and spirit they played with this weekend,” Fullerton coach Kelly Ford said. “This team takes care of business; it is focused on every pitch. Not one moment did I think we couldn’t swing our way back into this.”
Pac-12 freshman of the year Aaliyah Jordan singled and advanced to second on a throwing error to lead off the bottom of the fourth, but Garcia grounded out. Apassed ball moved Jordan to third and Nickles singled to left to tie the game. UCLA got runners to second and third, but Sophie Frost, who relieved Fullerton starter Trish Parks in the third, struck out Brianna Tautalafua and Imani Johnson was called out on runner’s interference when she was struck by Taylor Pack’s grounder.
“I was just trying to have patient at-bats,” Nickles said. “I wanted to be aggressive, but once that pitch is thrown your instincts kick in.”
UCLA forced a deciding game with its 3-0 victory Sunday afternoon. Garcia pitched a three-hitter with six strikeouts.
Nickles got the Bruins on the board in the top of the fourth with a two-run double to the center-field wall and Johnson scored an insurance run in the fifth on a single by Kylee Perez.
Doubles by Sammie Vandiver and Bryanna Ybarra pulled the Titans within two runs in the night game, but Garcia struck out Zoe Richard to end it.