The mob of teammates was waiting as Kylee Perez pranced down the third-base line.
Some bent over to watch Perez step on home plate while others leaped giddily a few feet away. Everyone then closed in on Perez in a joyous crush of bouncing bodies.
It was a celebration that seemed unlikely only moments earlier. UCLA had trailed by four runs deep into its Women’s College World Series opener against Florida State, its deficit largely the result of a misplayed fly ball.
Perez changed all that with one swing of the bat in the sixth inning, smacking a three-run homer to right-center field that nudged the third-seeded Bruins to a 7-4 victory over the sixth-seeded Seminoles on Thursday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Being a senior, I’m not going down looking, I’m not going down without a bang,” Perez said. “I was going for it.”
She got it. Perez’s 300th career hit keyed a six-run inning and gave UCLA (57-5) a triumph in its Series opener for the first time since 2015. The Bruins will play second-seeded Florida at 6:30 p.m. PDT Friday.
UCLA starter Rachel Garcia pitched all seven innings, throwing 146 pitches, on a night the game-time temperature of 86 degrees felt like 93 because of the 65% humidity.
It was largely a command performance in which Garcia (28-3) allowed four runs and four hits while striking out 15, including four during one inning in which a batter reached base on a passed ball.
But Garcia also issued six walks and looked like she was destined for a rare loss after a leadoff walk snowballed into four Florida State runs in the fifth inning.
The Seminoles had already scored the game’s first run and loaded the bases with two out when a towering fly ball off the bat of Sydney Sherrill curled toward the left-field line. UCLA’s Kinsley Washington raced over and appeared to have a bead on the ball as it sank through the humid nighttime air. She extended her glove.
The ball eluded Washington and fell onto the field, clearing the bases. Just like that, a taut game seemed like a Seminoles runaway.
UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez shouldered blame for the misplay, noting that Washington, a freshman, was a natural shortstop who had mostly played first base this season and should have been positioned three steps deeper.
“That was out No. 3,” Inouye-Perez said. “They shouldn’t have scored the three runs, but it happened.”
What mattered to Inouye-Perez was that Washington showed resolve during her next at-bat in the bottom of the inning. She contributed to the Bruins’ first run with a single that put runners on first and second before Briana Perez lined a run-scoring single to left-center. That extended Briana Perez’s hitting streak to 20 games, the fourth-longest in school history.
“What makes UCLA so great is our ability to be able to bounce back and be resilient,” Inouye-Perez said. “When things don’t go well, if Plan A doesn’t happen, Plan B kicks into place. And you have to have experience in that. I’ll be straight up with you, we’ve been ugly sometimes.
“But our ability to bounce back is something that is going to allow us to keep moving forward every day.”
UCLA continued its comeback in the sixth inning after pinch-hitter Julie Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly cut the Bruins’ deficit to 4-2. Up stepped Kylee Perez with runners on first and second base.
“I was just trying to put a big swing on the ball,” Perez said.
It couldn’t have been any bigger for the Bruins, who eventually padded their lead with two insurance runs.