Everything changed in another unlikely instant.
UCLA’s fortunes hung in the muggy night air in the fourth inning Friday as the ball soared off Taylor Pack’s bat toward the left-field wall at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Florida outfielder Amanda Lorenz raced onto the warning track, leaping at the last moment.
The ball cleared Lorenz’s glove by a few feet. Pack smiled as she neared second base, her three-run home run sending the Bruins on their way to a second crazy comeback in as many nights at the Women’s College World Series.
Another four-run deficit overcome. Another gritty pitching performance by Rachel Garcia. Another step closer to what is starting to feel like destiny for the Bruins.
A UCLA fan clutching a sign reading “BRUWIN MAGIC” spelled out the story during the third-seeded Bruins’ 6-5 victory over the second-seeded Gators.
“This team’s on a mission,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “We’re not going to be done until we get down to what our goal is, to be the last team standing.”
Garcia pumped her fist after striking out the side in the seventh inning, completing another tireless performance in which she struck out 15 while throwing 127 pitches. She will get a needed day off before playing at 12:30 p.m. PDT Sunday against an opponent to be determined.
“A day off tomorrow does sound pretty great,” Garcia said after throwing a complete game for the second time in a 24-hour span.
UCLA (58-5) needs only one more triumph to reach the best-of-three championship series.
Pack powered the Bruins to a 2-0 start in the Series for the first time since 2010, the last time they won the national championship. It was only her third homer of the season but left no doubt in the mind of the mind of UCLA third-base coach Kirk Walker, who immediately thrust both arms into the air in triumph as the ball left Pack’s bat.
“I got down early in the count and I just stepped back and I took a deep breath,” Pack said. “I was nervous, but I knew I had nothing to lose here so I put everything I had into that at-bat.”
Pack caught the customary piece of candy that Walker throws to home-run hitters as she rounded third base before pumping her arm and getting mobbed by teammates at home plate in celebration of UCLA’s 5-4 lead. Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill, having struck out the first eight batters she faced and holding the Bruins without a hit before Pack’s blast, held her glove on her head in disbelief.
UCLA’s Bubba Nickles added a solo homer in the sixth inning, an insurance run that became essential in the bottom of the inning when Florida pinch-hitter Jordan Roberts countered with her own solo homer.
Garcia (29-3) found her groove in the late innings after struggling early.
Florida’s Sophia Reynoso, a childhood friend of Garcia’s from Palmdale, bested her buddy with a solo homer in the second inning that gave the Gators a 2-0 lead. They doubled their advantage in the third when Kayli Kvistad blasted a two-run homer to make it 4-0.
Kylee Perez, whose three-run homer sparked UCLA’s comeback victory over Florida State on Thursday, started another rally leading off the fourth inning when she reached on a throwing error. Aaliyah Jordan was hit by a pitch with one out and Garcia walked to load the bases before Nickles drove in the Bruins’ first run when she walked during an at-bat in which Barnhill was called for an illegal pitch.
After Madeline Jelenicki drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2, Pack stepped to the plate and delivered.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch