UCLA eliminates Florida at WCWS, faces Oklahoma on Monday
Kelly Inouye-Perez couldn’t hide her pride. Sitting next to Holly Azevedo after the pitcher extended UCLA’s season with a complete-game shutout against Florida on Sunday, Inouye-Perez beamed as a room of reporters recounted Azevedo’s accomplishments.
Now everyone can see what Inouye-Perez has always known about Azevedo.
The redshirt senior secured UCLA’s spot in the national semifinal with a two-hit, six-inning 8-0 win against No. 14 Florida. Azevedo gave up just one walk while striking out two in her first career Women’s College World Series start as the Bruins (50-9) advanced to face No. 1 Oklahoma at 9 a.m. PDT Monday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The No. 5-seed Bruins must knock off the Sooners twice Monday to punch their ticket to the best-of-three championship series, which begins Wednesday.
“Moments like this, we have been waiting for this,” Inouye-Perez said. “[Azevedo] hasn’t had that opportunity on this stage. So I couldn’t be more proud and happy for her and for us that she pitched her game today.”
Azevedo followed teammate Megan Faraimo’s 10-strikeout gem from Friday to keep UCLA’s season going after the Bruins disappointed in the opening round against Texas. It’s the first time UCLA has had different pitchers get wins in the same World Series since Megan Langenfeld and Aleah Macon in 2010. The Bruins won the national title that season.
UCLA catcher Delanie Wisz has been on a tear at the WCWS while wearing new catcher’s gear from Easton that is inspired by her family and faith.
It won’t be easy to add that same championship flourish this season. Oklahoma (56-2) hasn’t lost back-to-back games since February 2020.
The Sooners, who beat UCLA 4-1 on Feb. 12, might be the best college softball team ever. They’ve won a whopping 39 of their 58 games by run rule and lead the nation in most significant offensive categories, including batting average (.370), home runs per game (2.45) and scoring (9.22 runs per game).
An explosive offense has become common in Norman, Okla., but what separates this year’s No. 1-ranked team from last year’s national championship is its pitching.
The Sooners lead the nation with a 0.86 ERA. With three of the country’s top five pitchers, based on ERA, Oklahoma is on pace to have the lowest ERA for a team since Texas’ 0.81 in 2006.
Yet the Bruins have their own top-notch staff.
After Olympian Rachel Garcia dominated as a solo ace, Faraimo and Azevedo have emerged as UCLA’s first pair of 20-win pitchers since 2002. They are one of two pairs of teammates in the country to reach the 20-win mark this season along with Oklahoma’s Hope Trautwein and Jordy Bahl.
“Losing a pitcher like Rachel, everyone thought, ‘What is UCLA going to do?’” said center fielder Maya Brady, who drove in two runs during UCLA’s four-run sixth inning. “But little did they know we have Holly Azevedo and Lauren Shaw and Megan Faraimo. I’m just super proud to play with these pitchers.”
Azevedo’s teammates helped her by making 16 of 18 outs and scoring the most runs for UCLA in a World Series game since 2019. Shortstop Briana Perez and freshman Savannah Pola also drove in two runs, capitalizing on Florida miscues that included seven walks, two passed balls and an error. After catcher Alyssa Garcia was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Pola’s two-run single in the bottom of the sixth ended the game by mercy rule.
Instead of returning to pitch the final inning, Azevedo rushed out of the dugout to celebrate Pola’s game-ending hit. After Azevedo finished an interview for ESPN, her teammates dumped several cups of water over her head.
It was cold, she said with a laugh afterward, but a cherished moment five years in the making.
“I’ve spent the last five years with these girls, these coaches, with the university,” Azevedo said, “and just to have an opportunity to go to a school like UCLA with academics and athletics, it’s been truly an honor.”
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