Sunday, June 16, 2024

Women’s College World Series: UCLA softball season ends after loss to Stanford

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Fittingly, the last softball game between two Pac-12 teams was a gem.

In a loser’s-bracket, must-win game Sunday night at the Women’s College World Series, UCLA and Stanford staged a game befitting the sport’s grandest conference. Great pitching. Big hitting. Clean fielding. Even late-inning drama.

In the end, the eighth-seeded Cardinal defeated the sixth-seeded Bruins 3-1.

“It was an excellent game of softball,” Stanford coach Jessica Allister said. “Great seven innings.”

UCLA ends its season with a 43-12 record.

Stanford (50-16) will play top-seeded Texas at 4 p.m. Monday, and the Cardinal must win twice to keep their season and Pac-12 softball alive.

“They’re tough,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said of Stanford. “NiJaree (Canady, Stanford ace) is tough. They showed up and executed.

“I wish them well as they represent the last of the Pac.”

UCLA, which swept Stanford during the regular season, came out strong Sunday, getting on the scoreboard in the second inning. Megan Grant sent a ball rocketing toward left field that hit the top of the wall and ricocheted into the bleachers. She sprinted around the bases, and when she reached home and her waiting teammates, she punctuated the homer with a huge stomp onto the plate.

The celebration was warranted.

It was the first home run given up by Canady, the national player of the year, in this Women’s College World Series. In Stanford’s first two games in Oklahoma City, she only gave up one extra-base hit, a double.

It was also the first time in Canady’s college career that she gave up a home run the first time through an opponent’s lineup.

“I knew we were going to score,” Canady said. “My job there was to just to try to keep it at one run, just get my team back in the dugout and score more runs we needed. “

But UCLA continued hitting Canady hard in the third with a Janelle Meono single to left and a Jadelyn Allchin single to right. But the Bruins failed to push across a run.

That would come back to haunt them.

Stanford answered UCLA’s fireworks in the third inning. Taryn Kern drove a double into the left-field gap that one hopped the wall and scored Emily Jones. That prompted a UCLA pitching change as Taylor Tinsley replaced Kaitlyn Terry.

But Stanford wasn’t done.

Ava Gall sent a single into right field, and Kern just beat out the throw home to give the Cardinal a 2-1 lead.“I feel like that’s one of your dreams as a little kid, to play at the world series,” said Kern, who transferred to Stanford last summer from Indiana. “Come up in a big moment for your team, help out NiJaree, my girls … it was awesome.”

Stanford added to its lead in the fifth inning, opening the frame with back-to-back singles, then pushing a run across on Allie Clements’ sacrifice fly to left.

That was more than enough run support for Canady, who got out of a seventh-inning jam with two on and two out when she forced a game-ending groundout. She went the distance, giving up three hits and striking out eight.

For UCLA, Terry went 2 ⅓ innings, giving up three hits and two runs while Tinsley gave up three hits and one run in 3 ⅔ innings.

Neither gave up a walk.

Inouye-Perez heaped praise on her young pitchers, Tinsley a sophomore and Terry a freshman.

“We knew without pitching, you’re not going to be able to get to this world series,” Inouye-Perez said. “That’s why I am so proud. … Just what they continued to do, got stronger through a season, it’s rewarding as a coach, but I’m so proud for them as players.

“The experience they gained on this stage is real. They have a fire burning in their guts. They just want to continue to play.”

But the Bruin coach saved her biggest praise — and lots of tears — for Bruin senior Maya Brady. While the shortstop isn’t the only graduating player on the squad, she was the clear leader.

In a season when the Bruins had a young pitching staff, then lost three players to injury in the first weekend of the season, they needed Brady’s leadership.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Inouye-Perez said. “There’s been amazing athletes here. She’s clearly a player, but her leadership is what she’s going to be remembered for.”

Then the coach talked directly to the player.

“I love you to death,” Inouye-Perez said as tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to see how your leadership has bled into the Bruins that are coming back. You loved them, kicked them in the butt, but you showed up and you got us here.”

Tears rolled down Brady’s cheeks, too.

“We have just such a special relationship,” she said. “I play for an amazing coach. … Little 8-year-old me is screaming that she even said my name.

“The fact she thinks about me like that is truly special.”

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