By Arnie Leshin
After throwing 179 pitches, Rachel Garcia might have been weary, but the UCLA redshirt junior had enough left to send a 2-out, 2-on pitch over the fence in left field and advance the 2nd seeded Bruins into the best-of-3 Championship finals of the 48th annual Division I Softball World Series.
It came in the bottom of the 10th inning at USA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, and was a blow to 3rd seeded PAC rival Washington, which faced elimination but bravely battled to force a second game later in the day. The Huskies (51-9) threatened Garcia almost every frame, as did UCLA (53-5) against Washington’s two best hurlers.
Australian sophomore right-hander Gabbie Plain started in the circle for the once-beaten Huskies, and after stellar seven innings gave way to senior righty Taran Avelo, who also tamed the Bruins until Garcia got hold of her 2-2 fastball to end this classic contest before a capacity crowd.
From the circle, Garcia made 179 pitches, and every time Washington opened the door withrunners aboard, she closed it. She struck out 16, walked four and allowed eight hits. She bent and bent some, but never broke down.
Same with Plain and Avelo. The latter was reached for four hits, struck out seven and walked two. Plain, who reentered the game in the fatal 10th, struck out the first batter, then allowed a hit up the middle, and a walk, before getting the second out on a fly ball to left field.
It also delayed the start of the second game when top-seeded Oklahoma and 8th seeded Alabama were to take the field. One win for the Sooners sends them into the finals against UCLA in pursuit of a fifth WS championship, but the Crimson Tide will be out to force another game and keep them from being eliminated.
The teams were playing each other for the second time in three days, with Oklahoma winning 3-2 in that one.
The day before was designated to be survival Saturday, but became survival Sunday for 6thseeded Arizona as the Saturday morning game one of the loser’s bracket four games was delayed for 3 ½ hours when heavy rain, lightening and hail cleared the dugouts and emptied the stands.
The lengthy delay finished up with Washington ousting 7th seeded Minnesota, 3-1. From there came game 2 and resulted in Alabama sending 5thseeded SEC rival Florida, the 5th seed, home by dunking the Gators, 15-3. In game 3, the Huskies won a tense 1-0 contest over 13th seeded Oklahoma City in a masterful pitcher’s dual.
When game 4 arrived, it was now around 12:30 Sunday morning. The weather was now super, not a sign of rain, lightening or hail, and temperatures were comfortably at 70 degrees. And again it was the Crimson Tide surviving by shutting down and eliminating Arizona, 2-0.
So Sunday found top-seeded Oklahoma and 2ndseeded UCLA at 2-0 each and needing one win each in double-elimination play to advance to the best-of-3 Championship finals that runs from Monday to Tuesday, and if necessary, Wednesday.
The Huskies and Bruins, PAC 10 foes, took the field first. Conference champion UCLA has won the NCAA championship 11 times, more than any other school. Arizona is second with eight, but unfortunately went home early this time. Now it’s Washington that has to win twice.
In the closer, Alabama met up with the Sooners for the second time in three days after a 3-2 loss via a masterful effort from Oklahoma junior southpaw Giselle Juarez. The Crimson Tide has to win twice.