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 full-game ban against Florida on Sunday, Inouye-Perez beamed as a roomful of reporters covered Azevedo’s accomplishments.

Now everyone can see what Inouye-Perez always knew about Azevedo.

The redshirt senior secured UCLA’s spot in the national semifinals with an 8-0, two-hit, six-innings win over No. 14 Florida. Azevedo gave up just one walk while hitting two in her first start in the Women’s College World Series as the Bruins (50-9) took on No. 1 Oklahoma at 9 a.m. PDT at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium on Monday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

The No. 5 seed Bruins need to beat the Sooners twice on Monday to hole their ticket to the best-of-three championship series that begins Wednesday.

“We’ve been waiting for moments like this,” said Inouye-Perez. “[Azevedo] did not have this opportunity on this stage. So I couldn’t be prouder and happier for her and us that she played her game today.”

Azevedo followed teammate Megan Faraimo’s 10-strikeout jewel Friday to keep UCLA’s season going after the Bruins disappointed against Texas in the opening round. It’s the first time UCLA has had different pitchers win in the same World Series since Megan Langenfeld and Aleah Macon in 2010. The Bruins won the national title that season.

Adding that same championship success this season won’t be easy. Oklahoma (56-2) has not lost a straight game since February 2020.

The Sooners, who defeated UCLA 4-1 on February 12, could be the best collegiate softball team of all time. They have won a whopping 39 of their 58 run rule games and lead the nation in key 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, Oklahoma, but what sets this year’s No. 1 team apart from last year’s national championship is their pitching.

The Sooners lead the nation with an .86 ERA. With three of the top five pitchers in the country based on ERA, Oklahoma is on track to have the lowest ERA for a team since Texas’ .81 in 2006.

But the Bruins have their own top-notch staff.

After Olympian Rachel Garcia dominated as a solo ace, Faraimo and Azevedo became UCLA’s first 20-win pitching pair since 2002. They are one of two pairs of teammates in the country to have reached the 20-win mark this season along with Oklahoma Hope Trautwein and Jordy Bahl.

“Losing a pitcher like Rachel made everyone think, ‘What’s UCLA going to do?'” said center fielder Maya Brady, who had four runs in two runs during UCLA’s sixth inning. “But they didn’t know that 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 hitting 16 outs of 18 and hitting the most runs for UCLA in a World Series game since 2019. Shortstop Briana Perez and freshman Savannah Pola also rode in two runs and benefited from Florida miscues that included seven walks, two passes and one miss. After catcher Alyssa Garcia was hit by a pitch to load bases, Pola’s two-run single at the end of the sixth ended the game under the mercy rule.

Instead of coming back to pitch the final inning, Azevedo stormed out of the dugout to celebrate Pola’s late game goal. After Azevedo finished an interview for ESPN, her teammates poured several cups of water over her head.

It was cold, she said later, laughing, but a cherished moment of five years of work.

“I’ve spent the last five years with these girls, these coaches, at university,” Azevedo said, “and just to have the opportunity to go to a school like UCLA with academics and athletics has been really an honor.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-06-05/ucla-softball-beats-florida-wcws-top-ranked-oklahoma-next UCLA eliminates Florida at WCWS, faces Oklahoma on Monday

Emma Bowman

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