OKLAHOMA CITY — Defending softball national champion UCLA was eliminated from the Women’s College World Series late Saturday night, falling to Oklahoma 10-3.
It was a matchup many expected to see in the championship series: the top-seeded Sooners against the No. 2 seed Bruins. But after Oklahoma lost to upstart James Madison and UCLA fell to Alabama, the two teams met in the losers bracket in a win-or-go-home game.
After a nearly 2½-hour weather delay, UCLA turned once again to Rachel Garcia to pitch for a third straight game. After she helped the Bruins to an early 3-0 lead with a three-run home run, she began to falter in the circle, and the Sooners rallied for the win.
“They straight up came up and they threw punches back and beat us on the field tonight,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “It wasn’t the plan for us to meet up here in the losers bracket, but things happen.”
Garcia, a two-time player of the year and an Olympian, ran into trouble for the first time in the bottom of the third inning, when the Sooners answered her home run with two runs of their own.
Fielding mistakes compounded the issues for UCLA in the bottom of the fourth, when Oklahoma scored two unearned runs to take the lead, and the Sooners never looked back. In the fifth, Mackenzie Donihoo hit a solo home run — the first of two home runs she had in the contest. Add in the home run she produced earlier in the day in a win over Georgia and Donihoo hit a combined three homers on Saturday.
Had injured No. 2 starter Megan Faraimo (hand) made the trip for UCLA, perhaps the Bruins would have had more options at pitcher.
“I think it’s pretty clear that Megan would have made a difference,” Inouye-Perez said.
But the coach also was quick to praise Garcia for continually putting the team on her shoulders.
“We weren’t able to get it done,” Inouye-Perez said. “I’m proud of this team and proud of Rachel Garcia. She chose to come back and do all she could to help this program. She was put in position to have to do it all, but nobody blames her. She gave it all she had, and I told her, this is not about something that you have to prove. You have left your mark on the game. You have done it; you are going to continue to have a future.
“And for all of us, we’re just sad that she’s leaving the Bruin bubble, and I am so proud. I will take Rachel Garcia any day of the week.”
Garcia lasted 5⅓ innings, giving up eight runs, six earned, in her final career outing for UCLA. Inouye-Perez gave her a hug as Garcia left the field for the last time as a Bruin, fighting back tears.
“Just having that moment with Coach, I’ll be grateful to her; she gave me the opportunity to get my degree at the No. 1 university, and here I am in my last moment as a Bruin. I’m super honored,” Garcia said.
Garcia and teammate Bubba Nickles will now join the Olympic team headed to Tokyo. Nickles, who recently returned to the lineup following a wrist injury, struggled once again, going 0-for-3.
Oklahoma’s Giselle “G” Juarez came on in relief of Nicole May in the third inning and put together an impressive effort, shutting down UCLA and holding the Bruins scoreless.
After scoring a season-low three runs in their opening loss to James Madison, the Sooners scored 18 total runs on Saturday in wins over Georgia and UCLA. They advance to face James Madison in a rematch on Sunday.
In the next game, Kathryn Sandercock gave up two runs on five hits in a complete-game victory, and Florida State defeated fifth-seeded Oklahoma State 4-2 in an elimination game. The game ended early Sunday after the UCLA-Oklahoma game’s rain delay.