OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez tried hard not to slight any of the great performances she’s seen in three decades with the program.
She couldn’t think of one better than what she saw from Rachel Garcia on Sunday at the Women’s College World Series. Garcia hit a three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning and threw a shutout as UCLA beat Washington 3-0 to reach the championship series.
“I’m so fortunate to have had so many memories on this stage, as a player, as an assistant,” Inouye-Perez said. “I’ve been able to be here a lot. To see someone impact the game like that as a pitcher and hitter, I really haven’t seen.”
Garcia, the two-time reigning USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, threw 179 pitches and had 16 strikeouts.
“That was not easy for me,” Garcia said. “But just being able to have the confidence that I had with my team behind me and making the plays that they did just kept me going.”
No. 2 seed UCLA (54-6) will play Oklahoma or Alabama in the championship series, which begins Monday. The Bruins are seeking their first national title since 2010.
Gabbie Plain gave up the homer to Garcia for No. 3 seed Washington (52-9).
“Rachel Garcia is one of those players, she will go out there with everything she’s got,” Plain said. “You will go out there against her as hard as you can. It’s really just every pitch is a pitch to the end. You never know which one is going to be the end.”
The Huskies, last year’s national runner up, left 12 runners on base.
“The hard part is we had so many chances,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said. “We left 12 runners on base, they left eight. In the end, they got the timely hit. I thought Taran and Gabbie pitched well enough to keep us in the game. Rachel threw great. It was a matter of who was going to get the clutch hit and when.”
There were numerous scoring threats throughout the game.
Washington got two runners on in the top of the seventh and did not score.
UCLA’s Taylor Pack walked to start the bottom of the seventh, prompting Washington to have Taran Alvelo replace Plain. Alvelo registered three straight outs to extend the game.
Washington loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Garcia struck out Madison Huskey. UCLA had runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but Garcia flied out to left field.
Washington had two on with two outs in the ninth, but Garcia struck out Sami Reynolds swinging.
Plain re-entered the game in the 10th to relieve Alvelo, only to give up the winner.
Alvelo, a senior, believes Tarr will have the Huskies back in this position in the near future. Plain is a sophomore who shared the role as ace pitcher, and the Huskies had just one senior in their batting lineup.
“There’s so much growth within each year,” Alvelo said. “I mean, you’re going to keep going forward. There’s no going back for this program. I think that speaks a lot to how we are coached and raised as young athletes, women athletes. We’re strong and we’re able to overcome anything. It’s cause of our fearless leader over there.”
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