UCLA’s Briana Perez celebrates after coming home on a triple by Aaliyah Jordan to make the score 3-1 Bruins in the top of the seventh inning Friday. The Bruins scored four times in the seventh to break open the game and leave the Wildcats one loss from elimination.
UCLA’s Malia Quarles exults as she rounds the bases on her leadoff pinch-hit solo homer in the sixth inning. Her homer gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead and UCLA went on to win 6-2 to move a win from the championship series. UA must win its next three games to advance to the finals.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Arizona came into Friday’s matchup against UCLA as the only team left undefeated in the NCAA Tournament.
That changed after the Bruins took advantage of free bases and an error in the top of the seventh to pull away and win 6-2. Arizona flips to the other side of the bracket and will play in an elimination game Saturday night against the winner of Florida and Alabama. UCLA is now one win away from the championship series.
“I think we kind of let the game get fast on us,” Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza said. “We let Arizona softball slip our minds for an inning and I think that’s kind of what happened. That can happen sometimes and it happened today. We slipped up, but we’re just going to come back stronger.”
After two scoreless innings, UCLA took advantage of an error by shortstop Jessie Harper to load the bases on one out. Hannah “Peanut” Martinez made a diving snag in right field on a liner hit by Bruins starting pitcher Rachel Garcia, but the sac fly was enough to score Bubba Nickles and draw first blood.
UA ace Taylor McQuillin got out of the jam with a strikeout.
Arizona responded in the bottom frame with a solo home run from Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, the first of two in the game from UA's center fielder. Palomino-Cardoza is the only player in the country to have hit a home run in all three weekends of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think facing her since I was 12 has a lot to do with it,” Palomino-Cardoza said about getting two homers off Garcia.
The teams then played two more scoreless innings, until UCLA pinch hitter Malia Quarles slammed a leadoff homer in the sixth to make it a 2-1 Bruins lead. Quarles only had 35 at-bats before Saturday’s game.
Down to their final six outs, Malia Martinez doubled to right center and Dejah Mulipola was hit by a pitch to put two Arizona runners on base, but both Jenna Kean — pinch running for Martinez — and Mulipola were left stranded.
UCLA followed with an insurance run by way of an RBI double; that was just the start. The Bruins drew two walks to load the bases and were able to score again on a sacrifice fly. An error in left field by Carli Campbell — who in the fourth made a diving catch for a key out — allowed two unearned runs.
McQuillin exited after 6 2/3 innings and allowed six runs, three earned, while striking out five and walking five. She threw 137 pitches, one night after tossing 141 in Arizona's opening win against Washington. Alyssa Denham entered in relief and struck out the only batter she faced for the final out of the inning.
Palomino-Cardoza hit her second home run of the game in the bottom of the seventh with two outs for the final score. Palomino-Cardoza was on of two players to account for all four Arizona hits; her and Malia Martinez both went 2 for 3.
Candrea didn’t know how to explain the two errors his team committed — it was something he hadn’t seen for a long time.
“And the same kid that makes a great play drops a fly ball,” Candrea said. “It was just a crazy inning, honest to God. I wish I had an answer for it.”
When it came to talking to the team to reset for Saturday’s elimination game, Candrea said he told them to look no further than last year’s WCWS. Florida State lost their first game only to ride through the consolation bracket and come out the national champs.
“I think the big thing is the mindset and after going through a tough game like that, you have to kind of get them healthy mentally and get their confidence back,” Candrea said. “But at this stage of the game, if I need to do that, then we’re in trouble because we’re in the College World Series. And as long as you’ve got a game to play, then you should be happy that you’re still playing.
“We just have to play Arizona softball. I’m very proud of this team and always will be proud of this team for the work that they’ve done this year. One inning is not going to spoil that.”
The UCLA-Arizona rivalry is second to none in the world of college softball. The Bruins lead the nation with 12 national titles, but Arizona is next best with eight. The Wildcats are making their 23rd Women’s College World Series appearance while UCLA is on its record 29th appearance. No other school has more than 14.
The last time both programs met in the WCWS, UCLA beat Arizona in the championship series in 2010. Since then, the Bruins haven’t been able to win another title and the Wildcats were absent from the WCWS until this year.
See all the photos from the Wildcats' stay in Oklahoma City below:
Norma started at the Star in 2017. She's a sports reporter covering all types of beats. She graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American in 2014 and recently graduated from the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program.