OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Sooners came into Tuesday night’s matchup against the UCLA Bruins with their hearts on their sleeves and determination to redeem themselves from Monday night’s loss in Game One of the championship series at the Women’s College World Series.
The Sooners found themselves in a “win or go home” situation after a 16-3 loss to the Bruins the night before giving UCLA the upper hand going into Game Two.
“I don’t think words could express it,” Sooners Head Coach Patty Gasso said postgame. “We had, as you know, probably one of the worst games we’ve ever had [last night], and to come back the way we did [tonight], I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
These two teams may have possessed different mindsets and strategies coming into the championship series, but they shared one thing in common: Neither team had lost back-to-back all season.
The Sooners and the Bruins were the two top-seeded teams marking this as the first time since 2005 the two top-seeded teams met in the championship series with the National Title on the line, and UCLA wasted zero time picking up where they left off the night before.
Rachel Garcia took the mound for the Bruins to start things off, and despite giving up a leadoff double to Sydney Romero, she held the Sooners scoreless in the top of the first retiring the next three.
Giselle “G” Juarez took to the pitcher’s circle finding herself in a tough situation giving up solo home runs in the bottom of the first to Bubba Nickles and Briana Perez giving the Bruins an early 2-0 lead in only four pitches.
“For me it was about fighting back,” Juarez said postgame. “It was about giving us a shot to get back in there. In between pitches, I say it is written. God already has His plan, and what’s supposed to happen is going to happen. When things like that happen while I’m out there, I just keep saying ‘It is written,’ and I fight back.”
Sydney Romero got things going for the Sooners in the top of the third with a solo home run over the left-center wall with one out to cut UCLA’s lead to 2-1. This was her 20th home run of her senior season.
Jocelyn Alo came up to the plate after Caleigh Clifton was hit by a pitch to safely find 1st base, and with a strong pop to right-center, it had all the looks of a two-run home run. The ball, however, came just short of the wall, and right-fielder Aaliyah Jordan sent Alo back to the dugout.
The home runs didn’t stop for UCLA as Aaliyah Jordan led things off in the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run for her 13th of the season extending the Bruins to 3-1. All three of UCLA’s runs up to this point had come from solo home runs.
The Sooners made things interesting in the top of the fourth scoring two runs; one off a 1B RBI from Falepolima Aviu to send Nicole Mendes home, and another from catcher Lynnsie Elam knocking a strong 2B RBI to left field allowing pinch runner Raegan Rogers to find home. This tied the game at 3-3 with a lot of game left to be played.
3rd baseman Brianna Tautalafua delivered for the Bruins for a second night in a row leading off the bottom of the fifth with a solo bomb to left-center giving UCLA a 4-3 advantage over the Sooners.
“Coach Lisa [Fernandez] told me whatever I do just to make sure I’m having fun, and that’s exactly what I did,” Tautalafua said postgame. “I also made sure my teammates behind me were having fun to make this experience fully worth it.”
The Sooners had one more chance in the top of the seventh to either tie the game for extra innings, or surpass the Bruins on the scoreboard, and senior Shay Knighten gave Sooner Nation exactly what they wanted with a solo home run to left-center on two strikes and two outs to tie the game at 4-4.
“I was fired up,” Coach Gasso said postgame. “And I don’t really show too much emotion, but I think I went off on that one. Everybody knows what Shay has gone through in her career, and if it could’ve happened to someone that deserves it, she has been a star on this stage.”
With the game tied at 4-4, the Bruins and the Sooners came down to the wire with a pending third game weighing in on everyone’s shoulders, but sophomore Kinsley Washington had other plans.
With a Bruin on 2nd base and two outs, Washington stepped to the plate sending a hard drive to left field for a 1B RBI that would catapult UCLA to a 5-4 lead and a walk-off, title-securing win over the Sooners.
“I just really felt prepared and tried to use everything I had,” Washington said postgame. “What was going through my head at that last at-bat was not letting Rachel [Garcia] go back out to pitch another inning. I didn’t care what it was. I just wanted to get it done.”
This national title is the softball program’s 12th title, the first since 2010, and the university’s 118th NCAA National Title overall as UCLA takes the championship in two games at 5-4 over the top-seeded Sooners.
“What a phenomenal season Oklahoma had,” UCLA Head Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said postgame. “I have a lot of respect for Patty and her entire staff. It’s rewarding to come out on top of a team like that. I told the girls today that I hope they bring their best game because it’s even more rewarding when they do, and they did.”
The Sooners finish their season 57-6 as six seniors played their final game in the crimson and cream on the largest stage in the world for softball.
“I’ve never been around better people and better athletes, and it’s been the best four years of my life,” Senior Sydney Romero said postgame. “I just had so much fun this whole tournament and this whole year. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.”
The UCLA Bruins are the 2019 NCAA Softball National Champions, and the Sooners finish as the runner-up to top of a historical year.
“This is the best senior class we’ve ever had,” Coach Gasso said postgame. “The way they share their heart and praise God – it’s what they do. It’s what we do.”
Though the outcome wasn’t what they had hoped for, the Sooners weren’t alone during the duration of this tournament as Sooner fans helped break attendance records to support their team until the very end.
“Just to have that moment to look out and see all the crimson and to see our fans cheering for us is so special,” center-fielder Nicole Mendes said postgame. “I can’t thank them enough for giving me all they had in the outfield because I gave them all I had.”