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Walk-off Championship

By Delan Bruce

Published Jul 1, 2019 8:00 AM

In June, UCLA's softball team walked off with the program's 13th Women’s College World Series title.


The jubilant championship dogpile. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

When sophomore Kinsley Washington smacked a two-out, game-winning RBI single versus Oklahoma in the 2019 Women’s College World Series (WCWS), it was all over. Washington’s walk-off base hit secured the 5-4 win and a sweep of the best-of-three championship series held in Oklahoma City, less than 30 miles from the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman. With the win, UCLA had cleared the season’s final hurdle to bring the softball title back to Westwood for the first time since 2010.

The title win, UCLA’s 118th and softball’s 13th, was payback for last year’s semifinal loss to the Sooners and the culmination of 113 wins amassed over the last two seasons, the most by UCLA in back-to-back seasons since 2001-2002. Head Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez ’93 says, “Last year’s experience helped make sure that we had a little bit more toughness going into 2019.”


UCLA's Rachel Garcia, named the WCWS Most Outstanding Player, pitched a complete game in the Bruins' title-clinching win against Oklahoma. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

The WCWS Most Outstanding Player Award went to redshirt junior and USA National Player of the Year Rachel Garcia, who pitched a complete game for her 29th win of the season. Last season,she won her first National Player of the Year award, among many other accolades, for a Bruin team that finished third in the 2018 WCWS.

This year’s title-clinching game saw contributions from every member of the team. Senior Brianna Tautalafua went 3-for-3, leading six Bruin batters who got hits over the course of the seven-inning affair. Aside from the winning run, UCLA scored with four solo home-run shots. UCLA hit 12 homers in the series, just shy of the WCWS record of 14. Four Bruins were hailed as All-Tournament: Garcia, Washington, redshirt sophomore Aaliyah Jordan and junior Bubba Nickles.

Watching the championship-winning run come home, Nickles says, “Tears started coming to my eyes, because I knew how hard we worked for that moment. It wasn’t just the star players on our team. Everyone contributed in every single type of way. To be able to end with a pinch runner [Jacqui Prober] and with Kinsley hitting her in, it was just an incredible feeling.”

The Bruins got off to a flying start in the series by setting a WCWS record, scoring 16 runs to win Game 1. Inouye-Perez says, “The team did some amazing things as far as leading the tournament in home runs, in runs scored, in on-base percentage, in slugging percentage, in ERA. Obviously, those are the things that you need to do in order to win a championship.” She adds, “I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several championships here, but to have that type of dominance in a tournament, I haven’t seen.”

In this year’s semifinals versus Washington, pitcher Garcia was heroic. She struck out 16 in 179 pitches over 10 scoreless innings. But that wasn’t enough to win the game. So she stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 10th and cranked a three-run, walk-off home run into the stands, propelling her team into the championship series.

This year’s WCWS was the most watched since 2015, with the final series averaging 1.57 million viewers. With 118 NCAA titles, UCLA is firmly in second place in the overall historical tally, behind Stanford’s 123 and ahead of USC’s 107. The victory was also the 600th of Inouye-Perez’s coaching career.

“What made us win was just being ourselves,” Nickles concludes. “There was no secret to winning. It was just us truly having fun and being our individual personalities all together as one. I think that was the best part.”