UCLA’s 106th national championship came from a team effort

The Bruins gather at home plate to welcome in another run. Each batter had at least one hit en route to UCLA's 15-9 win over Arizona during the championship game on Tuesday.

The Bruins gather at home plate to welcome in another run. Each batter had at least one hit en route to UCLA's 15-9 win over Arizona during the championship game on Tuesday. courtesy of RICHARD CLIFTON

It may seem like just another adage, but John Wooden once said, “It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”

And with the UCLA softball team’s two-run lead evaporating in what was supposed to be the final inning on Monday evening, shades of a 2009 elimination loss to Missouri reappeared.

It seemed as if the Arizona Wildcats were finishing with an improbable rally, while the Bruins resembled a team losing its swagger.

A fatigued, blistered and hurting senior Megan Langenfeld stood in the circle and wearily glanced back to see where the second consecutive Arizona home run landed, except it never seemed to land: The ball rocketed out of the stadium and into the darkness of the parking lot beyond center field.

With a heavy 5-4 deficit on its hands, UCLA faced a must-score situation in the bottom half of the seventh.

A perfect record at the Women’s College World Series was at stake; so too was a 1-0 edge in the best-of-three series.

It came down to the final out again, but as Pac-10 opponents like the Cal Bears can attest, this year’s Bruins are as resilient as they come.

A misplayed fly ball, followed by senior Kaila Shull’s double just out of the right fielder’s reach, and it was a 5-5 game, the Bruins’ rally caps twisted, Shull on second shouting, pointing and willing the team on with a fervent passion.

Then there was sophomore Aleah Macon, who pitched her way out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth, setting the stage for a dramatic ending.

Langenfeld was due third and only an intentional walk or a ball to her head would stop her. There was only one thing on her mind: End the game. And Arizona obliged.

On a 1-0 count, there it was: a pitch belt-high. Game over.

Even after a triumphant fist pump while rounding first base, and even with a mob greeting her at the plate, Langenfeld was the first to point out Macon’s effort, Shull’s hit, the team’s hustle and determination. The record 14 home runs in the World Series.

A Langenfeld home run got the Bruins on the board first early on in Game 2. Thirteen runs later, it was a 15-9 victory for UCLA to go along with the team’s 12th national title.

Washington’s ace pitcher Danielle Lawrie may have won the NCAA Softball Player of the Year Award for the second straight year but not consecutive titles.

“My performance doesn’t mean anything,” Langenfeld said. “It was the team. I was just a small part of it. A bunch of little things add up to a great thing, and that’s a national championship for UCLA.”

Even so, there was no way around her overall season numbers: a .527 batting average, 20 home runs and 58 RBI. Her individual performances were particularly evident after a 12-for-17, four-home run and nine-RBI effort over the five games played in the World Series.

But for Langenfeld and her teammates, only one thing has changed this past week: They are now national champions.

With the initials “JW” proudly wrapped around their arms, the Bruins certainly played out Wooden’s adage to perfection in Oklahoma City, a fury of blue and gold bringing home No. 106.

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