Liberty shocks UCLA softball, eliminating Bruins early from NCAA tournament
Members of UCLA softball walk back to the clubhouse after the game. With back-to-back upset losses Friday and Saturday, the Bruins were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin senior staff)
|No. 2 seed UCLA||1|
May 20, 2023 9:52 p.m.
This post was updated May 21 at 11:00 p.m.
Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez could not explain it.
“This is new,” Inouye-Perez said.
The Bruins were upset for the second time in two days, leaving them a far cry from their Women’s College World Series expectations.
No. 2 seed UCLA softball (52-7, 21-3 Pac-12) lost to Liberty (39-21, 19-5 ASUN) by a score of 2-1 on Saturday in the NCAA Los Angeles Regional, despite the efforts of Brooke Yanez and Megan Grant. The sixth-year pitcher delivered 6.2 innings of two-run ball, and the freshman utility started the game with a leadoff solo home run, but with the rest of the lineup falling quiet for the second straight contest, the Bruins could not extinguish the Flames.
The defeat marked the first time since 2013 that UCLA did not advance past the regional stage and the first time since 2012 the Bruins did not win a single game in a regional.
UCLA had also not dropped three consecutive contests since 2017, but dating back to the Pac-12 championship against Utah, the Bruins have now done just that.
Yanez, however, kept the Bruins within striking distance throughout the game. She struck out nine batters and only conceded five baserunners on the evening.
She said her goal in the circle was to create a flow on defense for her teammates that could potentially lead to run production.
“We have to get it done for each other and with each other,” Yanez said. “We can’t count anyone out, and we’re all going to have each other’s backs.”
But with the scoreboard knotted at one run apiece, all Liberty needed was a walk and a sacrifice bunt to bring pinch hitter KC Machado up to the plate with a chance to break the tie.
Machado – who had only scored one run all season for the Flames – worked a full count against Yanez and promptly singled in a run for Liberty. Grant, playing left field, got the ball in quickly enough for the play at the plate to warrant a replay review.
The call was not overturned. Redshirt senior pitcher Megan Faraimo subsequently relieved Yanez, preventing the Flames from tacking on more as the Bruins headed to their last at-bats.
First up in the bottom of the seventh was redshirt senior utility Anna Vines, who worked the count full but struck out looking. Next was freshman utility Kennedy Powell, who struck a hard line drive to left – right into the glove of Liberty’s left fielder.
That left UCLA’s fate in the hands of redshirt junior outfielder Janelle Meoño, still down one run in the bottom of the seventh.
But after fouling off three pitches, she grounded softly to third, ending the Bruins’ season in the process.
Inouye-Perez said she was heartbroken for upperclassmen such as Faraimo and graduate student outfielder Aaliyah Jordan, both of whom had never missed the WCWS in their collegiate careers. She added that Jordan’s mindset and consistent hitting in the regional – going 5-for-6 since Friday – showed how monumental her contribution to the team has been over her seven years in blue and gold.
“She is the epitome of just resilience. She’s the epitome of toughness. She’s the epitome of loyalty to this program,” Inouye-Perez said. “Not only does she come together with the hits tonight, but … she will be remembered forever as being one of the clutchest hitters in the postseason in the game, period.”
While the veteran Jordan took on a bulk of the production for UCLA’s lineup, the freshman Grant provided the Bruins with all three of their runs across Friday’s and Saturday’s contests. Her two solo home runs kept the pitching staff from playing from behind for most of the regional.
The All-Pac-12 First Team honoree said the team knew a collective effort was needed for victory and that Saturday, the lineup just did not have what it takes to advance.
Grant wished the season ended on a higher note for the players on the roster who have now played their last games for UCLA.
“I’m always going to look back and think, I could have done more for Brooke, for Megan, for Aaliyah, for all of them,” Grant said. “It’s not how we wanted to go out.”