LOS ANGELES — UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez couldn’t slow down her speech at Saturday night’s postgame press conference.
The Bruins had just battled a relentless Duke team who, on consecutive nights, had given them almost everything they could handle, despite only being in their fifth season as a program, to get a bid for the NCAA Women’s College World Series.
“I love when a team comes in and brings their ‘A’ game,” Inouye-Perez said, before continuing to praise his team seemingly endlessly. “We’re going back to the World Series and I couldn’t be more proud…I spoke fast, huh?”
UCLA beat Duke, 8-2, at Easton Stadium after the Blue Devils tied the game in the fourth inning. Delanie Wisz had the hit, scoring Kelli Godin in the fifth inning.
Adding to the excitement that got Inouye-Perez talking so fast, Megan Faraimo came on to throw three innings in relief, giving up no runs, three hits and recording seven strikeouts.
Rookie Savannah Pola hit a sacrificial fly in the third inning to score Maya Brady (3 for 4, two RBIs). Brady singled to net, then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch to put himself in scoring position.
Brady stole two bases in the game to take his season tally to 13.
“You have to be able to make a decision quickly and then be able to execute it,” Inouye-Perez said of Brady’s base run. “I could see Maya do this in seventh grade when she came for camp and she got bigger, stronger and faster.”
The No. 5-seeded Bruins (48-8) quickly ended the inning, with Godin hitting two fly balls into left field and Kinsley Washington picking up a pitch at first base.
Wisz (2 for 4, 3 RBI) was knocked out to start the fourth inning, then Brady sent a flying solo home run to the left center field wall for his 14th home run of the season.
“Coach, I said today would be my day because I wasn’t able to produce for my team yesterday,” Brady said. “I just had to trust the whole season I have behind my back and rely on the experience I’ve had.”
12-seeded Duke (44-11) responded with her own home run down the frame as Caroline Jacobson tied the game with a two-run home run off the right center wall. Holly Azevedo knocked UCLA out of the inning by striking out Gisele Tapia at the next bat.
Wisz’s RBI brace in the fifth inning gave the Bruins a one-run lead. Brady followed that up with a brace that nearly scored Wisz, but she was called to the plate after reviewing the play.
“My approach is the same every time at bat,” Wisz said. “Just to be tough in every way possible. Just hit the ball hard and get my throw.
Faraimo picked up Azevedo in the circle to start the bottom of round five. In four innings, Azevedo allowed two hits and two runs while recording four strikeouts and walking two.
The Bruins defense has held the Blue Devils scoreless in the last three innings. Anna Vines caught Rachel Crabtree stealing in the sixth inning, preserving the Bruins’ lead as the final inning loomed.
UCLA made five points in that seventh stanza. Godin and Washington both singled to start, then Wisz doubled to bring them both in. Brady came on immediately after for an RBI single that put the Bruins up 6-2.
Faraimo was run through with bases loaded and Brady scored on a passed fly for two more UCLA runs to secure the win.
“It’s a dogfight,” Inouye-Perez said. “They are going to throw punches, we are going to throw punches. It’s ultimately not who scores first, but who scores last.
The NCAA Women’s College World Series begins June 2.