Arizona, UCLA to meet for NCAA softball title
OKLAHOMA CITY – The secrets of softball success at UCLA are still a mystery – even to the latest bunch of Bruins chasing a championship.
Samantha Camuso cracked a three-run homer and B.B. Bates hit a two-run shot as UCLA moved into the Women’s College World Series finals for the first time in five years with a 5-2 win over Georgia on Sunday.
“It’s a great feeling. It feels like it’s been a little too long,” player of the year finalist Megan Langenfeld said. “We have a bunch of alumni that are here and they keep telling us, ‘Don’t worry. You guys have it.’ Whatever ‘it’ is, I don’t know, but I guess we have it.”
The fifth-seeded Bruins (48-11) will face longtime rival Arizona in the best-of-three finals starting Monday night. The Wildcats swept a pair of games against Tennessee on Sunday to set up the seventh meeting between college softball’s two most storied programs with the title on the line.
Arizona has won four of the previous six, with one of UCLA’s wins earning the 1995 title it later had to relinquish because of NCAA infractions for awarding too many scholarships.
“I guess it is like old times but we had to beat some very good teams to get here,” said coach Mike Candrea, whose Wildcats are back in the finals for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. “I know coming in, a little bit of the motivation is the hype about the SEC. The SEC is a very good conference but we still believe that the Pac-10 can hold its own.
“It’s kind of fun right now to culminate with two Pac-10 teams. I kind of like that personally.”
The Bruins played for the title 18 of the first 24 years the World Series was in existence before missing out the past four. Two of those seasons, UCLA didn’t even make it to the World Series – losing in the regionals in 2007 and the super regionals last year.
But now, the Bruins from the program’s storied past are noticing positive signs.
“They said, ‘You look like the teams that have gotten there,'” Langenfeld said. “We’re just going to keep doing it and play our game, and hopefully do what we’re supposed to do.”
A UCLA flag in center field was lowered to half-staff and Bruins players and coaches wore black armbands with the initials of late basketball coach John Wooden, who died Friday at age 99.
Like Wooden, the UCLA softball program has won 10 NCAA championships – not counting the one that was vacated. Wooden was one of the first people to call coach Kelly Inouye-Perez after she was put in charge of the Bruins program and opened his home to the team shortly thereafter
“Every Bruin that joins or commits to being a Bruin, whether you’re a student or a student-athlete, knows that you join the family of the tradition of excellence at UCLA, so you become part of the whole,” Inouye-Perez said.
“That ultimately allows all of us to have a moment to feel that for coach Wooden because he’s a part of our family. He’s a big part of our family. He’s a big part of why people want to come to UCLA and continue his tradition instead of going someplace else and being the first.”
Now, another championship is two wins away. But standing in UCLA’s path is Arizona.
Karissa Buchanan and Brittany Lastrapes had three hits and two RBIs apiece in the Wildcats’ 8-0 win in the first game against Tennessee (49-15). Stacie Chambers and K’Lee Arredondo each hit a two-run homer in the 5-2 victory that sealed Arizona’s spot in the finals.
“We’ve talked about getting where we want to get,” Candrea said. “And we’re not there yet.”
The Lady Vols had beaten Arizona 9-0 Thursday night in a game shortened to five innings because of the mercy rule, but didn’t have nearly as much success against freshman Kenzie Fowler (38-7) in two chances to eliminate the Wildcats.
Fowler threw four hitless innings in the first game, then struck out eight while going the distance in the nightcap to earn her fourth victory in two days. She walked in a run in the first and allowed Tiffany Huff’s bloop RBI double in the third before the Wildcats rallied.
“A long two days,” said Fowler, who threw 459 pitches over the four games. “But it was really fun.”
Fowler will face Langenfeld (14-1), a senior who has been banged up and started only five games all season before winning three straight starts at the World Series.
Langenfeld threw a two-hitter and retired the side in order in every inning except the fourth, when Alisa Goler delivered a two-run single for the Bulldogs’ only offense.
Georgia (50-13) held the old World Series record with seven home runs during last year’s event before UCLA topped it this year, bringing its school-record total to 102 this season.
Bates, the No. 9 hitter, drove her fifth home run into the right-field bleachers to chase starter Erin Arevalo (20-7) in the second inning. Camuso followed with a shot deep into the stands in right-center after Georgia reliever Alison Owen hit two of the first three batters with pitches in the third.
It was her seventh home run in eight NCAA tournament games.
“I’m overall just trying to enjoy this experience,” Camuso said. “It’s obviously something that’s not just handed to you, and I’m just trying to have fun with it.”