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Arizona’s season ends with loss to UCLA in Game 2 of Super Regionals

The Wildcats took an early lead but couldn’t hang on, falling short of the Women’s College World Series yet again

FloSports: FloSoftball Mary Nutter 1 Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have fallen short of the Women’s College World Series for the eighth straight year.

Third-seeded UCLA scored three unanswered runs to defeat the Wildcats, 3-2, in Game 2 of Super Regionals on Friday in Westwood. UCLA won Game 1 on Thursday.

14th-seeded Arizona finishes the season with a 43-16 record. UCLA improves to 56-5 and will compete in the WCWS in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

The Wildcats went 0-5 against the Bruins this season, but got off to a promising start Friday.

Alyssa Palomino pulled a two-run homer to right just three batters into the bottom of the first, pumping her fist as soon as the ball exploded off her bat.

There wasn’t much else to celebrate.

UCLA right-hander Rachel Garcia (27-3) quickly settled in, and had her way with the Wildcats for the second straight night. The sophomore allowed just four hits and struck out 10.

Arizona had one runner in scoring position all game.

The opposite was true for the Bruins, who crowded the bases in seemingly every inning. They scored in the second, third, and fourth innings to claim the lead.

UA left-hander Taylor McQuillin (28-12) surrendered eight hits — mostly singles — walked five, and hit two batters in a complete-game effort.

She did strand 11 Bruins, which prevented them from breaking the game open.

McQuillin battled command issues in the second, walking two and allowing a single, before a hit by pitch plated UCLA’s first run.

But McQuillin punched out the next two batters, including UCLA leadoff hitter Kylie Perez, to avoid any more damage.

UCLA threatened again in the third with a leadoff double and walk, and McQuillin couldn’t tight rope out of danger that time.

She retired two straight before giving up a game-tying RBI single to Bubba Nickles, who lifted a line drive into left-center.

UCLA took the lead an inning later, thanks to three two-out singles. McQuillin had to throw 99 pitches in the first four innings and 135 in total, as the Bruins grinded out lengthy at-bats.

A one-out double by Brianna Tautalafua put two Bruins in scoring position in the fifth, but McQuillin induced a groundout and popout to keep it a one-run game.

Reyna Carranco laced a two-out single up the middle in the fifth for UA’s fourth hit, putting Palomino at the plate as the potential go-ahead run.

Garcia prevailed this time, striking out the UA first baseman looking with a fastball that appeared to be off the outside corner.

Palomino’s face was in disbelief. Arizona’s players had that same look when Jenna Kean flew out to end the game two innings later.

The bad news is the Wildcats’ season is over and their WCWS drought continues. They haven’t made it to OKC since 2010.

The good news is they should be a formidable team in 2019. Probably better.

Arizona returns all its starters except senior outfielders Aleah Craighton and Ashleigh Hughes. McQuillin will be back, as will UA’s four best hitters — Palomino, Carranco, Jessie Harper, and Dejah Mulipola.

But the gap between Arizona and the Pac-12’s elite teams was obvious this season, so major improvement will be needed. The Wildcats went 0-11 against UCLA, Oregon, and Washington.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire