OKLAHOMA CITY — The Arizona softball team got sweet revenge on Washington to open the Women’s College World Series on Thursday.
Now, the UCLA Bruins will be trying to do the same against the Wildcats in the winner’s bracket. The No. 2 Bruins beat No. 7 Minnesota 7-2 on Thursday to set up a rematch between the longtime Pac-12 rivals on Friday (4 p.m. PT, ESPN).
UCLA and Arizona last met in the WCWS in 2010 when the Bruins bested the Wildcats in the championship series.
“Any time you talk Arizona-UCLA, it is unique game in that the history is just very, very real,” said UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “It spanned decades. I got to personally be involved as an athlete. Arizona came on the scene later in my playing career in the early ‘90s. Just so much respect for Coach (Mike) Candrea, what he’s done, the players that have come through his program.”
Arizona (48-12) won two of three at UCLA (52-6) to cap the regular season a few weeks ago. Before that, the Bruins had won five straight against the Wildcats, including a two-game sweep in Super Regionals that ended UA’s 2018 season.
“We’re in the Pac-12. We compete every year. Every time there’s a UCLA-Arizona game, it is a great battle, usually a very offensive battle,” Inouye-Perez said. “We throw a lot of punches back and forth. You literally have to watch the game down to the last pitch, which is the typical UCLA-Arizona rivalry.
“I think the best part about the Pac-12 is we have to get after playing each other not just once, twice, three times every year, and every year it’s an epic battle.”
UCLA players said they are more worried about themselves than Arizona.
“We already faced them three times this year. I really think that’s going to let us have a better plan this time when we face them tomorrow,” said centerfielder Bubba Nickles.
Fatigue could play a factor if both teams want to start their No. 1 pitchers. Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin threw 141 pitches in UA’s 3-1 extra-inning win over Washington.
UCLA ace Rachel Garcia, the back-to-back USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, tossed 112 pitches in the Bruins’ win over Minnesota.
Garcia is 25-1 on the season, the lone loss coming against the Wildcats on May 9 when Arizona tagged her for five runs (four earned) in seven innings. The junior right-hander did strike out 15 batters, though.
All three games of that series were decided by two runs or less.
“Well, we’ve played them before so we’re familiar with one another,” UA coach Mike Candrea said after the win vs. UW. “On this stage, at this moment, it’s just about competing like we did today. You have to have great pitching. You got to play good defense. You have to have some timely hits. I think any time we’re playing a Pac-12 foe, they are very familiar with us, it’s going to come down to that.”