Special to Gatorsports.com
[Updated 6-2-18, 2:57 p.m.] OKLAHOMA CITY — Third-seeded UCLA made the most of its three hits Friday to defeat second-seed Florida 6-5 to earn a spot in the semifinal round of the Women’s College World Series.
The Gators (56-10) hit three home runs but it wasn’t enough against Bruins ace Rachel Garcia (29-3), who struck out 15, including the side in the seventh. The Gators dropped to the loser’s bracket and will play defending champ Oklahoma (56-4), which eliminated Arizona State 2-0 earlier Saturday, for an elimination game at 7 p.m. today (ESPN). It’s a rematch of last year’s championship series.
The Bruins (58-5) will play in Sunday’s semifinal, needing just one win to advance to the championship series. They advanced after again overcoming a 4-0 deficit on back-to-back nights. On Thursday, it was a rally over FSU.
UF starting pitcher Kelly Barnhill (29-2) allowed just the three hits and struck out 13, but control issues in the fourth inning proved the difference. UF coach Tim Walton was ejected with two outs in the top of the seventh inning after arguing with home plate umpire Brandon Bluhm about the strike zone. An NCAA spokesperson said Walton was not be suspended and will coach Florida’s elimination game Saturday against the winner of the Oklahoma-Arizona State game. Walton was not eligible to speak at the news conference after the game, per NCAA Tournament rules.
UF took the quick lead with a run in the bottom of the first inning when Amanda Lorenz, who reached on an infield error and advanced to third on Kayli Kvistad’s single, slid home after a wild pitch.
Shortstop Sophia Reynoso made it 2-0 UF with a solo home run in the second inning.
Kvistad extended the Gators’ lead to 4-0 in the third inning with a towering two-run home run, driving in Lorenz, who had walked.
Meanwhile, Barnhill was dealing from the circle, striking out the first eight batters she faced and threw out the ninth on a roller back to her.
But Barnhill ran into big trouble in the fourth inning when she committed a throwing error off a bunt, hit a batter and walked another to load the bases.
After walking in a run, Barnhill got Madeline Jelenicki to foul out to Reynoso, who made a great play up the line and near the wall. The UCLA runner at third, Aaliyah Jordan, tagged and raced home. Reynoso’s throw to catcher Janell Wheaton was perfect, but the home plate umpire ruled Jordan safe, instead of being the third out of the inning (replays showed Wheaton putting the tag on Jordan’s back side just before her foot hit home. Replay is not used at the WCWS).
“Yeah, just we did our best on that, and the way it turned out was the way it turned out,” Reynoso said.
UF assistant coach Jennifer Rocha, speaking at the news conference after the game, didn’t want to comment on the controversial play, but did say, “It’s just going to be a matter of resiliency and being able to come back and continuing to play our best softball and just getting one at a time.”
Taylor Pack then hit a three-run home run to give UCLA a 5-4 lead. Pack’s clout was UCLA’s first hit of the game.
“It definitely wasn’t the ideal way to start off the inning,” Barnhill said. “After that, I guess I just didn’t feel exactly locked in. Really wasn’t as sharp as I wanted to be. And when you walk people and make errors, they make you pay for it.”
It was just the third homer of the junior Pack’s career. Pack said she wasn’t looking for anything specific from Barnhill, she was just trying to find the ball.
“I know I’ve been preparing for this all three years that I’ve been here, so I was nervous, but I knew I had nothing to lose here,” Pack said. “So I just kind of put everything I had into that at-bat and I tried to do everything I could for the team.”
Bubba Nickles hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to pad UCLA’s lead to 6-4. It was the 20th home run Barnhill has given up this season.
Jordan Roberts brought UF to within 6-5 in the sixth with her second pinch-hit home run of the WCWS. The Gators threatened for more with runners at the corner with two outs, but Lorenz grounded out.
“I think just going into it, we’re still going to be playing good softball,” said Kvistad,
went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and home run. “That’s what we did today. We put up a good fight. And I think we’re going to go out even stronger. We know everyone in the lineup can turn the game over, and we’re going to work on that and get a good night’s rest and sit tomorrow and hopefully come out with a win.”
NCAA Division I Softball World Series Glance
At ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City
All Times EDT
Double Elimination; x-if necessary
Oregon 11, Arizona State 6
Washington 2, Oklahoma 0
Florida 11, Georgia 3, 5 innings
UCLA 7, Florida State 4
Washington 6, Oregon 2
UCLA 6, Florida 5
Saturday (All games on ESPN)
Game 7 — Oklahoma 2, Arizona State 0, ASU eliminated
Game 8 — Georgia (48-12) vs. Florida State (52-12), 3 p.m.
Game 9 — Florida (56-10) vs. Oklahoma (56-4), 7 p.m.
Game 10 — Oregon (53-9) vs. Game 8 winner, 9:30 p.m.
Game 11 — Washington (51-8) vs. Oklahoma-Florida winner, 1 p.m.
Game 12 — UCLA (58-5) vs. Game 10 winner, 3:30 p.m.
x-Game 13 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 9 loser, 7 p.m.
x-Game 14 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 9:30 p.m.
NOTE: If only one game is necessary, it will be played at 7 p.m.
Monday: Teams TBD, 7 p.m.
Tuesday: Teams TBD, 8 p.m.
x-Wednesday: Teams TBD, 8:30 p.m.