WCWS 2019: UCLA in control -- and rested -- with Game 1 rout
OKLAHOMA CITY -- When a UCLA player hits a home run, assistant coach Kirk Walker tosses the hitter a piece of candy as she rounds third. He might need to make a supply run after the Bruins' offensive explosion against Oklahoma in Game 1 of the Women's College World Series on Monday night.
UCLA sent four balls over the fence en route to its 16-3 victory. For a team that had hit only 70 homers on the season before this game, that's a lot of candy. The Bruins, somewhat surprisingly, turned in an offensive performance closer to the type that has come to define Oklahoma.
The Sooners had two home runs of their own -- two solo shots -- but the offensive display from UCLA that came as OU crumbled defensively rendered whatever output Oklahoma could muster meaningless.
Even though the score was lopsided, a lot happened in the game. Here's a breakdown of some of the key moments.
Jocelyn Alo stepped to the plate with runners on the corners and the Sooners down by two runs after three uncharacteristic errors by OU in the top of the third. UCLA ace Rachel Garcia had already given up a home run to Shay Knighten. Alo had hit an absolute bomb the previous night against Alabama. It was a moment that could have become the moment for Oklahoma to get back into the game.
It sure felt like that was about to happen the second Alo made contact with the ball. It soared to right field and the Oklahoma fans in the stadium let out a cheer of anticipation. But unlike on Sunday night, the ball fell just short of the fence and right into UCLA outfielder Aaliyah Jordan's glove. That ended up being the best, and last, chance for the Sooners to reclaim the lead and control of Game 1.
Rachel Garcia watch
It's hard to top an outing like the one Garcia had against Washington on Sunday, but luckily for Garcia, such a Herculean effort was not required of her in Game 1. Even though she wasn't as sharp as we've seen her in the tournament -- and who could blame her after a 179-pitch outing Sunday -- she threw only 61 pitches. That's the real victory for UCLA.
Garcia was able to limit the wear and tear on her body and pitched with almost no pressure thanks to the cushion she was given after the third inning. She even got to take two innings off when UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez put freshman Megan Faraimo in the circle for the sixth inning and sophomore Holly Azevedo in for the seventh with the game in hand.
A note of concern is that Garcia did give up yet another home run. She has allowed 10 of her season-total 13 since May 1. Against the Sooners, who have more home runs than any team this season, that's a vulnerability worth watching.
Kinsley Washington was already safe at first. The UCLA speedster hit a well-placed ground ball to Oklahoma shortstop Grace Lyons. It dribbled just out of the reach of OU pitcher Giselle Juarez, allowing Washington to make it to first cleanly. Instead of eating the play, Lyons tried to make a play, and threw the ball off-balance, on the run, over to first. And right over Knighten's head.
The error not only allowed Washington to scoot over to second, but it was the initial wheel to come off for the Sooners, who ended up committing an uncharacteristic three errors in the inning that led to two UCLA runs.
UCLA second baseman Kinsley Washington went 4-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored. The bottom of the UCLA order with Washington and Kelli Godin leading into leadoff hitter -- and Bruins RBI leader -- Bubba Nickles was deadly for the Sooners.
How OU can turn it around
Oklahoma has to tighten up. To force a third game, the Sooners are going to have to make the plays that got them here. The combination of their offensive firepower and defensive consistency has made OU the best team all year. If Oklahoma has four errors again Tuesday, it's over. Monday, the Sooners actually got a home run off of Rachel Garcia (and another off Faraimo). If the errors hadn't happened and the game had become a tense battle instead of an offensive romp for the Bruins, the outcome could have been different.
How UCLA can sweep
The Bruins need to come out and do exactly what they did Monday. They've outscored Oklahoma 23-4 in the two games they've played this season. UCLA is firmly in the driver's seat. If the Bruins execute the way they've proved they can against the Sooners, they'll win their 12th national championship on Tuesday night.
It's hard to bet against Oklahoma, especially this Oklahoma team. The Sooners are going to come out and fight hard Tuesday, but it's difficult to see how the Bruins don't sweep. Beyond this game being a statement game for the UCLA offense, Garcia will be rested. The Bruins have seen every pitcher Oklahoma has to offer -- even outfielder Nicole Mendes -- and hit them all out of the circle.