Jordan Woolery's homer helps UCLA beat Alabama in Women's College World Series opener

UCLA's Jordan Woolery raises her fist and shouts as she rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run
UCLA's Jordan Woolery (15) celebrates hitting a three-run home run in sixth inning of the Bruins' 4-1 win over Alabama to open the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City on Thursday. (Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

Jordan Woolery knows how to make a good first impression.

The sophomore making her Women’s College World Series debut launched a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to lead UCLA to a 4-1 win over No. 14 Alabama on Thursday at Oklahoma City’s Devon Park.

The No. 6 Bruins (43-10) will play in the winners bracket Saturday at noon PDT (ABC) against No. 2 Oklahoma, which won 9-1 in six innings over No. 10 Duke on Thursday.

Woolery, last season’s Pac-12 freshman of the year, is part of a large UCLA sophomore class experiencing the World Series for the first time. Players arrived Monday and went through the gantlet of media interviews and promotional shoots.

Read more: Young pitchers star for UCLA softball's Women's College World Series run

Sensing the team needed extra guidance to navigate the grand stage, UCLA coaches pulled players into tight huddles after every inning instead of letting players go over adjustments on their own. UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez focused on keeping the messaging positive and hopeful.

“Game 1, I can tell you, is always the hardest,” she said. “I'm proud. We had a feel. We got experience. We got to settle in.”

UCLA entered as the hottest hitting team in the tournament. The sixth-seeded Bruins led the field with 7.8 runs per NCAA tournament game while hitting .395. However, only redshirt seniors Maya Brady and Jadelyn Allchin — who have previous World Series experience at UCLA and Washington, respectively — got a hit off Alabama’s Kayla Beaver the first two times through the lineup. An RBI single from Allchin in the bottom of the third gave UCLA an early edge.

Woolery grounded out in her first at bat and struck out in her second. Playing in front of thousands of fans who waited out a 96-minute weather delay, the first baseman admitted, “I let the moment get to me.”

She was happy to soak in the moment in the sixth inning as she rounded first base with both arms raised.

“I think I kind of blacked out after I hit it,” Woolery said with a wide grin.

Acknowledging the spotlight of the World Series, Inouye-Perez wanted to make sure both of her young pitchers entered the game. Freshman Kaitlyn Terry gave up four singles and a walk in a four-inning start. She was pulled in the fifth inning after giving up a leadoff hit.

Read more: Why UCLA basketball star Gabriela Jaquez joined the Bruins' softball team

Sophomore Taylor Tinsley entered in relief and soon the bases were loaded. She then got behind 3-0 on Lauren Johnson, leading to Alabama fans seated on the first-base line to chant, “Ball three! Ball three!”

“It definitely was a little bit, like, a lot,” Tinsley said of the environment with a bashful grin. “Look around and see how many people are there. I ended up just settling in, finding my focal point, playing the game.”

Tinsley forced a shallow popup to get Johnson out, then gave up an RBI single to Kenleigh Cahalan that tied the score before right fielder Megan Grant threw out Kali Heivilin, who was trying to score from second, to end the inning.

UCLA catcher Sharlize Palacios, right, tags out Alabama's Kali Heivilin at home during the fifth inning Thursday.
UCLA catcher Sharlize Palacios, right, tags out Alabama's Kali Heivilin at home during the fifth inning Thursday. (Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

“Our outfield especially is literally ridiculous,” Woolery said. “I knew Meg was going to come up with the play. … I think it kind of turned the momentum for us, too.”

It was UCLA's 12th win of the year when tied or trailing in the fifth inning or later. UCLA extended its winning streak to 14 games, the longest active streak in the country. The Bruins have not lost since April 27.

“We have found a way to win,” Inouye-Perez said. “As things get later in a game, we have the ability to make adjustments. That's something that I think you need to do, especially at this time of year.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.