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Maxwell strikes out 11 in 2-hitter, Oklahoma beats UCLA 1-0 to reach Women's CWS semifinals

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kelly Maxwell delivered the breakout pitching performance Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso had been waiting for.

Maxwell threw a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts as the three-time defending national champion Sooners beat UCLA 1-0 on Saturday to reach the Women's College World Series semifinals.

Maxwell has been good all year, but not dominant like she was on Saturday. Gasso said the senior responded well to a conversation they had earlier in the day.

“She has not pitched free,” Gasso said. “That’s what’s been going on. So to see her do that today — something I’ll never forget.”

Maxwell threw 116 pitches, but looked as strong at the end as she did at the beginning. She struck out UCLA star Maya Brady three times. Seven of her strikeouts were against the top four players in the Bruins’ batting order.

“Kelly decided to throw one of the best games of her life today,” Gasso said. “There was no way we would be pulling her after the job she was doing.”

Tiare Jennings' solo homer in the third inning provided all the scoring for the second-seeded Sooners (56-6).

“Kelly was dealing, our team was fighting on defense,” Jennings said. “Today was just a dogfight. Continuing to hit the ball hard was the only thing I was thinking of. ”

Oklahoma earned a day off and would need to lose twice on Monday to be eliminated.

Freshman Kaitlyn Terry and sophomore Taylor Tinsley combined to allow just four hits for No. 6 UCLA, which saw its winning streak end at 14 games. The Bruins (43-11) will play in an elimination game Sunday against Stanford.

“Sometimes it’s not your day, it’s the pitcher’s day,” Brady said. “She came up with a lot of good pitches. I think we are good enough to say we didn’t play our best either. Obviously, she’s a great pitcher and she had great stuff working today.”

It lived up to the expectations of a game matching rival bluebloods. UCLA has the most World Series titles with 12 and Oklahoma is third with seven. UCLA beat Oklahoma for the 2019 championship — the last time the Sooners didn’t win. Oklahoma defeated UCLA in the semifinals in 2022.

In the top of the third inning, Oklahoma's Alynah Torres misjudged a high pop-up by Jadelyn Allchin and the ball hit her in the face. She left the game and did not return. The hitter was called out via the infield fly rule, but runners advanced to second and third with two outs. Maxwell struck out Sharlize Palacios to end the threat.

Gasso isn't sure if Torres will be available on Monday.

“She got it pretty good,” Gasso said. “Definitely could not go back in the game. She’s getting medical attention from our great doctors. We’ll see if she’ll be available. Fortunately we have the day off tomorrow, right?”

Jennings' homer was the 96th homer of her career, breaking a tie for third in Division I history with former Oklahoma star Lauren Chamberlain. Oklahoma nearly had more that inning, but Janelle Meono caught Kasidi Pickering’s deep fly ball against the wall for the second out, and UCLA escaped further damage.

UCLA got two on with one out in the sixth, but Maxwell escaped again. She got a fly ball out then notched her 10th strikeout to end the threat.

Maxwell faced Brady for the fourth time with two outs and none on in the seventh and forced her to ground out to end the game.

UCLA left seven runners on base, including three in scoring position.

“It’s the game,” Inouye-Perez said. “You have to clutch up with runners in scoring position. Like I say, they had one pitch, they capitalized, we didn’t. As a result, we’re going to take a different path.”

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports