UCLA can't capitalize on chances, falling to rival Oklahoma in Women's College World Series

One pitch, one mistake and now UCLA is one loss away from the end of its season.

The No. 6 Bruins lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to No. 2 Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series on Saturday at Devon Park as the three-time defending champion Sooners advanced to the national semifinals with a solo home run from shortstop Tiare Jennings and 11 strikeouts from pitcher Kelly Maxwell. The transfer from Oklahoma State dominated while the Bruins failed to piece together run support for underclassman pitchers Kaitlyn Terry and Taylor Tinsley, who held the Sooners to one run for the first time since April 7.

“Today, they were one pitch better than us,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “I’m proud of my team, proud of how we played, proud of how we defended, proud of both my pitchers on how they both competed. … I’m just proud and we’re not done yet.”

Read more: Sharlize Palacios brings peace and passion to UCLA's Women's College World Series run

UCLA (43-11) will play Pac-12 rival Stanford in an elimination game Sunday at 4 p.m. PDT (ESPN2).

Saturday’s titanic clash of the sport’s winningest program against the current dynasty featured the two longest-active winning streaks in the country. UCLA’s run of 14 consecutive wins ended while Oklahoma stretched its streak to 11 straight. The Sooners, who are trying to become the first program in history to win four consecutive NCAA softball championships, have won 20 straight NCAA tournament games. The Bruins were the last team to beat the Sooners (56-7) in the postseason in 2022.

Maya Brady was the hero in the 7-3 win that forced an “if necessary” game in the 2022 national semifinals, but the fifth-year senior couldn’t muster anything against Maxwell on Saturday.

The 2023 second-team All-American gave up just two hits and three walks in pitching a shutout.

“Sometimes it’s just not your day and it’s the pitcher’s day,” said Brady, who failed to reach base for the first time since April 21.

The top of UCLA’s lineup — Brady, Jadelyn Allchin and Sharlize Palacios, who are three of UCLA’s top four hitters by average — combined to go 0 for 10 at the plate with six strikeouts. Brady, who turned 23 years old Saturday, struck out three times, tying her career high in a game. She had a chance to keep the Bruins alive in the top of the seventh but grounded out to second to end the game.

Read more: How mental performance coach Armando Gonzalez helped UCLA softball find its edge

The Bruins, the only other program to win three consecutive NCAA titles, have lost three consecutive games to the Sooners. The previous two were by mercy rule with a combined score of 29-0.

Terry and Tinsley helped flip the script from offensive slugfest to defensive struggle as they dueled the veteran Maxwell.

Terry made her second consecutive start, giving up three hits, one run and three walks with four strikeouts in four innings. The single run — a leadoff shot from Jennings on the first pitch of the third inning — was the difference as Tinsley surrendered one hit with two strikeouts in scoreless relief.

Terry’s pivotal pitch wasn’t a miss by the freshman, Inouye-Perez said. The coach called a pitch that was too close to the zone against the Oklahoma star hitter.

Terry, a stoic competitor who reminds her coach of former national champion Rachel Garcia, turned around and laughed quietly.

“To me that tells me that my freshman pitcher is in a really good place, and she’s unshakable, she’s in her zone,” Brady said. “I think for all of us, we love seeing that. Tins went out there and did her thing. … They definitely gave us an opportunity to go up and score some runs for them.”

UCLA, which had thrived in the postseason with timely hitting, left seven on base.

The Bruins had two on with no outs in the top of the third with the top of the order coming up.

With Brady up to bat, the Sooners called time out. Maxwell then struck out the UCLA slugger and retired Allchin and Palacios to end the threat.

Jennings homered on the game’s next pitch.

“Felt like two heavyweights going back and forth,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said.

“This is one of those good old-fashioned pitching duels. It’s fun but it’s gut-wrenching.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.