Somewhere up there, John Wooden must be smiling. His Bruins just captured another national title, this one in softball.
They buried University of Arizona in a record-setting offensive barrage that lasted two games.
Wooden’s sport was basketball, but he kept an eye on the softball program, from the day he made a congratulatory call to Kelly Inouye-Perez when she first got the head coach’s job four years ago. At his invitation, she often sought out coaching advice from the Wizard of Westwood.
This year, her Bruins had the scoring ability of Wooden’s championship teams of the ’70s.
UCLA rolled over University of Arizona in two straight wins to earn its 11th NCAA Championship, returning the program to the prominence it enjoyed throughout the ’80s and ’90s. The Bruins and Wildcats, who have eight national titles of their own, were the dominant teams during that era. They last met in the national championship games in 2001.
UCLA won Monday’s game, 6-5, on a walk-off home run by the pitcher, Megan Langenfeld, to break a tie in the eighth inning. It was one of the best games ever between these two teams, as the lead changed hands five times and the scored was tied four times before going into extra innings.
UofA’s K’Lee Arrendondo hit her second home run of the series and Stacie Chambers added another. Kenzie Fowler pitched 7.2 innings and posted 12 strike-outs.
Then the next night, the Bruins wrapped up the championship with a 15-9 victory, as everyone in the line-up was able to get at least one hit. They piled up 19 hits, four of which were home runs.
UCLA went up 2-0 off a two-run homer in the first inning by Langenfeld and then Monica Harrison hit the first grand slam in WCWS history in the second to make it 6-0. But the game really began to unravel in the fifth when the Bruins put together seven consecutive hits and 10 consecutive batters reached base.
Stacie Chambers did all she could for the UofA effort, hitting her 21st and 22nd home runs, one in the fifth and another in the sixth, each for two runs apiece.
Kenzie Fowler, who started the game and was pulled after hitting the first batter in the second inning and apparently running out of steam after throwing almost 34 full innings in four days , finished the year with an impressive 38-9 record – the second-best freshman season in Arizona history.
Fowler was named to the All-Tournament Team, along with teammates K’Lee Arredondo, Brittany Lastrapes, and Karissa Buchanan.
All season long, the Bruin players have used the principles of Wooden’s famous ‘Pyramid of Success’ to guide them in their quest for another championship. When he passed away Friday at age 99, they added black armbands with his initials for each player.
Wooden might have been the ‘tenth player’ for the Bruins as they took the field against Arizona.
After the game, Coach Inouye-Perez admitted, “We had a little something up in the sky… We felt (Coach Wooden) was with us, and gave us that extra push.”
But as important as that inspiration has been, it was the Bruins’ power at the plate that carried them through the Women’s College World Series, just as it has all season long.
Arizona and UCLA have been two of the most potent offenses in the country this year. This Bruin squad is the best power-hitting team in school history.
The two teams combined for 23 hits in Monday’s game, the most in a WCWS championship game. And then came back in the finale to set yet another record, combining for 27 hits!
The Bruins finished the season with 108 home runs, more than any team in school history. And, what’s even more important, this team had depth to their power. During this year’s series, all nine starters have homered.
In 2007, Arizona won the national championship when they lost the first game and came back to win two straight to beat Tennessee.
This year, UCLA didn’t give them that opportunity.