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UCLA softball survives scare from rival Arizona and clinches berth in Pac-12 final

PALO ALTO – Thirty years ago, Arizona defeated UCLA in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series en route to its third national championship.

The 1994 season marked another milestone: now-coach Kelly Inouye-Perez’s first year as an assistant at Westwood.

Inouye-Perez was no stranger to the bitter rivalry between the two programs. He played in his 1990s heyday, starring in three NCAA championship series against Arizona, winning them all once in 1992, in one of 21 national championships and 29 conference championships combined over 50 years for the programs.

So it’s only fair that after 37 years of Pac-12 softball, in the 149th contest and the last Pac-12 contest between the programs, redshirt senior catcher Sharlize Palacios fueled the rivalry, causing damage to her former equipment.

“It’s always a respectful fight between the two of us,” Inouye-Perez said. “I always say when you look at Arizona and UCLA, you have to look at every last pitch, every time.”

Led by Palacios’ two-run homer in the fifth inning, No. 1 UCLA softball (36-10, Pac-12 17-4) defeated No. 5 seed Arizona (34-16-1, 13-11 ) by a score of 6-5 to advance to the Pac-12 championship finals. The Bruins will now face No. 6 seed Utah (34-19, 10-13) on Saturday in the conference championship in a rematch of last year’s title game.

After the Wildcats added four unanswered runs off freshman pitcher Kaitlyn Terry, who allowed 19 in four games against Arizona, Inouye-Perez called up sophomore pitcher Taylor Tinsley for the first time since April 26.

Tinsley showed no signs of rust, subsequently pitching two innings of close softball, lifting the Bruins offense ready for a fifth-inning comeback.

“Cans are always going to be a competitor and that’s what we have in our arsenal,” Palacios said. “We have two really good pitchers who are going to throw their hearts out for us.”

Sophomore pitcher Taylor Tinsley waves her arm as she throws a pitch to a batter. Tinsley entered the fourth inning in her first appearance since April 26. (Karla Cardenas-Felipe/Daily Bruin)

A double by junior utility Savannah Pola and a single by senior utility Thessa Malau’ulu put two in scoring position for Pac-12 Player of the Year: Maya Brady.

The redshirt senior shortstop singled through the right side of the infield, scoring both runners. The play continued instantly when graduate student outfielder Jadelyn Allchin singled, scoring Brady.

Sounds familiar?

Now with a 4-3 game, Palacios came to the plate with the tying run at first.

Shadows of the day of the elderly.

After a lot of time in the trees beyond the right-center fence, with her former coach Mike Candrea in attendance, the former Wildcat once again caused damage to her former program with a two-run home run for a new Bruin lead.

The hit marked his 17th RBI against Arizona in his last seven games against Arizona.

UCLA would score one more in the inning on a bases-loaded walk by redshirt junior outfielder Madison Pacini.

Pola, who started the rally, said the Bruins focused on supporting each other entering the inning.

“We’re taking each game, day by day, and not focusing too much on the future,” Pola said. “We’re focusing on ourselves and what we can do.”

In the sixth, the Wildcats got one back on a home run by Olivia DiNardo, and the Bruins were held scoreless, bringing Tinsley back to the circle in the seventh for three more outs.

Land. Fly away. Free kick eliminated, caught by who else but Palacios.

UCLA won.

“I screamed and it looked a little strange, but I thought, ‘I don’t care, I’ll take it,’” Palacios said. “I literally held the ball in my glove the entire time.”