UCLA softball showed 'grit, heart and versatility' on way to 2022 Women's College World Series
OKLAHOMA CITY — UCLA has made seven straight trips to the Women's College World Series, but 2022 will always hold a special place in Kelly Inouye-Perez's heart.
"Oh, 100 percent. I think I credit my coaches for finding different ways to find ways to win," the Bruins head coach said. "We weren't as loaded as we've been in the past. Last year we had a roster that I think you could have looked at and said it's over just by the names on it, but this year we didn't."
The Bruins leaned heavily on pitchers Megan Faraimo and Holly Azevedo — their first 20-win duo in 20 years — and then did their best to figure out the rest.
UCLA lost star outfielder Aaliyah Jordan — a senior leader and uber-consistent hitter — to a season-ending knee injury just eight games into the season. First baseman Kinsley Washington and utility Savannah Pola — two other big hitters — battled injuries as well.
That forced the Bruins to experiment with their lineups and positioning.
Yet, they still finished with 51 wins, the No. 5 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and in Oklahoma City like usual.
"Just a lot of grit, a lot of heart, a lot of versatility," Inouye-Perez said. "No one got to see what was happening behind the scenes this year. We just had different people in and out of the lineup. You didn't see it from our record. You didn't see it from how we were competing.
"Like I say, that's the biggest thing is we have been fortunate to have a highlight reel with UCLA softball for the last four to five years of some of these guys playing on this stage as freshmen. The highlight reel of them is real, and the expectations and what we expect of these players, but this is a year where different people stood up and they stepped up and had big moments.
"We always talk about versatility, but today -- this team we kind of almost went to the last length of our bench. I mean, Savi Pola is playing with nine fingers. I mean, really? We thought she was out too. As a freshman, I love that she got to get the experience and settle in and play. We thought she wasn't going to be able to finish the season. Kinsley wasn't supposed to finish. We've had a lot. Adversity provides an opportunity for different people to step up, and UCLA this year, I'm so proud of them for that."
On the final day of their season, the Bruins became just one of three teams this season to beat No. 1 Oklahoma, stunning the Sooners 7-3 in front of a heavily pro-OU crowd at Hall of Fame Stadium.
OU won the second game of the doubleheader to knock UCLA out of the WCWS, but their point had already been made.
"I think that it just kind of shows that we were a force to be reckoned with the whole time that maybe we didn't get the respect that we deserved," said Brady, who homered twice in the first game. "And I think that for us to come out and throw a punch against a team like that just shows that UCLA softball is still in the running and still deserves to be talked about.
"Whether people believed that or not, it didn't matter to us because we knew what we were capable of."
Even when the Bruins were facing a 15-0 deficit in the second game, their dugout was still clamoring about a comeback.
"At the end of the day, my team, we don't quit," Inouye-Perez said. "And I think that's what I'm so proud about them, and that's the DNA of UCLA softball. No matter how far you're down, you always have an opportunity. We just have to keep on punching. It wasn't our day on Game 2 today, but I'm very proud that we're standing here on day two with an opportunity."
Monday's loss ended the careers of a stellar senior class that won't be forgotten in Westwood.
Catcher/third baseman Delanie Wisz emerged as one of the best hitters in the country in the second half of the season, shortstop Briana Perez anchored the top of the lineup and was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Washington was one of the team's most consistent bats and Azevedo combined with Faraimo to create one of the nation's best 1-2 punches in the circle.
Brady teared up when talking about the upperclassmen, saying they are some of the best role models she's ever had and that they changed the program for the better.
Wisz credited her teammates for helping her fall in love with softball again.
"They left their mark, I think they said it best," Inouye-Perez said. "They left UCLA in a better place, and we kind of just went through that. Didn't get [Delanie] long enough to be able to have her be a four-year, five year (player), but Kinsley and Holly and Bri have definitely left the program in a better place. They took care of it. They were leaders. They shined. They performed. They're great students. They represent with class. Like I said, kind of jokingly, but they're very classy and sassy and a lot bad assy. I think that senior class has it all.
"We're going to miss them greatly, but they got us back to the World Series because we do have some young Bruins, and we're going to get some young Bruins coming in, but that senior class got us back four years in a row and that's a huge statement to be able to do that. For us to have a presence here, it comes down to leadership and experience, and we had that. That's why we're here."
“My teammates helped me fall back in love with the game.” 💙
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) June 7, 2022
“This senior class … has been the biggest role models that I’ve had.” 🥺
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) June 7, 2022