Missouri entered its NCAA Softball Super Regional on a hot streak, having won 17 of its last 21 games and having clubbed 75 home runs.
On Saturday and Sunday, however, UCLA displayed its own hitting prowess to sweep the best two-out-of-three series in Los Angeles. And Missouri sophomore right-hander Tori Finucane was taken to a hospital after she was struck in the face by a line drive in the fifth inning on Sunday.
After rallying from a 4-1 deficit to take Saturday’s opener 7-4, the seventh-seeded Bruins hit three home runs to build a 9-1 lead in the fourth inning and withstood a late comeback to prevail 10-6 Sunday and advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Kelsea Roth hit two home runs and Emily Crane and Amanda Sanchez each added two hits and one RBI for the Tigers. Freshman left-hander Paige Lowary (18-7) was dealt her second defeat in as many days, allowing seven runs on eight hits with four walks and two strikeouts in five innings.
“I’m proud of my team for fighting — it’s an earmark of our program,” Missouri head coach Ehren Earleywine said. “We didn’t pitch our best when we needed our best and give credit to UCLA. They were just better.”
Freshman Selena Ta’amilo relieved Bruins starter Ally Carda (31-6) in the seventh inning, striking out Morgan Walters, getting Natalie Fleming to ground out and striking out Taylor Gadbois to end the game.
“Of course we were the underdogs but we came here (in 2009) like the Beverly Hillbillies and won and I thought we had a great shot at advancing this weekend, but all things considered with the pitching injuries we did as much as we were going to do.”
After UCLA tied the game on Mysha Sataraka’s RBI single in the top of the second inning, Gabrielle Maurice scored on an error to put the Bruins ahead for good and Delaney Spaulding followed with a two-run homer to make it 4-1. In the third, Sataraka clouted a two-run homer and in the fourth Stephany LaRosa hit a three-run homer to increase UCLA’s lead to 9-1.
“We didn’t even think about giving up,” Roth said. “Being 9-1 down is nothing to us. We weren’t going out that way. Our mentality was just to get on base and go from there.”
The 10th-seeded Tigers (42-16) loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the first and Sanchez singled up the middle to score Gadbois, but Carda induced a pop fly to shortstop and struck out Kirsten Mack and Roth to escape further damage.
Sami Fagan slid home ahead of the tag on a single by Mack in the bottom of the fifth to make it 9-2, but Kayla Kingsley was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
A scary incident occurred with two outs in the top of the fifth inning when Tigers relief pitcher Tori Finucane was hit in the face by a hard line drive off the bat of UCLA’s Kylee Perez and had to be helped back to the dugout.
She was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where her vital signs were normal and she remained responsive.
Finucane was treated and released after a CT scan review. Earleywine said she had a lump over her left eye and a swollen cheekbone. She was bleeding from the nose when she left the game.
Lowary re-entered the game and Allexis Bennett fouled out to third with the bases loaded.
Finucane allowed three runs on three hits with three strikeouts in two innings.
Carda led off the top of the sixth with a double and scored on LaRosa’s fly to right, her fourth RBI of the game, to give UCLA a 10-2 lead.
Roth homered to lead off the bottom of the frame and with the bases loaded and no outs, Crane beat out a roller to first to score Alyssa Cousins. After Fagan fouled out and Sanchez struck out, Corrin Genovese drew a bases-loaded walk to force home Fleming, but Mack struck out to end the inning.
“Carda’s a really good pitcher and I had to be aggressive in that situation,” Sanchez said of her last at-bat. “It was a good pitch that got me and she won that battle.”
Sanchez grew up in nearby West Covina and enjoyed a stellar prep career at La Puente Bishop Amat.
Roth led off the seventh with her 14th homer, giving the Tigers 79 home runs in 58 games — their second highest single-season total in program history. Missouri had 82 homers in 59 games in 2005. The Tigers have made the Super Regionals seven times in Earleywine’s nine seasons, posting a 7-9 overall record.
▪ Defending champion Florida leads five Southeastern Conference teams that qualified for the eight-team Women’s College World Series, which begins Thursday. Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and LSU join the Gators in the field.