Langenfeld's HR in 8th lifts UCLA
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Megan Langenfeld remembers being a shy freshman, trying to work up the nerve to ask John Wooden a question during a visit to the famed coach's home.
Three years later as a national player of the year finalist, she's doing her part to build onto the "Pyramid of Success" at UCLA, just days after Wooden died at age 99.
Langenfeld hit a game-ending homer in the eighth inning Monday night to lift the Bruins to a 6-5 victory over Arizona in the opener of the Women's College World Series finals, moving them within one win of the national championship.
Hays: Game 1 A Classic
If UCLA and Arizona were newcomers to the Women's College World Series final, they might be in awe of the Game 1 classic. But both teams are too experienced to get caught up in the moment, writes ESPN.com's Graham Hays. Story
"I think there's something special that's going on right now, and he's definitely in our hearts and our minds," said Langenfeld, who homered twice and drove in three runs. "It's something that we hold dear to us."
Langenfeld and her teammates on the fifth-seeded Bruins (49-11) have spent the season building their own "Pyramid of Success," modeled after Wooden's creation on his way to 10 NCAA basketball championships, out of softballs. Each core tenet is linked to a current or former player in the program as the stack grows toward the top.
"Now, we've gotten all the way up to competitive excellence, and we saved that one for the team," Langenfeld said. "No one person has that block. It's for the team."
To achieve it, the Bruins need only to win once more against their longtime rival at the top.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Tuesday night.
UCLA and Arizona have combined to win 18 of the sport's 27 World Series titles, and the two powerhouses sure put on a show down the stretch.
Monica Harrison's two-run double with two out in the sixth clipped the outside of the left-field foul line and put UCLA up 4-2, but that was only the start of the drama.
Arizona (52-13) answered with back-to-back homers by K'Lee Arredondo and Stacie Chambers to go ahead in the seventh. Arredondo's opposite-field drive just cleared the wall in left-center for a two-run shot. Chambers then blasted a mammoth drive that ricocheted off an elevated camera positioned beyond the bleachers in center.
Just when the 10th-seeded Wildcats looked as if they were going to win, they found a way to let UCLA back in it.
Brittany Lastrapes and Lauren Schutzler swerved to avoid a collision on Dani Yudin's potential game-ending fly ball to left-center, allowing it to fall between them for a double. After Julie Burney -- who hit the winning homer in one of the teams' regular-season meetings -- was intentionally walked, Kaila Shull tied it at 5 with an RBI double off Karissa Buchanan's outstretched glove at the track in right.
Then Langenfeld, who gave up the back-to-back homers before being replaced by Aleah Macon (12-1), came up with the biggest hit of all. She pumped her right fist in the air twice after rounding first and was mobbed by her teammates when she made it to home plate.
She said it was the best moment of her career.
"Nothing out there has ever been bigger," Langenfeld said. "I know we still have a game tomorrow but it feels pretty good tonight."
The Bruins are seeking their 11th NCAA title, not counting the one that was vacated, but their first under coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. She won three championships as a catcher for UCLA.
The Wildcats have won four of their previous six meetings in the finals, with one of UCLA's wins coming in the 1995 championship that's been erased from the record books. The last meeting came in 2001, when the championship was still decided in a single game.
All eight of Arizona's championships have come under Mike Candrea, who also coached the U.S. to gold and silver medals in the Olympics.
"You know when you're going into a game against UCLA, it's going to be a prize fight and the last one standing is the one that wins," Candrea said. "It's fun. To me, that's why we play the game."
The Pac-10 rivals took opposite paths to get to the finals. The Bruins powered their way through the earlier rounds, never trailing while racking up a World Series-record eight homers along the way. The Wildcats suffered a mercy rule blowout in their opening game against Tennessee, but fought back to win four straight elimination games over two days to make the championship series.
Just three years ago, Arizona fought its way through the losers' bracket to reach the final, then charged back from a loss to Tennessee in Game 1 of the finals to win its second straight championship.
"We've fought so hard. There's no reason we can't come back and beat this team two times in a row," said Arredondo, one of two players left from the 2007 championship team. "We just have to believe in ourselves and if we keeps our heads down, that's not going to happen. That's why I told everyone, 'Just keep your heads up and believe, and we can do it.'"
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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