UCLA slugs its way to 11th title
OKLAHOMA CITY -- With a patched-up finger at the conclusion of an injury-hampered season, Megan Langenfeld came up with two key swings that powered UCLA to another NCAA softball title.
Langenfeld homered for the third time in two games to set off a record-setting offensive show by UCLA in a 15-9 win over Arizona on Tuesday night that clinched the program's 11th Women's College World Series championship.
Hays: New Legacy at UCLA
As a lifelong Bruin, Kelly Inouye-Perez understood the pressure associated with coaching UCLA. She's had her doubters and difficult moments but, like her national championship-winning team, rose to the occasion when it mattered most, writes ESPN.com's Graham Hays. Story
Andrea Harrison hit the first grand slam in the World Series finals, and Julie Burney and Samantha Camuso also homered for the Bruins (50-11) as a matchup of college softball's two most successful programs turned into a home run derby.
Stacie Chambers went deep twice and Lini Koria hit a solo shot for Arizona (52-14) as the teams combined to set a World Series record with seven long balls in the game. Ten of the 29 previous World Series didn't have that many home runs during the entire event.
But in this new offensive era, the championship trophy is headed back to a familiar place.
"I was just a small part of it," Langenfeld said. "A bunch of little things add up to a big, great thing, and that's a national championship for UCLA."
It's the first title for UCLA since the program won back-to-back trophies in 2003 and 2004, and the first won by fourth-year coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. She won three NCAA championships as a catcher for the Bruins between 1989 and 1992.
A 12th title for the Bruins, won in 1995, was later vacated due to NCAA rules infractions.
Wearing black armbands with the initials of late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and a school flag flying at half-staff in center field, the fifth-seeded Bruins batted around in the second and fifth innings while setting a championship-round record for scoring. Just days earlier, they set a World Series record by scoring 16 runs in their opening game.
The 24 runs scored in the game were five more than in any previous World Series game.
"We knew that we had a little something in the sky, and at this point in the season we'll take anything that we can get," Inouye-Perez said. "Some things may bounce a different way, things may happen, but I think the bottom line: he was with us and we felt it, and he was the extra push that helped us get over the hump."
Langenfeld was unanimously voted the event's Most Outstanding Player after going 12-for-17 with four home runs and nine RBIs. She reached base in 18 of her 23 plate appearances, also drawing four walks and getting hit by a pitch twice. The national player of the year finalist was the winning pitcher in UCLA's first three wins at the World Series and hit the winning home run in the eighth inning of UCLA's 6-5 victory against Arizona in Game 1 of the finals.
Langenfeld, who missed 11 games this season due to injury, had super-glued her blistered pinkie finger together so she'd be able to pitch in the opener.
"She's had a great career, a phenomenal career. She's left her name in the record books," Inouye-Perez said. "But to finish the way that she did, she'll have this memory for a lifetime."
After that thrilling opener to the best-of-three series a night earlier, the Bruins took much of the drama out of the clincher early.
Mike Candrea -- who has won eight national championships as Arizona's coach -- had indicated he wouldn't let Langenfeld have the chance to do damage after she homered twice during Game 1, but he relented with a runner on first in the first inning.
Langenfeld made the Wildcats pay with an opposite-field shot to left for an early 2-0 lead.
"It was there and you just had to take it," Langenfeld said. "They weren't going to give us anything tonight. We had to earn it, and we did. It feels great."
When Candrea decided to pitch around her, that strategy didn't work, either. Langenfeld was walked with first base open to load the bases in the second, and Harrison powered her 17th home run of the season into the right-field bleachers to make it 6-0.
The duo each hit a World Series-record four home runs as UCLA smashed the team record by hitting 14 over the course of the event. A total of 35 homers went out of the park in the 15 World Series games, breaking the record of 28 set last year.
All those long balls came despite the decision to move the walls in right and left field back from 190 to 200 feet and make them 2 feet taller, an attempt to counter some of the power brought into the game by composite-barreled bats.
"We tried to do what we could to make it a football game and a pretty close football game," Candrea said. "Unfortunately, we missed a few extra points and a couple field goals."
Burney hit a line-drive, three-run shot to straightaway center in a seven-run fifth inning for the Bruins, as they responded immediately after Arizona scored three times in the fourth off Aleah Macon (13-1) to get within 7-4.
Langenfeld, who was pulled from first base and sent to warm up in the bullpen during Arizona's rally, then smashed a one-hop single off the left leg of reliever Sarah Akamine, and the next nine UCLA batters also reached base to widen the gap to 14-4.
Kenzie Fowler (38-9), who won four straight elimination games over two days to get the Wildcats into the finals, came out after she hit B.B. Bates in the helmet with a pitch to open the second inning. By that point, the freshman had thrown 706 pitches in a week.
"I told you I was going to ride her as much as I can. On the other hand, when she can't feel the ball, it's time," Candrea said. "I'm going to always put her health in front of a competition."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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