June 23, 2024

You couldn’t have written a better final chapter. UCLA and Arizona, two of the nation’s powerhouses, two blue bloods in softball, meeting one last time as Pac 12 rivals on Senior Day with Glendale, Ariz.,-born freshman pitcher Kaitlin Terry in the circle for the Bruins and Arizona transfer Sharlize Palacios hitting a game-tying grand slam to put an exclamation point on a seven-run fifth inning.

Despite going into the fifth staring down a 7-0 hole, while being no-hit by Wildcats starting pitcher Aissa Silva, Palacios and the Bruins never lost faith that they could pull off a win.

“Honestly, the Bruins don’t sweat that,” Palacios said. “Our mentality is we’re going to come back. That’s the Bruin magic, the mental process with everything that we do. We just believe in ourselves and we’re going to bet on ourselves every time.”

Right fielder Megan Grant led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run to end Silva’s perfect game and finally put UCLA on the board. Taylor Stephens and Ramsey Suarez followed up with back-to-back singles to get some much-needed runners on base. Thessa Malau’ulu then forced a walk to load the bases for senior Maya Brady, and she capitalized with a two-run double to trim the Bruins’ deficit to 7-3 with two outs in the inning.

“I feel like it was never really about seven or tying the game, it was really just about getting one,” Brady said. “And I think it just shows that when we bind to a plan and we’re all super committed, and we’re all working towards one goal, we can really accomplish anything.”

The rally wouldn’t stop there however, as infielder Jadelyn Allchin took first after being hit by a pitch to load the bases once again. That’s when Palacios completed the comeback against her former team and tied the game up with one swing of the bat, sending Easton Stadium into a frenzy that hadn’t been heard since the first inning.

“I think I just lock in a little bit more against them. But it’s definitely just the same game and I just try my best to stay composed and stay Sharlize,” Palacios said. “All the teams that we play are gutsy, they’re a really great team and we all gut it out. But at the end of the day, I’m happy that the Bruins were able to come out on top and just give it all we had.”

The rivalry between UCLA and Arizona in softball can best be described as a clash of titans. In the 40 years of NCAA Division I softball championships, these two schools have combined for 20 of them. UCLA notably beat Arizona in the 2010 College World Series to clinch their 11th national title. Every time they play the Wildcats, Bruins coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who has been with the program since her freshman year in 1989, knows it’s going to be a dogfight, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The best part about the rivalry, or just being in the Pac 12, is exactly that: the memories, the stories,” Inouye-Perez said. “There’s so many epic battles and today was a perfect example of that. … Every time we play Arizona, it’s an offensive battle. And you got to keep watching. We’ve been down, they’ve been up, and the history speaks for itself.”

The rivalry has been one of Brady’s favorite things about softball in general, predating her Bruin career.

“They’re two of the greatest programs in college softball,” Brady said. “So just to be a part of that, and especially getting to be a part of the last one, it’s just such an honor and they always have great players … it’s just a super historic rivalry that’s sadly coming to an end.”

Malau’ulu’s experience with this rivalry goes back way further than her softball career: her father, George, played quarterback at Arizona, so she’s grown up around it all her life. To her, it felt meant to be that her last home game would be against the Wildcats.

Malau’ulu also left her mark in the bottom of the sixth inning, when she zipped a two-out RBI single to give the Bruins the lead and eventually, the win. The icing for her? Seeing her Wildcat dad in the stands decked out in UCLA gear.

The Bruins added a few more runs to secure an 11-7 comeback win, the last one in this historic matchup as conference realignment — and the end of the Pac 12 as we know it — looms in the horizon. Next year, the Bruins will be playing in the Big Ten while the Wildcats take play in the Big 12. It was a final chapter fit for a storied matchup.

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