UCLA blanks Florida in 6 innings to reach WCWS semifinals

OKLAHOMA CITY — UCLA pitcher Holly Azevedo said her teammates created an “iced moment” by dumping water on her after Sunday’s victory.

She was pretty cool during the game, too. She threw a two-hit shutout and the fifth-seeded Bruins beat No. 14 Florida 8-0 in six innings Sunday to reach the Women’s College World Series semifinals and eliminate the Gators.

Azevedo (21-2) threw just 88 pitches, struck out two and walked one.

“I couldn’t do it without the people behind me,” she said. “Our defense was really, really on point today, and obviously we had a really good outing with offense.”

Kelli Godin, Maya Brady and Briana Perez each had two hits for the Bruins.

In other action Sunday, Estelle Czech allowed just one hit in 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, JJ Smith hit a three-run homer and Texas defeated Arizona 5-2 to also advance to the Women’s College World Series semifinals.

UCLA (50-9) will play No. 1 seed Oklahoma in the semifinals Monday and will have to beat the defending champion Sooners twice to reach the best-of-three championship series. The teams met in the championship series in 2019, with UCLA winning both games to claim the title. Oklahoma beat UCLA in an elimination game last year.

Texas (45-20-1) will play Big 12 rival Oklahoma State — the No. 7 overall seed — in the semifinals Monday. Because it is a double-elimination tournament to decide who plays in the best-of-three championship series and Texas already has a loss, the Longhorns would need to win twice Monday to advance. Oklahoma State, undefeated in the World Series so far, would need just one win to move on.

UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez isn’t worried about the fact that Oklahoma leads the nation in scoring, hitting and earned run average.

“We’ve got to be able to come out and play our game at the end of the day, and if we do that, then it will be a great day of softball,” she said. “That’s all that we’re focusing on right now.”

Florida (49-19) won its opener Thursday against Oregon State, but the Gators did not score in a loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday.

The struggles continued against UCLA.

“I think there was a lot of like, hits that we had that were hit hard, but it was right at people,” Florida’s Cheyenne Lindsey said. “You can’t really control where the ball goes, only your contact. I think that was a big part of it.”

Elizabeth Hightower (17-9) got the loss for the Gators after giving up two runs on three hits in 3 1/3 innings. Florida was the only Southeastern Conference team in the World Series field.

UCLA opened the scoring in the bottom of the second when Godin singled to score Savannah Pola.

UCLA looked like it might add some runs in the third. With one on and two outs, Alyssa Garcia lifted one deep to left field. Florida’s Katie Kistler leaped up against the wall and snagged it above the fence to end the inning.

The Bruins had runners on the corners with one out in the fourth when Florida shortstop Skylar Wallace — a second-team NFCA All-American — committed an error on a ground ball that allowed Pola to score.

Wallace failed to come up with another ground ball later in the inning. Briana Perez’s contact was ruled a single, and two runs scored to make it 4-0.

A single by Brady in the sixth knocked in two runs and gave UCLA a 6-0 lead. Pola then singled and scored two more to end the game.

Inouye-Perez said the Bruins figured things out as the game progressed.

“Those Florida pitchers were throwing some nasty stuff, and the strike zone started to be a little different,” she said. “You know, it was just a little different, so we had to make an adjustment. Super proud.”

Czech (12-1), a sophomore, retired the first eight batters she faced in relief of ace Hailey Dolcini on her way to helping Texas eliminate Arizona.

Both unseeded teams were unlikely to make it this far. Arizona (39-22) lost its first eight Pac-12 games and tied for last place in the league before getting hot during regionals and super regionals.

Texas had to win a regional at No. 13 Washington and a super regional at No. 4 Arkansas to qualify. Now, the Longhorns are four victories from a national title.

With Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the semifinals, it’s the first time three Big 12 teams have reached the semifinals and the first time since the Southeastern Conference in 2015 that any conference has had three of the final four teams.

Texas’ Courtney Day hit a solo homer in the bottom of the third to open the scoring.

Carlie Scupin’s hard single down the right-field line in the fourth knocked in Allie Skaggs and Amber Toven to give Arizona a 2-1 lead. Shortly after that, Czech replaced Dolcini with two runners on and struck out both batters she faced to escape.

Texas took the lead for good in its half of the fourth. Shortly after Devyn Netz replaced starter Hanah Bowen, Smith’s three-run blast gave Texas a 4-2 lead. It was just her second home run of the season.

Bowen (14-12) took the loss for Arizona.