LOS ANGELES — Coming off of a heart-breaking endurance contest on Thursday night, No. 12 Ole Miss took to the diamond to face No. 5 UCLA in game two of NCAA Super Regional play on Friday.
It was the longest game for Ole Miss this season in terms of time and was just eight minutes from the longest game in school history. But it was clear the Rebels didn’t miss a beat. Full of energy and smiles, Coach Mike Smith led the ladies in navy with an agenda— win or go home.
After fireplug ace Kaitlin Lee threw 191 pitches in the 8-7 extra-inning opener, Brittany Finney was in the circle on Friday night.
“I had a gut feeling today that I was going to go with Finney,” Smith said. “She’s had great outings the last three weeks of the regular season, and we just went with the hot hand.”
With Ole Miss being the home team in the matchup, the Bruin offense took the plate to start the game and came out hot. A fly ball just out of reach for Rebel left fielder Elantra Cox put Brianna Tautalafua on second. She was brought home on a Madeline Jelenicki daisy cutter to the shortstop. Finney was able to work out of the inning but not without a 1-0 Bruin lead.
“Today [the defense] came out with such a fire,” Finney said. “I knew that no matter what I was doing, I knew that— I could feel that they would have my back.”
After the Rebel bats left one runner in scoring position, Finney found her stuff yet again and jelly-legged the Bruins in order.
“I try to tell myself I’m the baddest pitcher out there,” Finney said. “I got a little caught up in the name of UCLA but was able to lock in and ask myself all day ‘why not us?’”
Down one, Alyssa Gonzalez stepped up to bat in the second. After reaching in all three at bats in her home state on Friday, she continued her hot streak with a single to left.
“I had a lot of family here tonight,” Gonzalez said. “It was amazing to have everyone here cheering me on, it gave me a boost to play the best I could.”
After a quick strikeout, Courtney Syrett was able to make contact. An errant throw by the Bruins’ shortstop made the fielder’s choice a double for Syrett and put pinch runner Bry Castro on third. Ole Miss left the runners stranded after two fly outs early in the at bats.
Finney came back out throwing pure cheddar and quickly retired the side. The Rebels couldn’t get anything going in the bottom of the third.
Leading off in the fourth inning, Bruin third baseman Tautalafua reached on a liner to right. Back to back ground balls saw the Rebels get the lead runners out at second base and brought Gabrielle Maurice to the plate with a runner on first and two outs. Maurice drove a ball up the middle that played off the gloves of two Rebel infielders and put two runners on base for UCLA. A fielder’s choice ended the inning.
To lead off the bottom half of the fourth inning, Gonzalez sent a humpback liner to left center for her fifth hit of the weekend. After Kaylee Horton was walked to put runners on first and second for Ole Miss, UCLA went to their bullpen and brought in their ace freshman Rachel Garcia to pitch. With no outs, Syrett laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt and moved the runners over. A quick fly out brought pinch hitter Dylan Stancil to the plate, but a strikeout would end the inning.
“We didn’t capitalize,” Smith said. “There were a couple times this year where we lost close games because we couldn’t get that big hit. Tonight was one of them.”
Nothing going for either team in the fifth, and to the sixth we went— the Rebels trailing still.
Having herself a day in the circle Finney sat down the Bruins’ two, three and four hitters on nine pitches.
“I came in today thinking nobody was going to touch me and I threw with everything I could,” Finney said.
The Rebel bats were unable to capitalize on a leadoff single from Finney, and UCLA went down swiftly. The game entered the final half inning with only one run on the scoreboard.
UCLA’s Garcia, who was a force to be reckoned with after she entered the game in the fifth inning, ended the Rebels’ magnificent year in order.
“This year was electric,” Smith said. “Nobody thought Ole Miss softball would be relevant, nobody thought we had a shot at going to Oklahoma City, nobody except the coaching staff, the administrative staff, and the people in the red and blue tonight. We’re a young ballclub still. Being able to play on this stage is brand new for us […] what these girls and my staff have done is beyond amazing, and I’m so proud. We think we can sit this time next year, at our place, and have a real conversation about going to Oklahoma City.”