OMAHA — There was sharp fielding and there was some good hitting, but more than anything, , it was the pitching of Lisa Longaker, a freshman first-team All-American, that brought UCLA to the final of the softball College World Series.
UCLA hadn't allowed a run in four series games before Sunday, and Longaker had pitched 17 innings, allowing just four hits and earning three wins and a save.
The national championship trophy sat on a table just yards behind the backstop Sunday, and to claim it, the Bruins had only to win one of two games against Texas A&M. They didn't do it; and the Aggies, champions in 1983 and runners-up in two of the past three years, won the NCAA title for the second time.
Texas A&M edged UCLA, 1-0, in the first game on a perfect game by Shawn Andaya, another first-team All-American pitcher. The Aggies also went with Andaya in the second game, which they won, 4-1.
UCLA went with Michelle Phillips in the second game, instead of Longaker, who pitched the opener. Phillips had not thrown one pitch in a College World Series game.
"I thought starting (Phillips) might throw them off with her downball," said Sharron Backus, UCLA coach. "Obviously, it didn't."
Backus said Longaker had complained of a slightly pulled groin and a sore arm.
Texas A&M (56-8) opened the second game with three straight singles, scoring a run. The next batter walked, and Samantha Ford, who had pitched 13 innings in the series, came on in relief with none out in the first.
UCLA (50-10) eventually got back the run, but not until the sixth inning, after Texas A&M had taken a 4-0 lead.
The Aggies scored another run in the fourth and added two in the fifth, finishing with nine hits.
Andaya pitched three more perfect innings in the second game, losing the bid for another perfect game on her own error in the fourth. She lost her bid for a no-hitter in the fifth on a single by UCLA's Sandra Arledge. Janice Parks got the only other UCLA hit of the day, a double that drove in Arledge.
"It's heart size that counts when you get to the championship game," Backus said. "You either come out and play like we did, or you play like A&M did. (UCLA) played very well here only to get to the final and do this. That's disappointing to me. The character and heart size of our kids just wasn't here today."
Backus said Longaker had told her in the fourth inning of the first game "that if I wanted to take her out, it was OK."
"Shawn Andaya, you could not get a stick and beat her off that mound," Backus said.
Apparently, you couldn't beat her off the plate either.
"I wasn't even going to let her hit in the second game, and just let her pitch," said Bob Brock, Texas A&M coach. "But she said, 'I've been hitting all year. Please let me hit.' " It was a single by Andaya that drove in the first-inning run for the Aggies.
Andaya pulled a muscle running out a ground ball in the first game, and Brock had another pitcher warming up.
"Hey, I can go," Andaya told him after the first game, Brock said. "She got into a situation where she ended up pitching all our games. That's not exactly the way we planned it, but what an effort."
"I wanted to win," Andaya said.
Had UCLA won, it would have been the Bruins' fourth title in six years. UCLA won in 1982, 1984 and 1985, finished third in 1983 and failed to make the tournament last year.
NCAA Softball Notes
Florida State, which has four Orange County players in its starting lineup, was eliminated Friday, losing to Central Michigan, 1-0. The Seminoles (50-14) had lost to Cal State Fullerton Thursday in the first round of the double-elimination tournament. Sophomore first baseman Lori Crouse, junior pitcher Julie Larsen and junior shortstop Jill Bellamy are all Marina High School products. Freshman Debbie DeJohn, a pitcher who played designated player for the Seminoles, went to Westminster.