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UCLA: No Mercy for Arizona, 4-2 : NCAA softball: Bruins end Wildcats' string, win national title.


OKLAHOMA CITY — Kelly Howard hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning and UCLA held on to defeat Arizona, 4-2, Monday in the championship game of the Women's College World Series in front of 4,745 at Hall of Fame Stadium.

Arizona (66-6), winner of the last two national titles and ranked No. 1 for seven of 10 weeks this season, had reeled off seven consecutive victories by Mercy Rule before facing UCLA, which had defeated the Wildcats in three of four meetings in Pacific 10 Conference play this season.

The Mercy Rule specifies that a game be called if one team leads by eight runs after five innings.

The Bruins, finishing 50-6, notched their unprecedented eighth NCAA championship.

"When this team got together in the huddle, our goal was not just to get here. Our goal was to win here and I guarantee [Arizona Coach] Mike Candrea and his team were saying the same things," Sue Enquist, UCLA co-coach, said.

After Arizona's Leah O'Brien singled up the middle to drive in Krista Gomez and tie it, 2-2, in the top of the fifth, UCLA promptly responded in its half of the inning.

Ginny Mike led off the inning for the Bruins and reached when first baseman Amy Chellevold dropped a sure put-out throw by third baseman Gomez. Then came Howard, who had grounded out to second in her two previous at-bats.

"When I stepped up to the plate, I definitely wasn't thinking home run," said Howard, the Bruins' leadoff batter and second-team All-American. "I was thinking first strike, swing. I didn't want a good pitch to go by."

It didn't. Instead, she punched the first pitch over the right-field fence and sent the rest of Bruins flying out of the dugout.

"We're so proud of the performance we showed today," Enquist said. "It was important as a group that we went in and attacked."

Five Bruins combined for eight hits off Arizona sophomore right-hander Carrie Dolan (33-2).

Tanya Harding, an Australian pitcher who arrived at UCLA in midseason, shut down the hard-hitting Wildcats when she needed to and allowed only six hits from a team that averages 11.

Harding (17-1), who struck out four, yielded singles by Chellevold and O'Brien to start the game, but struck out the next three batters to escape harm.

In the second, Arizona's Alison Johnsen scored on a fielder's choice by Gomez to give the Wildcats their only lead, 1-0.

The Bruins answered minutes later on a two-run double by Jenny Brewster.

"When I first hit it, [right fielder Brandi Shriver] wasn't moving so I thought she was under it," Brewster said.

But Shriver misplayed the line drive, actually taking two steps forward before realizing the ball was over her head.

"I thought today we didn't help ourselves with the mistakes," said Candrea, who has faced the Bruins in four of the last five title games. "We kind of put our backs against the wall.

"[But] we had a helluva year and I'm not gonna let anything take that away from us."

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