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Strange Ending Is Not a Happy One for Bruins

Softball: Oklahoma wins national title as game ends when umpire's ruling catches UCLA baserunner off guard.

May 30, 2000|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OKLAHOMA CITY — UCLA's bid for a second consecutive NCAA women's softball championship came to a sudden and stunning end Monday in the seventh inning of its 3-1 loss to Oklahoma in the championship game.

With runners on first and second and two out, Crissy Buck of the Bruins was called out for trying to advance from second base between pitches, bringing an abrupt end to the nationally televised game.

According to NCAA rules, runners can't advance while the pitcher has the ball in the pitching circle.

Buck's baserunning error took the bat out of the hands of Natasha Watley, UCLA's leading hitter who was three for three Monday.

"Crissy Buck's perception was she thought the pitcher was out of the circle, which would have allowed her to go to third," UCLA Coach Sue Enquist said. "I know if Crissy had it to do over again, she wouldn't have done it. You always want hustle but you want smart hustle."

Second baseman Lyndsey Klein had scored for the Bruins on a similar play against Washington earlier in the Women's College World Series. That time, Husky pitcher Jamie Graves wasn't in the circle with the ball.

This time, though, first-base umpire Lisa Harvey ruled that Sooner pitcher Jennifer Stewart was in the circle.

Enquist initially protested the call, believing that Buck was already off the bag before Stewart stepped into the circle with the ball. If so, Buck could have advanced had she not hesitated.

Enquist later said the call was made correctly.

"My perception was I wanted a clarification from the umpire," she said. "It is such a tough call.

"I just had to clarify that the umpire was making a ruling on the correct situation."

In front of a record crowd of 8,049 at Don Porter Hall of Fame Stadium, Buck singled to center with a one out in the seventh. Lupe Brambila then reached on an error, her potential double-play grounder rolling between the legs of Oklahoma shortstop Kelli Braitsch.

Stewart then retired Amanda Freed on a fly ball to left for the second out. As the pitcher took the ball back and her infield teammates surrounded her in the circle, Buck saw third base open and made her ill-advised move, sprinting toward the bag.

Stewart was startled.

"I heard the UCLA fans cheering and I looked over at third base," she said. "Then I saw the umpire say 'Out.' I had no idea at all. I just saw [our] coaches running out after me.

"I was in the circle. I was on the pitching mound, actually."

The victory gave Oklahoma (66-8) its first national title in any women's sport and made the Sooners the first team from outside the West to win the softball championship since Texas A&M in 1987.

UCLA finished 46-12-1.

Freed, the Bruins' ace, matched a season high with 13 strikeouts but gave up eight hits.

Stewart was better. The Oklahoma sophomore struck out only one but didn't walk any while effectively pinpointing the outside corner of the plate to negate a good-hitting UCLA team.

"They're a good hitting team," Stewart (34-6) said of the Bruins. "They like to turn on the ball. I threw a rise every once in a while or a drop. I kept everything pretty much on the outside corner and got them to pull the outside pitches."

Stewart's lone strikeout came in the sixth inning against Klein, who had hit home runs in her first two World Series games.

"It was big," Stewart said. "I hadn't had a strikeout all game and I wasn't expecting a strikeout."

As she had in the semifinals against Arizona, when her home run gave the Sooners a 1-0 victory, Lisa Carey provided a lift for Oklahoma. With a runner on in the third inning, she hit a 2-and-1 pitch from Freed onto the canopy over the left-field stands to give the Sooners a 2-0 lead.

"I was looking for her off-speed [pitch]," Carey said. "It was a great pitch. I saw it big and I hit it."

Oklahoma added a third run in the inning on a run-scoring single by Braitsch.

UCLA, which had won 15 consecutive playoff games dating to last season, had chances to overcome the deficit but couldn't make the most of its opportunities.

The Bruins put runners on first and third in the third inning, but Julie Adams grounded to short to end the threat. Julie Marshall opened the fourth with a double, but pinch-runner Erin Rahn was picked off by Oklahoma catcher Ashli Barrett.

In the sixth, Watley led off with her third hit and Adams moved her to third with a single. Marshall brought Watley home with a sacrifice fly, making the score 3-1, and Adams advanced to second on the throw home.

Klein, though, struck out and Stewart then got Tairia Mims to fly out to right.

"She did a good job coming right at us," Klein said of Stewart. "We weren't as aggressive as we would have liked to be today."

Said Enquist: "Lyndsey has been so clutch for us all year and when [Stewart] got her, I saw it took some gas out of us."

Oklahoma Coach Patty Gasso, a Long Beach State graduate, wanted her team to be mentioned with the same regard as UCLA and other national powers. Now the Sooners are champions.

"I think we're for real," said Gasso, whose roster included only one senior. "I know we're for real and I hope others think we're for real."

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