Softball’s version of the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees takes place today at Oklahoma City. It also rivals — an appropriate word — Duke vs. North Carolina in college basketball and Michigan vs. Ohio State in college football.
The Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins will meet for the 16th time in softball’s grandest stage today at 4 p.m. in a winners bracket game. They face each other 31 years after their first Women’s College World Series encounter in front of a sparse crowd at the Twin Creeks Sports Complex in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Mention of that game — won by UCLA 5-0 in a 1988 semifinal game — was buried within the sports section of the daily newspaper. Televised games were nothing but a pipe dream. Players were obscure. Mike Candrea was unrecognizable at 32 years old, only his third year as Arizona’s coach.
College softball is now front-page news. ESPN will televise today’s game nationally and a crowd in excess of 9,000 is expected to be at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Candrea is a legend with 1,611 career wins.
How evenly matched are these programs beyond UCLA (12 national titles) and Arizona (eight) earning more than half of the championships since the first WCWS in 1982?
In the 12 different WCWS in which they have met, Arizona holds an 8-7 record against UCLA.
The Wildcats and Bruins have four wins against each other in championship games (that includes UCLA’s two wins over Arizona in the best-of-three matchup in 2010, the last time the programs have met in Oklahoma City).
Arizona has won four titles when it played UCLA in the championship. The Bruins have three.
Arizona holds a run-differential margin of only five — 45 to 40 — over UCLA in their 15 WCWS games to this point.
“Any time you talk Arizona-UCLA, it is unique game in that the history is just very, very real,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “It spanned decades. I got to personally be involved as an athlete. Arizona came on the scene later in my playing career in the early ’90s. Just so much respect for Coach Candrea, what he’s done, the players that have come through his program.”
Candrea, when asked about the rivalry a couple of weeks ago before facing the Bruins in Los Angeles said, “It’s fun. It’s like a prize fight. They’re going to throw punches and you have to respond and throw punches, too.”
The championship series of the WCWS starts Monday but tonight’s game has the feel of the Main Event. The following is a look back at the 15 games played between Arizona and UCLA in the WCWS (box scores are clippings from The Arizona Daily Star and asterisks indicate championship matchups):
1988 College World Series, Sunnyvale (Calif.):
Arizona 1, Adelphi 0
Arizona 4, Cal Poly-Pomona 1
UCLA 5, Arizona 0
Fresno State 4, Arizona 0
Arizona’s Teresa Cherry developed a problem with the ulnar nerve in her left (pitching) arm and left after two innings. Cherry (32-11) gave up four runs, including one earned, four hits and walked three. She had a tingling sensation in her fingers, which affected the throwing of her drop ball. Ginnie Scheller allowed three hits, including a home run in the sixth inning, in four innings after replacing Cherry.
1989 College World Series, Sunnyvale (Calif.):
Arizona 12, Fresno State 0 (5 innings)
Oklahoma State 4, Arizona 0 (8 innings)
Arizona 4, Oregon 0
UCLA 3, Arizona 0
Before UCLA beat Arizona behind a two-hitter by Lisa Longacre, the Bruins’ coach Sharron Backus said of the Wildcats, “They’re our nemesis. They’re like a bunch of little alligators that keep coming at you from every direction and nipping at you.” Arizona got its two hits on a bunt single by Julie Jones in the fifth and Nicki Dennis reached on a bloop hit to left-center field in the seventh.
1991 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
Arizona 1, UNLV 0 (13 innings)
Arizona 1, UCLA 0 (9 innings)
Arizona 1, Long Beach State 0 (8 innings)
Fresno State 1, Arizona 0 (8 innings)
Arizona 5, UCLA 1*
First game: Julie Jones scored the winning run after leading off the ninth inning with a sharp single up the middle against UCLA ace Lisa Fernandez. Suzie Lady walked on a 3-2 pitch and Jody Miller advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt, bringing up Lisa Guise. Her chopper bounced over the third baseman and was fielded by shortstop Kristy Howard, whose throw home was a split-second late to get Jones. “We’re not here thinking we’re going to watch (No. 1-ranked) UCLA win again. We were definitely not intimidated,” Candrea said.
Championship game: Arizona ended the Bruins’ three-year domination of the WCWS. Jones hit a two-run triple and Debby Day pitched a four-hitter as she won her fourth game of the tournament. “It’s a culmination of four years of hard work for some of our kids,” Candrea said. “We came out and beat a very good UCLA team. We got some crucial outs. It’s a great feeling and I’m so happy for the kids. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, the way the week has come together.”
1992 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
Long Beach State 1, (2) Arizona 0
(2) Arizona 1, Kansas 0 (17 innings)
(2) Arizona 2, (4) California 1
(2) Arizona 1, (3) Fresno State 0
(1) UCLA 2, (2) Arizona 0*
UCLA’s Jennifer Brewster hit a Debby Day screwball over the left field fence in the bottom of the seventh to allow the Bruins to reclaim the national title. “I’m sure our young kids will remember watching UCLA celebrate,” Candrea said. “That’s something they will take into next year that will definitely keep them hungry.”
1993 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(3) Arizona 6, (6) Long Beach State 0
(3) Arizona 2, (7) Southwestern La. 1 (10 innings)
(3) Arizona 1, (4) Oklahoma State 0
(7) Southwestern La. 1, (3) Arizona 0
(3) Arizona 1, (1) UCLA 0*
This is the “next year” Candrea was talking about. Arizona reclaimed the title from UCLA with only one hit in the pitchers’ duel between Susie Parra and UCLA’s Lisa Fernandez. Parra threw the complete-game shutout throwing only 75 pitches. No Bruin advanced past second base. Parra allowed two hits, striking out six and walking two. She punctuated the victory by striking out the side in the seventh. Arizona scored the lone run of the game in the bottom of the first. Amy Chellevold led off with a slow grounder that the shortstop threw away at first for an error. After a sacrifice bunt moved her to second, Leah O’Brien came to the plate. With two strikes, she connected on a line drive just over Fernandez’s head into center field. Chellevold ran home and beat the throw. Candrea allowed his players to shave his head after the victory, acting on his promise a few weeks previously that he would shave his head if they won a national title.
1994 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(1) Arizona 8, (8) Illinois-Chicago 0 (5 innings)
(1) Arizona 3, (5) Fresno State 0
(1) Arizona 5, (4) UCLA 2
(1) Arizona 4, (2) Cal State Northridge 0*
Arizona once again was able to get to UCLA All-American pitcher DeeDee Weiman, who allowed 16 earned runs to the Wildcats in 25 innings that year. With the elimination game tied at 2, Susie Duarte led off the fourth with a walk. She went to second on Amy Chellevold’s bunt single and scored on Leah O’Brien’s hit to left. Jenny Dalton followed with a sacrifice to drive in Chellevold to put the Wildcats ahead 4-2. Dalton also homered in the seventh. Susie Parra (32-1) did not allow an earned run in her complete-game effort. She allowed six hits with three walks and she struck out four.
Side note: Arizona called itself the “Arizona Banshees Racing Team” and had a shrine of smashed up toy cars perched on its dugout. Team psychologist Jeff Janssen told the players to think of the postseason as a car race and they had to constantly fine tune their game to get to the finish line. The team bought cars to symbolize their opponents and smashed them with their bats after they beat them. Candrea went so far as to wear a mechanic outfit at practice. He posted the following checklist on the hotel rooms of his players after the UCLA game before the title game against Cal State Northridge, won by Arizona 4-0.
— Fuel (Desire)
— Oil (Encouragement)
— Spark plugs (Enthusiasm)
— Spare tire (Prepare to thrive on adversity)
— Power steering fluid (Choosing an effective attitude)
1995 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(1) Arizona 9, (8) Princeton 1 (5 innings)
(1) Arizona 11, (5) Cal State Fullerton 0 (5 innings)
(1) Arizona 8, (4) UNLV 0 (6 innings)
(2) UCLA 4, (1) Arizona 2*
UCLA was forced to vacate this title by the NCAA because of the misapplication of several scholarships from the women’s soccer team to the softball team. On the field, Arizona’s attempt at a third consecutive national title fell short as the top-seed Wildcats finished 66-6 following the tense loss. “We beat the team that everybody said was unbeatable on this day,” UCLA co-coach Sue Enquist said. “That’s the sweetness of this victory.” Leah O’Brien’s two-out single in the fifth tied the game at 2. UCLA responded that inning with a two-run home run hit by Kelly Howard. Laura Espinoza and Amy Chellevold concluded their storied careers. Espinoza finished with Arizona career records in home runs (85) and RBIs (315) and Chellevold in hits (371) and runs (252).
1996 College World Series, Columbus, Ga.:
(2) Arizona 5, (7) Iowa 2
(2) Arizona 4, (3) UCLA 0
(2) Arizona 10, (7) Iowa 2 (6 innings)
(2) Arizona 6, (1) Washington 4*
The WCWS was held at Golden Park in Columbus, Ga., that year rather than Oklahoma City to showcase the field in advance of it hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics. Carrie Dolan pitched a five-hitter as Arizona went 5-0 against the defending champion Bruins that season. Michelle Churnock, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, went 3 for 3 with two RBIs in the early-round game. “It was the people you’d least expect to drive in runs,” Candrea said in jest sitting next to Churnock at the postgame press conference. Jenny Dalton would go on to earn the WCWS Most Outstanding Player award.
1997 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(1) Arizona 2, Massachusetts 1
(1) Arizona 2, (5) UCLA 0 (14 innings)
(4) Fresno State 3, (1) Arizona 0
(1) Arizona 6, (4) Fresno State 3
(1) Arizona 10, (5) UCLA 2 (5 innings)
First game: Nancy Evans had a legendary performance in the circle shutting out the potent UCLA lineup in 14 innings. She allowed only five hits — all singles — struck out eight and walked two. She did not allow a runner to get to third base until there were two outs in the 14th. “I told Nancy that her performance right there ranked with some performances from Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Just phenomenal,” Candrea said. Freshman Chrissy Gil started a two-out rally in the 14th beating out a roller that hugged the first-base line. She stole second, Alison Johnsen walked, and then another freshman, Katie Swan, doubled to left scoring Gil and Johnson.
Championship game: Arizona mercy-ruled UCLA in five innings for its fifth national title. Evans was not only the winning pitcher (improving to 36-2) in the five-inning game, she led the team with 3 RBIs on a bases-clearing double. Johnsen, Swan, Leah O’Brien and Brandi Shriver each had two-hit games with O’Brien also driving in two runs. “Knowing this is my last chance in college ever, there is nothing better than what we did today,” O’Brien said.
2001 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(1) Arizona 3, (8) California 2
(1) Arizona 5, (5) Oklahoma 4
(1) Arizona 1, (6) Stanford 0
(1) Arizona 1, (2) UCLA 0*
Arizona won its sixth national title behind a core of eight seniors — including Arizona Hall of Fame third baseman Toni Mascarenas, aunt of center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza — and a dominant performance from junior pitcher Jennie Finch, who finished 32-0 that season. Finch was 3-0 (all shutouts) against a UCLA team that season that went 62-3 against other teams. “The highlight of the weekend was sitting in the dugout watching them celebrate,” Candrea said. “That’s the picture that I keep in the back of my mind every day I go to practice and every day I work with a kid.” Arizona scored its run on a home run by senior Lindsey Collins, her 11th round-tripper and Arizona’s NCAA record 126th of the season. Arizona (65-4) ended on a 26-game winning streak.
2008 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(2) UCLA 1, (7) Arizona 0
(3) Alabama 5, (7) Arizona 1
UCLA’s lone run in the early-round game of the WCWS came on an RBI single by Amanda Kamekona in the first inning off Taryne Mowatt, who was trying to earn Arizona its third consecutive national title. Mowatt allowed only one more hit after the RBI single but UCLA’s Anjelica Selden was also dominant pitching a three-hitter striking out nine and walking two. Kamekona’s hit scored leadoff hitter Katie Schroeder, who reached first on a throwing error by Mowatt. “If I don’t make that error, we’re probably still scoreless going into the 10th or 11th innings,” said Mowatt, who went 29-13 that season.
2010 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(15) Tennessee 9, (10) Arizona 0 (5 innings)
(10) Arizona 4, (3) Washington 3
(10) Arizona 5, (16) Hawaii 1
(10) Arizona 8, (15) Tennessee 0 (5 innings)
(10) Arizona 5, (15) Tennessee 2
(5) UCLA 6, (10) Arizona 5 (8 innings)*
(5) UCLA 15, (10) Arizona 9*
First game: UCLA pitcher Megan Langenfeld hit two home runs, including the walk-off in the eighth inning in Game One of the best-of-three championship series. Arizona appeared in position to win in the bottom of the seventh but miscommunication allowed a routine fly ball hit by Dani Yuden to drop in left-center field. Yudin later scored on a hit to right field to force extra innings. Langenfeld hit the walk-off home run in the next inning. Arizona dramatically went ahead 5-4 in the top of the seventh following a three-run rally with two outs highlighted by home runs by K’Lee Arredondo and Stacie Chambers.
Second game: Arizona expended all of its energry reaching the championship series after winning four elimination games. UCLA took advantage of the physically and mentally weary Wildcats by pounding out 19 hits to win the title. The combined 24 runs doubled the previous record for a championship game. “We tried what we could to make it a football game,” Candrea said. “It was a pretty close football game.” Chambers hit two home runs in the game, becoming the ninth player to record four home runs in the WCWS.
2019 College World Series, Oklahoma City:
(6) Arizona 3, (3) Washington 1 (8 innings)
(6) Arizona vs. (2) UCLA
To be determined.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.