LOS ANGELES — Madeline Jelenicki couldn’t even get to the dugout before her teammates engulfed her.
UCLA’s celebration spilled on to the Easton Stadium field after the junior hit a walk-off RBI single to right field that sealed UCLA’s wild, 8-7, 11-inning victory over Mississippi in their NCAA Super Regional series opener on Thursday.
The Bruins (46-13) were reduced to their final outs twice. In the bottom of the seventh, Delaney Spaulding came home on wild pitch to tie the score, then after UCLA allowed two runs in the top of the 10th, freshman Bubba Nickles answered with a two-run double in the bottom of the frame to keep UCLA alive.
“I learned something about my team tonight,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “We are in it to win it. They played to the last pitch, they have each other’s backs and we wanted to win this ballgame.”
No. 5 seed UCLA can clinch its third straight Women’s College World Series berth with a win against the 12th-seeded Rebels (43-19) on Friday at 6 p.m. at Easton Stadium. Game 3, if necessary, would be Saturday.
Pitcher Rachel Garcia, who was named a top-three finalist for the National Fastpitch Coaches Association National Freshman of the Year Award, struggled down the stretch. She came within two innings of her second-career no-hitter, but gave up five runs in the sixth that erased UCLA’s early four-run lead. The redshirt freshman threw a career-high 232 pitches in 11 innings, while giving up career-worsts in walks (five), hits (11) and runs (seven). Her 12 strikeouts are a career-best.
“It was definitely all about mental toughness,” said Garcia, who added she felt “great” after the long outing. “Ole Miss was definitely putting the ball in play, but my defense was making plays so I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The former National Gatorade Player of the Year faced 11 batters in the sixth inning, starting with Miranda Strother, who led off with a single. Brittany Finney followed with a…