UCLA softball team’s ‘Bruin Bubble’ stands up to Oklahoma fans

A little square of blue and gold floated in a sea of crimson and cream in Oklahoma City. Kelly Inouye-Perez looked at the small cheering section.

“Doesn’t matter how many,” the UCLA softball head coach said, “they were just as impactful.”

That small Bruin wave flooded the field at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium after No. 2 UCLA completed a championship series sweep over top-ranked Oklahoma on Tuesday with a dramatic 5-4 win. Although they were overpowered in fan support, the Bruins relied on their “Bruin Bubble” to secure their first NCAA title since 2010.

“I committed to it because it is something that is bigger than all of us, being able to represent the four letters,” said Inouye-Perez, who has been at UCLA for the past 31 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach. “You think it’s a championship machine. But we are so much more than that. … The Bruin bubble is family.”

Inouye-Perez picked up her 600th career win as a head coach in style Tuesday night. Her former coach Sue Enquist wrapped the former UCLA catcher up in a long, tight hug on the field in the post-game celebration. After the game, Inouye-Perez thanked Enquist for always having her back.

The Bruins lead the country in national titles with 13 and 12 in the NCAA era. Between the program’s three head coaches, Sharron Backus, Enquist and Inouye-Perez, they’ve won in every decade of the program’s history. The nine-year gap between the 2010 and 2019 titles was the longest in school history.

On its fifth straight trip to Oklahoma City, UCLA ended the title drought, overcoming back-to-back losses to Florida State on semifinal Sunday in 2018.

“We got a little heartbroken on how things were ended (last year),” Inouye-Perez said. “They were convicted to being able to bring it back to Westwood in 2019.”

UCLA rode pitcher Rachel Garcia’s right arm to the title as the junior ace was named the Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player. She threw 603 pitches and 36 of UCLA’s 38 innings in Oklahoma City, including a complete game in Tuesday’s championship-clinching win, and drove in a team-high eight RBIs during the tournament. She said when she was in the circle this week, surrounded by Oklahoma fans, all she heard was her teammates and the Bruin fans.

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