Taylor Tinsley shines, leading UCLA past Georgia and into Women's College World Series

Taylor Tinsley didn’t move across the country for anything less than these moments.

UCLA’s first player from Georgia ousted her home-state school to send the Bruins to the Women’s College World Series with a 6-1 victory over the 11th-ranked Bulldogs on Friday at Easton Stadium.

After winning the best-of-three super regional 2-0, the No. 6 Bruins will face No. 3 Tennessee or No. 14 Alabama in the first round of the World Series on Thursday in Oklahoma City.

Tinsley pitched a complete game, giving up four hits with six strikeouts, leading UCLA (41-10) to its nation-leading 32nd World Series appearance. After Georgia pinch-hitter Sarah Gordon swung through Tinsley’s last pitch, the pitcher slammed her blue glove to the dirt and ripped her face mask off while jumping into catcher Sharlize Palacios’ arms.

“This was her moment,” said Georgia coach Tony Baldwin, who watched Tinsley through her high school career. “She shined tonight.”

A three-sport star at George Walton Academy, a small private school less than 30 miles from Georgia’s campus in Athens, Tinsley was the No. 1 pitcher and the No. 2 overall prospect in her recruiting class, according to Softball America.

In the Southern California softball hotbed, UCLA coaches rarely leave the state for top talent. But Kelly Inouye-Perez was drawn by Tinsley’s competitiveness and inspired by her willingness to accept the difficult challenge of moving across the country and majoring in pre-health. Tinsley hopes to become a physical therapist.

“There were a lot of people when we were going through the recruiting process that said ‘You shouldn’t go away from home, you should stay close,’” Inouye-Perez said. “I shared with her how awesome it would be to be the role model to be able to say that you can go and strive for your own goals and dreams because you can always go back home. So I’m really proud.”

The 5-foot-7 right-hander gave up two hits, a walk and a run in the first inning, but retired the next 14 batters as the Bruins methodically built their lead. The offense came from veteran leaders Palacios and Maya Brady, who were a combined five for six with five RBIs. One day after Brady launched two homers in Game 1, Palacios matched the effort with two moonshots that soared over the right-field fence.

The catcher who leads the Bruins with 20 home runs has 11 in her last 18 games.

While Palacios held the super regional trophy during an on-camera interview with ESPN after the game, teammates lined up and repeatedly bowed behind her. Players took turns posing for photos on the field with an oversized ticket with UCLA’s logo representing the team’s place in the World Series.

Palacios gathered with Brady, center fielder Janelle Meoño and left fielder Jadelyn Allchin to soak in the moment. The Southern California natives met as preteens playing travel ball then scattered to different Pac-12 rivals. Meoño and Palacios went to Arizona while Allchin went to Washington before they all came back home to reunite with Brady.

“It feels so rewarding to just be able to hug them and say we’re going to finish it at OKC,” Palacios said.

The fifth-year senior’s veteran presence behind the plate has been critical for a young UCLA pitching staff that had no collegiate postseason experience. Kaitlyn Terry, who was named Pac-12 freshman of the year, proved her mettle by pitching the Bruins to a six-inning, mercy-rule win in Game 1. Tinsley, a sophomore who did not appear in the circle in UCLA’s shockingly short two-game postseason run last year, bounced back from a disappointing performance against Georgia in February when she gave up six runs and five hits in 6-1/3 innings of a 7-2 loss.

Less than 100 days later, she was cheering with a capacity crowd at Easton Stadium as players led a final eight-clap.

“Yesterday’s history and 100 days ago, when we played them, that’s, well, history,” Tinsley said, waving her hand nonchalantly. “It was just a new day, new game and here we are.”

After their worst start since 1986 at 3-4, the Bruins enter the World Series on a 13-game winning streak.

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