Young pitchers star for UCLA softball's Women's College World Series run

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After years of pitching certainty, few knew what to expect from UCLA’s new, unproven arms. Neither Taylor Tinsley nor Kaitlyn Terry had ever pitched in a collegiate postseason game. But catcher Sharlize Palacios never doubted.

“They are pitchers that belong in OKC,” Palacios said.

UCLA’s young pitchers have answered every question while leading the sixth-seeded Bruins back to the Women’s College World Series after a one-year absence. Terry, a freshman, and the sophomore Tinsley dismantled No. 11 Georgia by giving up only one run combined in two super regional victories. They are primed for their World Series debuts as the Bruins face No. 3 Tennessee or No. 14 Alabama in the first round on Thursday in Oklahoma City.

Uncertainty about the pitching staff that lost stars Megan Faraimo and Brooke Yanez may have contributed to lowered expectations in Westwood to begin the year. For the first time since 2020, UCLA (41-10) wasn’t picked by Pac-12 coaches to win the conference. It was the first time since 1998 that UCLA entered a year with no postseason pitching experience.

But instead of fixating on what Tinsley and Terry hadn’t done, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez chose to remember what she had already watched them do. The coach still recalls Tinsley, the top-ranked pitcher in the 2021 recruiting class, dueling former Gatorade national player of the year Jordy Bahl, who is one year Tinsley’s senior, during travel ball. Terry was a dual-threat pitcher who was twice named Arizona’s Gatorade player of the year.

“Everyone said it: ‘They have no experience.’ But they actually have a lot of experience,” Inouye-Perez said. “They’ve played the game for a long time, which is why we wanted them to be here at UCLA. It just took them some time to kind of get into their game, and I’m really proud because they’re right where we need them to be at the right time.”

Aiming for their first NCAA title since 2019, the Bruins have won 13 consecutive games, putting a slow start in the rearview mirror. The Bruins struggled early as their pitchers fought through injuries and learned difficult, first-hand lessons in games.

Four of Tinsley’s eight losses this season have come in one-run games, but she still leads the Bruins with a 1.97 ERA. The sophomore from Georgia took over as the UCLA ace after waiting behind Faraimo. Tinsley starred in a critical series against Stanford, pitching 15-2/3 scoreless innings with 20 strikeouts and just one walk in UCLA’s first road sweep of the Cardinal since 2017.

Tinsley “really put the team on her back,” Inouye-Perez said. But the 5-foot-7 righty appeared just once in the next nine games. She “needed to take a little break,” the coach said.

From there, Terry took over.

The left-hander closed out UCLA’s regular-season conference title run during Tinsley’s absence and started seven consecutive games, a streak that ended in the NCAA regional. The Pac-12 freshman of the year has a 21-1 record with a 2.37 ERA. Terry’s ability to step in flawlessly puts the Bruins in a confident position heading to the World Series, Inouye-Perez said.

With the support of her teammates, Terry exudes confidence in the circle despite her relative lack of experience. In the most challenging moments, she calms herself down by following simple advice from Inouye-Perez: Take a deep breath.

“It just makes me reset everything,” said Terry, who pitched a six-inning, mercy-rule shutout in Game 1 of the super regional. “I feel like it just makes me pitch loose because when I pitch tight it’s just not good.”

Knowing the Bruins would have to rely on a young pitching staff, Inouye-Perez shuffled the coaching staff to return to the bullpen this season. She surrounded Tinsley and Terry with veterans at key infield positions with Palacios, a three-time Pac-12 all-defensive team honoree, at catcher, and two-time Pac-12 player of the year Maya Brady at shortstop. Six of UCLA’s starters are seniors or fifth-year players, and two – sophomores Jordan Woolery and Megan Grant – played more than 57 games last year.

Standing in the middle of such an experienced group, UCLA’s young pitchers can’t help but play like they’re all grown up.

“I forget how old they are,” said Palacios, a redshirt senior. “I feel like they are my age. They honestly have just surpassed my expectations.”

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