Grand Canyon stuns No. 2 UCLA in NCAA softball opener

LOS ANGELES — The UCLA softball team’s Janelle Meoño was at bat with two outs in the seventh inning. The Bruins needed a run to tie the score, and Meoño was a glimmer of hope at Easton Stadium.

She singled and delivered on her promise to teammate Megan Grant of one last at-bat. But the hope quickly diminished as Grand Canyon beat No. 2 overall seed UCLA, 3-2, on Friday night to hand the 12-time national champions a loss in the opener of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional for the first time since 2019.

“You stop and take a look and you realize in the postseason that you can’t take a pitch off,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “You’ve gotta be able to get out there and do what you came to do and tonight wasn’t our night.”

UCLA (52-6) will resume play in the four-team, double-elimination regional on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. against the loser of Friday night’s game between Liberty and San Diego State. The Bruins now need to win four games this weekend to advance to a best-of-three super regional series.

Grant was 2 for 4 for the Bruins with a home run and two RBIs and Aaliyah Jordan went 2 for 3. Megan Faraimo pitched 3-1/3 innings, giving up two hits and recording six strikeouts. Brooke Yanez pitched two innings in relief and gave up no hits with two strikeouts.

Grand Canyon (47-11) scored all of its runs on a fourth-inning home run. UCLA’s Savannah Pola looked as though she was about to make a routine catch for an out, but the ball teetered off the edge of her glove and allowed Katelyn Dunckel to end up on second base with a double. Ramsay Lopez was walked, then Madison Schaefer ripped a ball off the left field foul pole for a 3-1 lead.

The Bruins hammered the Antelopes, 12-1, in the regional opener last year, but the Antelopes broke through for the first postseason win in program history this time.

“When we saw our seed and that we were coming to UCLA, that took some mental toughness because they drilled us last year,” GCU coach Shanon Hays said. “If you show weakness, they’re gonna get you. And so I was very proud about how our girls stood up and played well.”

UCLA took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when leadoff hitter Grant singled to drive in Lauren Hatch, who was pinch-running for catcher Alyssa Garcia.

After GCU’s go-ahead home run, Lauren Shaw came in to relieve Megan Faraimo in the circle and the Bruins forced a ground out and line out to get out of the inning.

Grant ripped a shot over the center field wall for her 14th home run of the season in the fifth inning to cut GCU’s advantage to 3-2. Yanez came in to pitch for UCLA in the sixth inning and held the Lopes scoreless for the frame.

“She’s a fierce hitter, she likes big moments. She proved it tonight,” Inouye-Perez said of Grant. “She sets a great tone. Whether she gets a hit or not, she’s competing and she’s gonna swing it and I think that brings confidence to the rest of the lineup.”

Meoño’s two-out single in the seventh kept the Bruins’ hopes alive, but Grant popped up to short right field to end it.

“I just knew that I was gonna win the game by myself,” Meoño said. “I literally told Megan when she passed me the bat after a foul ball, I said I want to give you an at-bat so bad. I just knew I wanted to get on.”

When the Bruins lost their regional opener in 2019, they went on to win a national championship. Meoño’s late-game single wasn’t the only glimmer of hope in the double-elimination weekend, at least that’s how Inouye-Perez thinks.

“You have a choice. You can play three games, which is the quickest path, and be undefeated or you can play up to five,” she said. “We’re in a position now where five is the name of the game and we’re gonna get a lot of at-bats and I think that can be a good thing. The more we swing it, the more we have great opportunities.”

UCLA’s loss was part of an 0-for-4 day for teams from the region.

Cal State Fullerton lost to Auburn, 12-2, in its opener at the Clemson Regional, Loyola Marymount lost to Florida, 3-2, at the Stanford Regional and will face Big West Conference champion Long Beach State in an elimination game on Saturday. LBSU lost to Stanford, 1-0, in its opener.

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