Kelly Inouye-Perez called Holly Azevedo “the most unselfish Bruin,” so it’s no surprise that the pitcher doesn’t mind sharing this moment.
Azevedo lost her no-hitter with two outs in the fifth inning but tag-teamed with junior Megan Faraimo to lift UCLA to its eighth consecutive super regional appearance with a 9-1 mercy-rule win over Mississippi on Sunday at Easton Stadium.
The Bruins (46-8) went undefeated in the regional round and will host No. 12-seeded Duke in the super regional after the Blue Devils knocked off Georgia 13-5 in a Sunday afternoon elimination game. The Bruins will play Duke on Friday at 8 p.m. PT and Saturday at 5:30 p.m. PT, with both games on ESPN2.
Azevedo started two of UCLA’s three regional games, giving up four hits, two runs and two walks on the weekend. The last hit Sunday, a hard single up the right side by Mississippi’s Paige Smith that broke up what could have been Azevedo’s third no-hitter of the season, lingered on the redshirt senior’s mind after the game, but not for long.
There was a victory to celebrate.
“A lot of times, we get down on ourselves and want to say, ‘Oh, what if’ and all that stuff,” Azevedo said. “But honestly, at the end of the day, we got the win, we advanced to the super regionals, so I’m just happy about that.”
Azevedo got help from her teammates in the form of nine runs in the first three innings and key defensive plays like a double play started by third baseman Delanie Wisz to end the second inning. Junior Anna Vines had five RBIs, including her first home run of the year, to pace the offense that put the Bruins in position for a run-rule victory in the fifth inning.
Azevedo easily got the first two outs of the fifth frame, but nerves showed when she gave up her second walk of the game. An error from Pac-12 defensive player of the year Briana Perez brought Smith to the plate.
After the third baseman’s single ended Azevedo’s no-hitter, Faraimo emerged from the dugout. Azevedo left to a standing ovation from UCLA fans.
The pitcher from San Jose had waited in the wings for years to get this moment.
Azevedo backed upa Olympian Rachel Garcia in 2018 but flashed her talent with a 15-0 record and Pac-12 all-freshman team honors. The following season, Faraimo, fresh off winning the Gatorade national player of the year award out of San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High, became Garcia’s heir apparent. Azevedo, known for flummoxing hitters with her drop ball while Garcia and Faraimo thrived with their rise ball, became the third option.
Now without Garcia stealing the spotlight, Azevedo is getting her opportunity to shine.
“We've had depth in the circle and to come back for her fifth year to be able to support the program, I'm so, so grateful,” Inouye-Perez said. “I love that the game is paying her back.”
Azevedo, who used an additional year of eligibility granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, earned her first All-Pac-12 first-team honor of her career this year. She threw two no-hitters during the regular season, including a no-no against Pac-12 rival Arizona, and entered the NCAA tournament with a 1.15 ERA, the best of her career. After starting just one postseason game in her career — a 2018 regional loss to Cal State Fullerton — Azevedo pitched UCLA to its first NCAA tournament win of the season Friday, a five-inning 12-1 victory over Grand Canyon.
Faraimo, the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, took the circle during Saturday’s 7-1 win over Loyola Marymount.
The combination of Faraimo, who punctuated Sunday’s win with a strikeout, Azevedo and left-handerLauren Shaw gives the Bruins a dynamic and versatile pitching staff that could carry the team to its 13th NCAA championship. Most teams are tightening their pitching rotations this time of year. UCLA is happy to keep opponents guessing about which pitcher will start.
“Rachel's not here this year and we have to rely on all of us,” Azevedo said. “It's not just one person this year. So just having the opportunity this year to help my team out has just been a blessing.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.