Canady's gem helps Stanford reach WCWS semis

NiJaree Canady struck out eight and went the distance as Stanford defeated UCLA 3-1 on Sunday night to reach the Women’s College World Series semifinals and eliminate the Bruins.

Stanford won the final game between Pac-12 teams before the league splits up. UCLA will be in the Big Ten next season while Stanford will join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Canady allowed just three hits and walked none for the eighth-seeded Cardinal (50-16), who reached the semifinals for the second straight year.

Megan Grant’s solo homer was the highlight for No. 6 UCLA (43-12), which won all three regular-season meetings.

Stanford will play No. 1 Texas in the semifinals on Monday. The Cardinal will need to win twice to advance to the best-of-three championship series, while Texas will need just one win to move on.

Canady, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, shut out Oklahoma State on Friday, but hit her leg while delivering a pitch late in the game, making her status uncertain.

She was more than ready. She threw strikes on 71 of her 97 pitches.

Grant’s solo shot in the second opened the scoring.

Stanford gave Canady some run support in the third. Taryn Kern’s RBI double tied the score, then Kern scored on a single by Ava Gall to put the Cardinal up 2-1.

Stanford got consecutive bunt singles from Emily Jones and Kaitlyn Kim at the bottom of the order to start the fifth. Pinch hitter Allie Clements’ sacrifice fly scored Jones to make it 3-1.

Down to her last strike, UCLA’s Savannah Pola was hit on the hand by a pitch, then Thessa Malau’ulu singled to put two on with two outs. Canady got pinch hitter Ramsey Suarez to ground out.

In the earlier game Sunday, No. 4 seed Florida beat No. 14 Alabama 6-4 to advance to the semifinals and eliminate the Crimson Tide.

Jocelyn Erickson came up big and earned a shot at her former team, Oklahoma.

Florida will play the three-time defending national champion Sooners in the semifinals Monday. Erickson, a catcher, won a national championship with Oklahoma last season. The Gators will have to beat the Sooners twice to reach the best-of-three championship series, while Oklahoma will need just one win to move on.

“I think it’s going to be fun seeing some old friends,” Erickson said. “It’s going to be definitely a competitive semifinals, so we’re getting after it.”

Erickson broke a tie with Megan Bush for the school’s single-season RBI record and now has 84. Bush set the previous record of 80 in 2011.

Korbe Otis and Ariel Kowalewski each added two hits for the Gators (53-14) in a game that started three hours late because of rain and lightning.

Florida pitcher Keagan Rothrock recovered from a rough outing against Texas the previous night. The freshman gave up three earned runs on seven hits against Alabama and now is alone as the nation’s leader with 32 wins.

“I think she turned the page,” Erickson said. “She was hitting her spots better, more focused, more determined. It’s a learning curve yesterday. It’s her freshman year. I’m really proud of her for turning the page.”

Kayla Beaver got the start for Alabama and gave up two runs on six hits in four innings. Jocelyn Briski got the loss in relief for the Crimson Tide (39-20).

The Crimson Tide finished ninth in the Southeastern Conference during the regular season but won their regional at home, then beat No. 3 seed Tennessee on the road in super regionals. Alabama lost its World Series opener to UCLA, then beat Duke to keep the season alive.

“It’s a team whose legacy is going to be they didn’t give up on each other, they kept working,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “Doesn’t matter what you do regular season, you get a whole new start and you can start fresh. I think they proved to everybody that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Alabama opened the scoring against Florida in the second. Bailey Dowling got on after a fielding error and she scored on a grounder by Riley Valentine.

Florida tied it in the third when Erickson’s single knocked in Skylar Wallace. Otis scored on a fielder’s choice after getting on with a walk to put the Gators up 2-1.

Alabama tied it at 2 in the third when Marlie Giles singled to score Lauren Johnson.

Reagan Walsh singled and knocked in a run in the fifth to put Florida back in front.

Erickson came up with runners on first and third with two outs in the sixth, and Alabama switched from Briski to Alea Johnson to give her a different look. Erickson took a Johnson pitch over the centerfield wall to make it 6-2.

Alabama hung tough. Kali Heivilin’s RBI single in the sixth made it 6-4. But Rothrock put the Crimson Tide down in order in the seventh.

Now, the Gators could derail Oklahoma’s attempt to become the first team to win four straight national titles.

“I’m excited for the matchup,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “You come to the Women’s College World Series, you get an opportunity to play Oklahoma, you’re doing something right. I am looking forward to it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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