Keira Goerl stepped into the circle her junior season for the 2003 national championship game. Behind her stood the only senior class in UCLA history that had yet to win a title.
Goerl said it right away in our recent interview — she still to this day would never consider herself a strikeout pitcher. She had, however, just become the all-time UCLA wins leader in the previous game.
So how did someone who wasn’t a strikeout pitcher go on to throw the (so far) only no-hitter in WCWS championship game history? She made the perfect pitches at the perfect times and got some help from those behind her that helped keep the no-hitter alive.
So about that defense behind her. We are talking names like Natasha Watley, Tairia Mims, Caitlin Benyi and Andrea Duran. Most of them made our UCLA all-time lineup as in the best players to ever play for the Bruins.
So — where could this no-hitter have gone wrong?
In the first inning. Yes, that’s right. In fact, the first inning was the only time the Golden Bears had more than one runner on base, and it was on walks. Goerl walked two in the bottom of the first inning when Courtney Scott drew a two-out pass and then the Bruins intentionally walked Veronica Nelson, a prolific hitter. Goerl said she refused to let one player beat her, which she knew Nelson could do.
“Much respect to her, she was a great hitter,” Goerl said. “Probably the fastest hands on inside pitches I have ever seen.”
The Bruins decided to take their chances on Haley Woods, who was 2-for-18 in the WCWS, hitting .111.
Woods sent a fly ball deep into right field. Benyi battled the sun the whole way but made the catch.
Goerl then retired eight straight batters until she came back around to Nelson, who she intentionally walked again. Woods then struck out and Kaleo Eldredge grounded out to end the inning.
Cal had a few more chances to score, though.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Goerl and the Bruins issued the third intentional walk of the game to Nelson, who was replaced by a pinch-runner. A sacrifice bunt from Woods advanced the runner to second. Goerl then struck out Eldredge and Chelsea Specer grounded out to end the inning.
Goerl had a high pitch count by this time and a tired arm could have ended the no-no. But the no-hitter remained. A Cal player reached base in the bottom of the eighth on an error, but then Goerl did her thing again, striking out the next and forcing a groundout.
“I think almost every player on the field got a ball that day,” Goerl said. The Bruins fielded all of them flawlessly.
Goerl got four outs on pop-ups, three on fly-outs, struck out four, and 14 out on ground outs. No one could get all of what Goerl dished out and there were many great plays made behind her. Out of those 14 ground outs, eight of them were to shortstop, where All-American Watley stood and made play after play.
The no-hitter remained, marking the first no-hitter in WCWS championship game history and a national title for that UCLA Bruins senior class.