Homegrown talent: Arizona connections take center stage in 2024 Women’s College World Series

Kaitlyn Terry’s strong pitching performance for UCLA in the 2024 Women’s College World Series follows a stellar season where she was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The 2024 Women’s College World Series has strong ties to the Valley this year, prominently featuring Arizona natives Kaitlyn Terry and Viviana Martinez showcasing their talents on a grand stage for UCLA and Texas, respectively.

As the NBA and NHL playoffs approach its final stages, college softball is taking over the driver’s seat with Thursday’s start to its championship round with eight teams vying for the NCAA national championship.

Terry, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year who helped lead the Bruns to 34 regular-season wins, kept the pressure on Alabama in Game 1 by tossing four scoreless innings with three strikeouts in UCLA’s 4-1 win. The Bruins will play Oklahoma on Saturday after the Sooners beat Duke 9-1 in six innings Thursday.

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For the Greenway High School product turned UCLA ace, she follows in the footsteps of her mother, Kristy, who played softball at Florida State and earned ACC Freshman of the Year in 1995. Kristy’s inspiration and her father’s influential role have in part led her to the biggest stage of her softball career. After gravitating to the sport at the age of five, her father’s cost-saving decision altered her pitching career forever.

“We went to the outlets in Anthem, Arizona, to the Nike outlet to buy her her first glove and the right-handed gloves were $60,” Joe said. “The left-handed gloves were $4.95. She could throw with either hand so we decided to make her a left-handed pitcher.”

Terry, a two-time Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year as a senior in 2023 and a sophomore in 2021, has seen her success translate from the mounds in Glendale to bump in Los Angeles, where she produced the second-most shutouts (5) in the Pac-12 and ranked third in innings pitched (139.0). She finished the regular season with a 2.35 ERA, tossed 16 complete games and struck out 154 batters toward securing a 21-1 record in 38 appearances. One of her best outings 12-strikeout effort against Webster State.

Winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year is even more special, however, with this year’s conference tournament marking the end of the current era.

“Nobody can take that away from her,” Joe said. “It was exciting to see her name come up because we had no clue she was in the running.”

Martinez, a sophomore shortstop from Tolleson who played at Tolleson High School, plays the three-hole for a red-hot Longhorns team in a crowded tournament. While she went hitless in three at-bats Thursday in Texas’ 4-0 win against Stanford, she has been one of the team’s best hitters since arriving in Austin. She recorded a .369 batting average during the regular season, with 67 hits, five home runs, four stolen bases and 51 RBIs.

Viviana Martinez, Texas’ star sophomore from Tolleson, is eager to bring a national title back to Austin. (Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Viviana Martinez, Texas’ star sophomore from Tolleson, is eager to bring a national title back to Austin. (Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Her sophomore success follows an All-Big 12 Freshman Team campaign in 2023 behind her program-record 52 RBIs – the most in a single season by a freshman.

Martinez credits her family for exposing her to softball and helping her reach the Women’s College World Series, where she applies the lessons learned over the years on and off the field.

“Softball and baseball have always been tied to my family,” Martinez said. “My dad played in the minor leagues for the Seattle Mariners and taught me to play softball. I also have some uncles who played baseball.”

“I learned leadership and communication skills. I had to learn how to communicate with my teammates so we were on the same page and learned different leadership styles from players.”

Other players with Arizona ties include Oklahoma’s Cydney Sanders, who attended ASU; Alabama’s Rilely Valentine, who played at Sandra Day O’Connor High School; and Florida’s Jocelyn Briski, who went to Desert Vista High.

Martinez relishes the opportunity to compete for a national title and potentially bring home gold. Texas will continue its pursuit against Florida on Saturday.

“Softball is amazing,” Martinez said. “Just doing it with my team and making it to the World Series makes it amazing.”

Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Jorden Hampton expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Hampton has written game stories for volleyball and football at Valley Vista High School and is adept at writing longer form stories that captivate an audience.