It was more than hard work, more than talent that guided Rachel Garcia’s historic performance for the UCLA softball team Sunday — placing the Bruins in the Women’s College World Series championship series for the first time since 2010.
It was conviction.
The result was 179 pitches thrown in 10 innings, 16 strikeouts and, when her team needed it most, a three-run walk-off home run to give UCLA a 3-0 win over Washington (52-9).
The Bruins (54-6) will face No. 1 Oklahoma in the best-of-three championship series, which begins Monday. It’s the first time since 2005 that the No. 1 and 2 seeds will play for the title.
UCLA was in a similar position the year before — in the semifinals, one win away from the championship series. But last year the Bruins lost back-to-back games against Florida State. The Seminoles went on to win the national championship, while UCLA was eliminated.
Garcia pitched both losses. It became an experience she carried with her against Washington.
“She wasn’t gonna let that happen again,” Inouye-Perez said. “And I think that’s what it comes down to, your ability to stay convicted. This team never gave up.”
This time, Garcia gave the Huskies’ offense no room to gain ground. She gave up a hit to the leadoff batter then retired 10 straight batters, striking out six of them. Washington starting pitcher Gabbie Plain limited UCLA’s chances, though.
The Bruins and Huskies managed three hits each, but neither could score. Both pitchers were unrelenting. Even when two Huskies got hits in the top of the sixth inning, Garcia struck out the next two batters to strand both runners.
Entering the seventh inning, the game remained scoreless.
Two runners reached base for Washington in the seventh but Garcia retired back-to-back batters.
UCLA’s Taylor Pack led off the seventh inning with a hit. But Washington reliever Taran Alvelo retired three straight batters. Even as UCLA’s chances fell short, the Bruins remained faithful.
“There’s a resiliency about our team,” Inouye-Perez said, “but most importantly, there’s a belief that we will. They didn’t get overly frustrated or emotional. They just kept throwing punches.”
As the game stretched to extra innings, Garcia remained in the circle. She had prepared for this all year, with extra rest in the regular season from the Bruins’ depth pitching, from cardio workouts with the pitchers before bullpen sessions, from the throwing sleeve she wore to practice playing overheated and fatigued.
Through the long start, her energy intensified.
“My adrenaline was kicking up even more,” Garcia said, “so I wasn’t feeling anything. I just kept going.”
There were close calls — even a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning — but Garcia escaped each one. Buying her team more time until the 10th when two runners reached base before Garcia stepped up to the plate. her.
“I could just hear everyone behind me telling me I got this,” Garcia said.
She crushed a three-run home run to left field.
Her teammates burst from the dugout, and Garcia grew teary-eyed as she rounded the bases. A tear lingered on her cheek as she gave an interview to ESPN afterward.
The Bruins’ job is far from over, as they enter the championship series, the one part of the postseason where the players have no experience.
But for UCLA, Garcia has already made history.
“I truly believe,” Inouye-Perez said, “this… definitely will go down as one of the top moments to get UCLA back in the championship game, especially after what happened last year.”