Rachel Garcia stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the 10th inning. Almost a decade had passed since UCLA last advanced to the WCWS championship series, but Garcia had an overwhelming sense of peace.
She felt that Papa, her late grandfather, had his hand on her shoulder. And his hand was on her shoulder as she launched a change-up deep over the left-field wall to send the Bruins into the 2019 championship round.
“See the change-up, hit the change-up,” Garcia said. “When I got two strikes on me I hit the reset button in my mind and took a deep breath and I was like ‘alright I am gonna get this change-up and I know I am gonna hit this.'”
Garcia had dedicated the season to her Papa, who died in March 2019. She played the rest of the year in his honor, his name written on her visor.
It was a roller-coaster season for Garcia, who describes herself as a homebody who loves nothing more than going home to spend time with family. It was also a remarkable season for her. She earned her second straight National Player of the Year honor, was named the NFCA National Pitcher of the Year, Pac-12 Conference Player and Pitcher of the Year, and won the Honda Broderick Cup for Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. Garcia dominated the sport, and her Papa had the best seat in the house to watch it all, with what Garcia described as the biggest smile on his face.
Garcia threw 179 pitches with 16 strikeouts before the game-winning home run. She still had more to give. She was not going to let the game keep going. No, it was going to end right then and there. She saw the change-up, drove it into the stands, and rounded the bases with a tear on her face to a crowd of screaming teammates.
UCLA was heading back to the championship series for the first time in nine years.
She wasn’t done yet. She would give up all her individual accolades to win a national title with her teammates. We all know how it ends. She didn’t have to when teammate Kinsley Washington hit a walk-off single and Jacqui Prober slid into home plate. That gave UCLA its first title since 2010 and what was a roller-coaster season for Garcia turned a fairy-tale finale.