It took six years and an all-time great career, but the emotions finally overwhelmed Rachel Garcia.
The pitcher known for her stoic demeanor broke down in tears after leaving the field for the last time as a UCLA player Saturday. Garcia exited the game after giving up a seventh run in a 10-3 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma and cried with coach Kelly Inouye-Perez in the dugout.
“She was put in a position again to have to do it all, but nobody blames her,” Inouye-Perez said. “I told her, ‘This is not about something you have to prove. You have left your mark on the game.’ … I will take Rachel Garcia any day.”
Garcia overcame a two-hour weather delay and drove in No. 2 UCLA’s only runs with a three-run home run in the third inning but couldn’t hold down the potent Sooners offense. Making her third start in as many days, the Tokyo-bound 24-year-old gave up nine hits, eight runs (six earned) and three walks with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
Along with being a rematch of the 2019 national final that UCLA won, the titanic No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash showcased opposing styles. The Sooners (52-3) boast one of the most explosive offenses in NCAA history. The Bruins (47-7) had a pitching staff that entered the tournament with the nation’s second-best earned-run average.
A pitcher did star in the game, but it wasn’t Garcia.
Oklahoma’s Giselle Juarez held the Bruins scoreless after entering with a three-run deficit. The redshirt senior who pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings of Oklahoma’s six-inning, 8-0 win over Georgia on Saturday morning enacted her revenge after losing to the Bruins in the 2019 championship by limiting UCLA to three hits in five innings with one walk and four strikeouts.
After the Bruins failed to get on base against Alabama on Friday, they bounced back with nine hits Saturday, but also left nine on base.
Garcia, who was 0 for 5 at the plate in the first two games, got UCLA on the board with a three-run shot to right field. It was a final highlight of a career that Inouye-Perez believes belongs to the best two-way player. Ever.
“Lisa, you were pretty good,” Inouye-Perez said, referring to a conversation she had with assistant coach Lisa Fernandez, “but Rachel has come up clutch offensively more than you ever did.”
Garcia was one of UCLA’s five NFCA All-Americans, and the stacked roster was a key reason why winning another national championship seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Bruins.
Then it unraveled.
A hand injury sustained by Megan Faraimo diminished UCLA’s elite pitching staff entering the Women’s College World Series and left Garcia to fend for herself against hitters who had studied her over four appearances in Oklahoma City. UCLA’s defense made mental mistakes. Two UCLA errors in the fourth inning resulted in two unearned Oklahoma runs that gave the Sooners the lead.
After the Sooners plated two more with one out in the sixth to extend the lead to four runs and chase Garcia from the circle, the Oklahoma crowd behind the team’s dugout chanted, “We aren’t done yet.”
The Sooners, who scored three more runs, weren’t done, but Garcia is.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.