Rachel Garcia was named the freshman of the year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Katie Meyers)
UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia was named the Freshman of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) on Tuesday after the redshirt freshman ace powered the Bruins to their third straight Women’s College World Series.
Garcia, who was also the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, is the first UCLA and Pac-12 player to win the NFCA National Freshman of the Year award, which was first handed out in 2014.
After missing her true freshman year with an ACL injury, the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year starred for the Bruins in the circle and the batters box. She has a 22-7 record in 182-2/3 innings pitched with 196 strikeouts and 1.92 ERA. In her first postseason games, the Highland High alum pitched her first career no-hitter (against Lehigh in the Regional) and secured two wins in the Super Regional against Ole Miss, including an 11-inning, 232-pitch marathon. At the plate, Garcia has a .327 average with 27 RBIs and seven home runs.
“She was just the injured freshman and now she literally has led this team back to the World Series, the entire team,” UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said last weekend after UCLA’s Super Regional victory. “I’m very proud, but I’m not surprised because she has worked very hard. She has a strong work ethic and a strong will and the most important part is she’s a great team player; she gives her teammates all the credit. I think that’s what makes Rachel so special.”
Minnesota catcher Kendyl Lindaman and Oregon pitcher Maggie Balint joined Garcia as the top three finalists for the national freshman of the year award.
The Bruins play No. 13 LSU in the first round of the Women’s College World Series on Thursday in Oklahoma City.
UCLA’s Brianna Tautalafua shows her excitement after hitting a grand slam in the fifth inning during finals of the NCAA Softball Regional against Cal State Fullerton at Easton Stadium in UCLA in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 21, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Orange County Register/SCNG)
A grand slam by Brianna Tautalafua and a clutch strike out by Rachel Garcia decided two critical bases-loaded situations for the UCLA softball team that allowed the fifth-seeded Bruins to advance to the NCAA Super Regional after a 9-1 win over Cal State Fullerton on Sunday.
Garcia, who was starting her third straight game Sunday, was stellar down the stretch as she retired 12 of the final 13 batters. She worked out of a third-inning jam that proved to be one of the critical moments of the game. With the bases loaded and UCLA holding on to a one-run lead, Garcia struck out CSF catcher Kylie Padilla to retire the side and keep the Titans scoreless.
Tautalafua then hit a grand slam in the fifth inning, which was part of a five-run frame for the Bruins that broke a previously tight game open. She had three home runs and eight RBIs during UCLA’s three regional wins as the Bruins collected 27 total runs.
UCLA hosts Ole Miss in the Super Regional, which starts Thursday at Easton Stadium. Unlike previous years, the best-of-three series to decide who will advance to the Women’s College World Series, will be played with one game a day, with the third game if necessary instead of a three-game, two-day format.
Redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia knocked out her first career postseason appearance and her first no-hitter on the same night.
The ace from Highland High led UCLA to an 8-0, run-rule win over Lehigh on Friday night in UCLA’s regional opener. The Bruins will face San Jose State in the second round Saturday at 2 p.m. at Easton Stadium.
Of Garcia’s 80 total pitches, 54 were strikes as she faced only one batter more than the five-inning minimum. Working with catcher Paige Halstead, Garcia struck out eight, including five of the first seven batters she faced. The only blemish on the perfect game was a hit-by-pitch in the second inning.
“She was dominating today,” head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.
Delaney Spaulding led the Bruins on offense with three RBIs.
Rachel Garcia won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award while helping UCLA softball to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy Katie Meyers)
Kelly Inouye-Perez knows great pitchers. The former UCLA catcher and current UCLA softball head coach won three NCAA titles as a player and caught games for Bruin legends Lisa Longaker and Lisa Fernandez who combined for seven first-team All-American honors.
So when Inouye-Perez says her newest ace Rachel Garcia reminds her a bit of Fernandez, it’s not just hyperbole.
“No one really got comfortable in the box with Lisa (Fernandez) pitching,” Inouye-Perez said. “It was her presence and ability to attack hitters really aggressively that put them in that position. Rachel is very similar.”
Garcia is possibly the next great UCLA pitcher as the redshirt freshman leads the Bruins into postseason play this weekend. .
More on Garcia, who will start against Lehigh on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at Easton Stadium.