LOS ANGELES — Kelly Inouye-Perez recognized early on that Rachel Garcia was in for a special night.
With the redshirt freshman pitcher mowing down Lehigh batters almost at will, the UCLA softball coach surrendered her pitch-calling duties and let Garcia free in the circle.
In her postseason debut, Garcia repaid her coach and her team with her first career no-hitter, blanking Lehigh, 8-0, in five innings in the first round of the four-team, double-elimination NCAA regional at Easton Stadium.
The fifth-seeded Bruins (43-13) will play San Jose State, which defeated Cal State Fullerton, 3-0, on Saturday at 2 p.m. The winner advances to Sunday’s regional finals.
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, the 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,” Inouye-Perez said.
The former Gatorade National Player of the Year said she didn’t know she was working on a no-hitter until assistant coach Kirk Walker broke the news after the game. Playing in her first posteason game, Garcia shrugged at any suggestion that it might feel different than any of her 37 regular-season appearances.
“It just felt like a normal game,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s dominance afforded the Bruins time to crack Lehigh’s Christine Campbell, the Patriot League Pitcher of the Year. Only one UCLA batter got a hit the first time through the lineup, but the Bruins figured out Campbell’s tricky changeup, led by Spaulding’s two-out solo home run in the third inning. The senior had a team-high three RBI.
“The best part about this team is there’s no panic,” Inouye-Perez said. “There are adjustments being made and (Spaulding) sets a great tone in being able to make adjustments in her at-bats and I think it bleeds into the team.”