LOS ANGELES — Rachel Garcia was more noticeable than some of her fellow Gatorade Players of the Year this week during the annual Athlete of the Year festivities.
Garcia was the one on crutches.
Garcia, from Highland in Palmdale, Calif., bowled on one leg Monday and worked with young athletes as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward Clinic on Tuesday morning. After the highlights of her dominant softball season played on the big screen, she limped out to the stage to applause during the ceremony Tuesday night at the LA Downtown Hotel.
That applause and the Gatorade Softball Player of the Year honor will be the final moments of a majestic high school career that otherwise would have had a heartbreaking ending.
Highland was playing in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 softball final in June when Garcia injured her knee in the 12th inning of a scoreless game against Torrance.
Garcia felt the knee buckle but tried to go out for the 13th before the pain too much during warmups and she was carried off the field. Torrance pushed across the lone run in the 13th and won the state title 1-0.
She had surgery two weeks after the state title game loss.
“Taking it in was pretty tough at the time,” Garcia said after the ceremony. “I’ve accepted it now.
“Going out there and watching other games or watching friends play is hard. I just have to think to myself that the injury happened for a reason. My body could have been telling me it needed it a break. Unfortunately, this is the break. I have to stick with my rehab so I can get playing sooner.”
Garcia posted a 26-2 record along with a 0.20. She struck out 418 batters in 175 innings pitched, posting a 0.20 ERA while firing 20 shutouts, including 10 no-hitters and five perfect games. One of those perfect games got her national acclaim when she struck out 23 batters in a perfect game loss. Because California extra inning rules start a runner on second, she did not allow a hit or batter to reach base. The runner advanced on a wild pitch and then scored on a throwing error.
Initial indications were that Garcia had an MCL injury, but doctors found a torn ACL during the surgery and decided to do the repairs in stages. Garcia is expected to have the ACL repaired at the end of this month.
What that means for the start of her career at UCLA is unclear.
“They haven’t given me a time,” she said. “I just have to keep doing my physical therapy and do what they tell me to do.”
The surgery also meant that she did not play for the U.S. Junior National team.
“Not being able to play for Team USA was kind of a heartbreak,” she said. “Going out there and watching them and knowing I will be back stronger than ever gives me hope. Hopefully, I’ll be out there in two years with the women’s team.”