WCWS 2019: A disappearing mic, 'dog fire' and a load of trash talk from UCLA, Washington alums
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The trash-talking, eye-rolling, back-and-forth banter began long before Washington and UCLA threw the first pitch in their Women's College World Series semifinal here on Sunday afternoon. Jen Schroeder and Morgan Stuart don't know any different.
On a typical day, they are the closest of friends; business partners and travel buddies who crisscross the country, growing the game of softball through their clinics. But once Washington beat Oklahoma State on Saturday night to set up Sunday's game with UCLA, they became rivals. Like bitter, angry, I'm-not-sure-I-like-you rivals.
Schroeder caught for UCLA from 2005 to 2009. If you've watched any of the Bruins' games during this Women's College World Series, you've undoubtedly seen her jumping up and down in the front row of the UCLA section with her blonde hair and headset microphone. Stuart played third base for Washington from 2008 to 2011. Far more subdued than the hyper-emotive Schroeder, Stuart was part of the Washington team that won the Women's College World Series in 2009. She bleeds all things Huskies.
And so there they stood Saturday morning in the parking lot of the USA Softball Hall of Fame complex, drinks in hand, arguing over an appropriate wager for the game. Schroeder wore the same white, denim shorts she had worn for both of the Bruins' previous 2019 WCWS victories. Stuart carried her own piece of good-luck apparel -- her jersey from the 2009 title game.
To the rest of the world, it was in no way a showdown between the Pac-12's two biggest rivals. That happened Friday when UCLA beat Arizona in a battle of the schools with the most Women's College World Series championships. But you wouldn't have known that Saturday morning. Surrounding Schroeder and Stuart were a sea of Bruins fans -- it was their tailgate, after all. The only drop of purple was that of 2018 Washington graduate Taylor Van Zee.
"Look at all these UCLA people," Stuart said. "So typical -- carefree, like they have nothing to worry about. This is the way they always are until they lose."
That's what happened the last time these teams met at the Women's College World Series, in 2017, when Washington's Ali Aguilar provided the only run of the game with a sixth-inning home run.
"It was a bomb," Stuart said.
"That day still bothers me," Schroeder confessed.
For the first two UCLA games here, the superfan Schroeder snuck a portable headset microphone into the stands and used it to amplify her voice throughout the rocking Bruins crowd. Think of it as an electric megaphone. On Saturday night, Stuart turned the microphone on and unplugged it, hoping it would drain the battery.
"She didn't think I would know," Schroeder said. "I'm onto her."
Washington had to beat UCLA twice to advance to the finals, so Stuart proposed that if Washington beat UCLA in Game 1, Schroeder give the microphone to Stuart.
"No way," Schroeder said. "Absolutely not. The mic is off limits.
"How about if UCLA wins, you have to give away your championship jersey?"
Stuart understandably wanted no part of that. "This is so stupid," she said. "What does the game have to do with my jersey."
It was Schroeder who told Stuart on Saturday night to take the jersey to the Oklahoma State game. In the inning in which she put it on, Washington scored the winning run. "I know there's pizazz in that jersey," she said. "Some kind of dog fire."
"Dog fire?" Stuart asked. "What is that?
"How about if Washington scores first, you have to turn off the mic for the rest of the game?"
Schroeder: "Nope, I said nothing with the mic."
The back-and-forth led nowhere, until Stuart finally left for the stadium. "I'm so in her head," Schroeder said. "You can just tell. She's so nervous about today. She knows they're going to lose."
But a few minutes later, when Schroeder and other Bruins alumni left for the stadium, they couldn't find the headset microphone. The joke was on them.
"Oh my god," Schroeder said. "Morgan totally took it. Or hid it. She stole the microphone. I know she did."
She pulled apart the UCLA RV, looking in every drawer and the bathroom. But it was nowhere to be found. She called Stuart. No answer. Texted her. No reply.
"This is total crap," Schroeder said. "We respected the jersey. Now she took our microphone?"
They had traveled from Southern California together. They shared a rental car and were staying in the same hotel room. But Schroeder was livid.
"The line has been crossed, and there's no going back," Schroeder said. "I have the hotel. I have the car. She can find her own damn ride back."
Said Stuart, with a grin, "I have no idea what she's talking about."
It was the same fire and competitiveness that made them dislike each other as players. "I couldn't stand playing against her," Stuart said. "I played against her sister, too. I knew the Schroeders. They were Orange County. We were inland. We had a chip on our shoulder. They were all these prima donnas or whatever."
"Sorry not sorry," joked Schroeder.
In her senior year, Schroeder knew pretty much the entire Washington team. She'd talk to all of them when they came up to bat. Except Stuart.
"I was just like, 'She's not worth it.'" Schroeder said.
Said Stuart: "Are you serious? Not worth it?"
"Not worth the trash-talking," Schroeder said.
"You better watch yourself," Stuart sort of joked. "That's a pretty crappy thing to say."
They became friends after working softball clinics together, realizing the same intense, competitive fire that led to their dislike for one another was the thing they wanted to bring to their clinics. That's what prompted Schroeder, along with her older sister Katie and ESPN softball analyst Amanda Scarborough, to ask Stuart to be one of the founders of a new type of softball clinic.
"Somehow, someway, it works," Stuart said.
Once inside the stadium, a common friend tipped Schroeder as to where the microphone might be. She found it. By the first pitch, it was wrapped around her head, helping her Bruins chants spread even further than they already would.
Throughout the game, Schroeder and Stuart never spoke, texted or even looked in each other's direction. They took the same spot on opposite sides of the field: front row above the dugout of their alma-maters. When Washington was up, Stuart stood, often nervously dancing hoping for a key, two-out hit. When a Bruin was in the box, it was Schroeder and the rest of the UCLA section who came to their feet, peppering chants of, "H-I-T-S" and, "O-U-T-S" between, "U-C-L-A."
For more than three hours under a baking, Oklahoma-summer sun, the teams went back and forth, putting runners into scoring position without hitting them home. As the fifth inning approached, Stuart thought of the Aguilar homer two years earlier. "I can see it happening again," she said. Schroeder tried to stay positive.
"I have no doubt we are going to win," she said. "My level of confidence is a 10, a 12, an 8,000, whatever. We are winning."
With each inning that passed, the tension grew. Twice Schroeder switched seats, trying to change the mojo. When an usher ordered her to turn off the microphone, she complied but continued wearing it for good luck. Late in the game. she reversed her UCLA tank top inside out hoping to spark a rally. Stuart, on the other hand, barely moved, putting her game jersey on in the fifth inning.
None of it worked. Washington stranded the bases loaded in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of that inning, UCLA starting pitcher Rachel Garcia, the two-time National Player of the Year, came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. She hit a rope to left field that Sami Reynolds snagged to end the inning.
Then two innings later, after throwing 179 pitches and holding Washington scoreless for 10 frames while striking out 16, Garcia came to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. Behind 1-2 in the count, she belted a fastball over the left-field wall to give UCLA the 3-0 walk-off victory and send the Bruins to the championship series beginning Monday night. Schroeder leaped up and down, hugging everyone around her. Tears fell from her eyes as Garcia crossed the plate.
"That's the greatest moment I've ever seen at the World Series," she said. "I've never seen an athlete compete like that in my entire life. I've never been moved to tears at a softball game like that. And I've played in and seen a lot of them. That is just the most magical moment."
Across the diamond, Stuart stood frozen, thinking back to the runners the Huskies had stranded earlier in the game.
"Rachel is the best player in the game," Stuart said. "You tip your cap to that. She's amazing. I'm proud of how our team played."
A few minutes after it was all over, Stuart made her way to the UCLA side of the stadium and waited for Schroeder on the concourse. When she saw her friend, the two embraced for several minutes. Strangers stared. But they didn't care. They were both exhausted. Thirsty. And probably a bit sunburned.
"If we were going to lose," Stuart said. "I'm happy it was like that. What a game."