You don’t make the late afternoon drive from Palmdale to Norco, unless you’re trying to throw off the creditors.

Rachel Garcia did it because she was chasing something.

Garcia would get out of school at 2:45 p.m. Her dad Tony, an engineer at a hospital, would leave work at 4. Once a week, they’d tunnel through the back roads, occasionally dipping a toe into the freeways, until they reached a batting cage run by Marty Tyson, Garcia’s travel ball coach.

“Sometimes it would be 90 minutes,” Rachel said. “Sometimes, two-and-a-half hours. Sometimes we’d get back at 11 p.m. and I’d have to be up at 6 a.m.”

But unless Rachel Garcia became a significant softball hitter, she’d be just another really good pitcher.

“I wanted more,” she said.

In June, Garcia threw 179 pitches for UCLA in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series. She struck out 16 and gave up no runs.

In the 10th, she cranked a no-doubt three-run home run for a 3-0 win, and UCLA beat Oklahoma in the finals to win its 13th WCWS. Garcia pitched all but two innings for the Bruins in the tournament.

That was only one of the days that made Garcia the top athlete in the L.A. market for 2019.

She remembers talking to her mom Christine when they both found out softball was returning to the Olympics. They both started crying, because Garcia, 22, will be a prominent player in Tokyo.

“I see Monica Abbott (35) and Cat Osterman (36) trying out for the team,” Garcia said. “I remember being just a kid, watching them on TV, putting my face right on the screen, mimicking the hitter loading up for the pitcher. It changed my life completely.

“It must have been in the fifth or sixth grade. I even had a picture of them trying out back then. They looked at it and said, ‘That’s insane.’ Now here I am as a teammate.”

In the past two seasons at UCLA, Garcia is 56-5, with 601 strikeouts in 410 innings. Her ERA in 2019 was 1.14. It was 1.31 in 2018.

At the plate, she hit .343 in 2019 as a junior, .325 as a sophomore. She slugged .599 this past season and her 57 RBIs were third on the team.

She says “the plan” is to come back in 2021 and finish it out. This season will be spent on tour with Team USA and then on a gold medal quest in Tokyo, following the path of Lisa Fernandez, now her pitching coach at UCLA.

Double duty in softball is a squeeze. Garcia works on hitting whenever she can, particularly on days before she pitches. Frequently she’ll work after dark, mostly hitting off a tee, but then there’s the library and homework and a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call for weights and practice.

There is the preseason, too, when Fernandez orders the pitchers to get “all layered up,” as Garcia said, for workouts in the hottest L.A. days.

“We’re out there with leggings,” Garcia said. “Those are tough days, but you appreciate it when you’re on the mound in Oklahoma and you’re throwing that many pitches in the heat and humidity.”

Garcia still wore sleeves when she pitched in Oklahoma.

“That game against Washington, that’s the type of thing I feed off,” she said earnestly, as if transported back there.

“It’s the great thing about pitching and hitting. You come back to the bench and you’re so excited anyway, and one thing leads to another. I thought I had won it before and they got me, and I was just hoping I’d get another chance at it. I had known it was our year, and this just moved us closer.”

Garcia struck out Madison Huskey with the bases loaded in the eighth. Her bid for what probably would have been a game-winning double was flagged down by Huskies outfielder Sami Reynolds in the ninth.

When Garcia homered and toured the bases, she removed a troll from her memory bank. In 2018, Garcia had pitched both games that UCLA lost to Florida State in that WCWS.

Throughout her travels, her mind rarely strays from Palmdale, where she threw 10 no-hitters for Highland High with an 0.20 ERA as a senior. One day she struck out 23 during a perfect game that Highland lost because of a catcher’s error.

Against Torrance in the Southern Section final, Garcia was in the midst of a 24-strikeout performance when her knee buckled while she threw a 12th-inning pitch. She hit and ran down the first-base line in the 13th, but the injury forced her to redshirt during her freshman season at UCLA.

She goes back to talk to school groups, just as the Clippers’ Paul George is fixing up the city’s basketball courts. It’s that rare Southern California community with a clear identity.

“People talk about Lancaster and not Palmdale, but you have to get through Palmdale to get to Lancaster,” she said, then laughed. “It’s crazy to think I can represent Palmdale, to be one of the few athletes who is making it.”

Going 58 hard miles can lead to tens of thousands.