It must be the gear.
After former UCLA catcher Jen Schroeder surprised Delanie Wisz with customized catching gear this week in Oklahoma City, the Bruins’ redshirt senior hit the first pitch she saw at the Women’s College World Series for a single.
It was only the beginning of a standout Oklahoma City performance for Wisz, who strapped on the one-of-a-kind gear inspired by her family and faith for UCLA’s must-win game against Northwestern on Friday and worked with pitcher Megan Faraimo on a 10-strikeout, one-run gem to keep UCLA’s season alive.
After the final out that sent the Bruins (49-9) into another elimination game Sunday against No. 14 Florida or No. 7 Oklahoma State at noon PDT on ABC, Wisz’s white, blue and gold catcher’s gear was at the center of UCLA’s celebratory team hug.
“That gear is super special to me,” Wisz said after the 6-1 win over Northwestern. “I’m just so beyond blessed to have been able to receive something like that.”
Of all the custom projects Schroeder has worked on, Wisz’s was the most inspirational.
At the center of Wisz’s chest protector is a cross, symbolizing her faith, with the vertical line showing a replica of her older sister Stevie Wisz’s scar from multiple open-heart surgeries. The inside of the chest protector features Wisz’s number 97, her signature and a copy of a tattoo Wisz has on her shoulder to honor older brother Hunter, who died when he was 17 days old.
“I may not see you, but I can feel you,” the tattoo reads. It’s also featured on the inside of Wisz’s mask.
Schroeder, who worked with Easton to create the gear after she learned Easton-sponsored programs were unable to get catching gear in their school colors because of pandemic supply chain delays, enlisted Wisz’s family and teammates for input about the special elements. Centerfielder Maya Brady, Wisz’s roommate, covertly got copies of her signature, which appears on her helmet, the inside of her chest protector and on the back.
“The idea was that people would see this gear and she would put this gear on and she would feel the way that I saw her,” Schroeder said, “as this confident, bold, amazing athlete.”
The gift couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only were the Bruins going to play on the biggest stage of college softball, but the second-team All-American needed new gear after her teammates dumped blue Powerade on her last week. The celebration was warranted after a standout performance in the super regional against Duke, which included three RBIs in the clinching second game.
Wisz asked her coaches if they had extra gear for her heading to Oklahoma City. Head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who gave Schroeder her blessing to highlight Wisz with the gift, almost spoiled the secret by saying Wisz didn’t need any.
“I’m so jealous,” said Inouye-Perez, a three-time national champion as a catcher at UCLA.
With her new gear, Wisz continued her hot-hitting postseason in Oklahoma City. The catcher/third baseman is 12 of 23 at the plate with 15 RBIs in seven postseason games, including three RBIs in the two World Series games.
Inouye-Perez, whose UCLA career spans more than three decades as a player, assistant and head coach for 16 years, has played with and coached some of the sport’s best at UCLA. The highlights of clutch hits replay in her head, and Wisz is quickly adding to the montage.
“Lanie is going down as one of those hitters that has the ability to come through in critical moments,” Inouye-Perez said.
Just getting to UCLA was a surprise for Wisz, let alone her arrival as a star. The Loyola Marymount transfer was not highly recruited out of Santa Maria Righetti High. She told Schroeder she never thought she could play at this level. Now she’s dominating it.
“I believe that God had his hand over my journey and I’m right where I’m supposed to be,” Wisz said after leading UCLA to a super-regional sweep. “So it’s just a dream to be able to wear this uniform.”
The stars aligned for Wisz to transfer to UCLA in 2020. That season, pitcher Rachel Garcia and utility player Bubba Nickles made the cut for the U.S. national team. They redshirted the season in anticipation of the Olympics, opening two roster spots. Catcher Colleen Sullivan, then a rising sophomore who was in line to start, transferred, forcing Inouye-Perez to look for catchers.
Wisz earned All-West Coast Conference in 2019 as a third baseman.
But Inouye-Perez has a habit of turning players into catchers, the coach says with a sheepish grin. She could tell that Wisz was a good athlete with strong leadership qualities, which, despite the natural third baseman’s creaky knees, made her an ideal fit behind the plate.
Catchers are the most underrated position on the field, said Schroeder, who, like Wisz, also came to UCLA as a corner infielder but switched to catcher as a sophomore. Although they call and catch every pitch in a perfect game, their names don’t go into the record books, Schroeder said.
Wisz was behind the plate for both of Faraimo’s solo perfect games this year, including a 15-strikeout, five-inning performance against Cal State Bakersfield on March 11.
“Delanie Wisz is the most underrated catcher in college softball,” Schroeder said.
After the Bruins are done in the World Series, Wisz might not be under the radar anymore.