Freshman third baseman Stephany LaRosa stepped back out of the batter’s box.
The UCLA softball player tilted her head a little, stared for a few moments, took a deep breath and stepped back up to the plate.
Just a few moments before, LaRosa had laced a pitch inches foul down the left field line. With runners on the corners and trailing by one run, it would’ve at the very least tied the game. Instead, the count remained 2-2 with two out in the top of the seventh inning and UCLA still down by one run.
LaRosa hit the ball sharply but straight at the Florida State shortstop, who initially dropped the routine grounder, scooped the ball up out of the dirt and made a hurried throw to first. LaRosa, with her head down running the whole time, lunged at the bag at first base but was beaten just barely by the throw.
The out sealed Florida State’s 2-1 victory over No. 12 seed UCLA in the NCAA Regional game Saturday.
Coupled with UCLA’s 7-2 loss to Hofstra on Friday, the defeat eliminated the team from the NCAA Tournament.
LaRosa dropped to the ground a few feet away from first base after seeing the call and laid there with her head down, consoled by first base coach Gina Vecchione.
“That’s life, that’s life,” coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said of the loss. “What I did tell the seniors is that softball doesn’t define them; they are more than just softball players. So, yes, that’s life.
“Literally, you’ve got to step up to a situation, be prepared for an opportunity and go for it, and that’s all you have control over at the end of the day.”
The loss was especially difficult for the seniors on the team, who were all part of the 2010 championship team.
Redshirt senior Katie Schroeder kept the Bruins alive late in the game Saturday with a two out single to right that put runners on the corners.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” an emotional Schroeder said after the game.
“We are more than just softball players but, if anything, I’m very blessed to be surrounded by the people here, and UCLA is obviously an unbelievable university and this program has changed my life.”
The team could not dig itself out of the hole created by losing the first game to Hofstra.
Hofstra, led by junior pitcher Olivia Galati, who struck out 14 batters and pitched a complete game, upset UCLA 7-2 on Friday night, sending the Bruins to the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
The Bruins also rallied in the final inning of that game, loading the bases with nobody out, but failed to produce a run.
“The first game is a big one, you’ve got to come out and you’ve got to win it,” Inouye-Perez said. “I think in that sense you put us behind the eight ball and by nature you start to press, athletes press, and today wasn’t our day.”
Sophomore pitcher Jessica Hall pitched complete games on Friday and Saturday, striking out 14 batters in 13 innings of work.
“I will definitely learn from this and I just know the feeling of not getting past regionals just sucks,” Hall said. “I know that we always work for the goal in the end, Oklahoma City, and (we’ll) just keep striving to get there.”
In the end it came down to a matter of inches. It was inches that separated LaRosa’s ball from being fair down the left field line and in turn keeping the Bruins’ season alive. And it was LaRosa who was inches away from the bag when the ball that ended the season for UCLA arrived at first.
“I think in the bigger picture, yeah, we do have to step back and figure out how to get those inches going the other way because we’ve … (benefited) from that being a big part of our program. We expect that to happen and it didn’t happen (Saturday),” Inouye-Perez said.