Sunday, January 26

Softball seniors cultivate strong bonds beyond the field

Senior pitcher Ally Carda (left) and senior catcher Stephany LaRosa (right) have cultivated a strong bond that extends beyond their pitcher-catcher relationship on the field. (Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

It’s the top of the fifth inning, the Bruins clinging to a 4-3 lead, and the game stops – pitching change.

Emerging from the bullpen on the third-base line, senior pitcher Ally Carda walks toward the mound. The infielders and coach Kelly Inouye-Perez surround Carda. Just before senior catcher Stephany LaRosa reaches the huddles, she stops, bends over and draws something in the dirt.

“(Carda’s) thing is an anchor. … It’s just a reminder to stay grounded,” LaRosa said.”I hadn’t done it in a while, but just knowing that in certain situations, just to try and keep her focused, stay calm and know that the team had her back.”

Carda got UCLA out of the inning with only one run, stranding two Cal players on base. The Bruins went on to defeat the Bears 8-5.

“(LaRosa) came up to me and was like ‘Just to let you know, I drew an anchor for you right there in case you need it,'” Carda said. “She just knows, she gets me. If I need a little pick-me-up, she knows what to do.”

Carda and LaRosa connect with each other on the field, but have a relationship that goes beyond it. Even with the many accolades the two have earned – both were First Team All-Americans last year – the duo claims its off-field bond is what helped lead both to new heights, LaRosa said.

A special connection

LaRosa was never supposed to be a catcher. She was an All-American at shortstop her freshman year, and continued her stellar play as a sophomore.

Even though LaRosa had no experience behind the plate, Inouye-Perez decided going into their junior year, LaRosa would become a catcher, so her two stars could work in unison.

“I felt pretty strongly about being able to put Stephany behind the plate because of their ability to work together,” Inouye-Perez said. “Steph knows Ally, and Ally trusts Steph.”

The results from that 2014 season speak for themselves. Carda was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and was a top-three finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. LaRosa earned All-American and first team All-Pac-12 honors.

“If I could pick anyone to catch, it would be her,” Carda said. ” I truly believe she is the smartest person in the game and knows the game so well.”

Heading into this season, LaRosa was going to move back to the infield, but when some early-season struggles seemed to plague Carda, LaRosa went to her coaches and demanded she be moved back behind the plate. Even though she doesn’t love catching, LaRosa said she wanted to sacrifice for Carda.

“I shot (Ally) a text and said ‘I don’t know if I make a difference when I catch you, but I can’t go your senior year without giving you every opportunity to be successful,'” LaRosa said.

Since LaRosa has switched to catcher, Carda has a combined 54-9 record over the past two seasons, with a 1.94 ERA, compared to a 36-15 record and 2.80 ERA before the change.

An unexpected home run

When the two came together as freshmen, they said they didn’t think they’d be really be close friends.

Off the field, LaRosa is the quiet type who keeps to herself, while Carda is the wild child who loves attention.

Even with their differences, the two have had their share of crazy adventures that go beyond their relationship on the field.

They took a road trip up to Carda’s hometown where Carda made LaRosa hop into the driver’s seat while the two were literally driving on the I-5. Only one problem – Carda’s truck is a manual and LaRosa didn’t know how to drive stick.

“She definitely brings out a more adventurous side to me. … She’s someone I can’t really say no to,” LaRosa said. “We’ve established a great relationship both on and off the field, and I think because of the relationship we have off the field is why we are so closely connected on the field.”

Then there was the away game in which the two decided an impromptu performance was in order when a familiar Chris Brown song was being played.

UCLA was playing against Long Beach State with the bases loaded, and two outs. Carda was on the mound when Long Beach called for a timeout and the song “Don’t Wake Me Up” came on.

“I was like, ‘Al, you’re going to strike this girl out right now,'” LaRosa said. “So we’re singing back and forth to each other, and she throws the most beautiful changeup I have ever seen in my entire life.”

A little dance

A couple of weeks ago, the two were working out in the bullpen, when Carda said she was getting a little frustrated.

Her pitches weren’t landing where she wanted them to, so LaRosa decided to lighten up the mood.

“(Carda’s) a very focused pitcher. She’s very ‘Just give me the ball, I’m gonna pitch, I’m gonna get it done,'” LaRosa said. “So when she’s in a tight situation, I try to loosen things up a bit.”

LaRosa said she shimmied and whenever Carda got tense, she should just do the same.

It wouldn’t be long before LaRosa used her own advice.

In the third game of the Cal series, LaRosa noticed Carda started to struggle.

“She literally shimmied in the middle of the game,” Carda said. “It was probably bases loaded, cameras on us and she shimmied at me.”

For the two, it’s all about keeping each other grounded, even if it means dancing the stress away on national television every now and then.

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