It's not just the what for espnW player of the week Alyssa DiCarlo, it's the who, how and when
Call it a sign of the times that, despite growing up in Pac-12 territory in Arizona, Alyssa DiCarlo was as likely to see far-flung SEC schools playing softball when she turned on the television.
One team in particular stood out, which is partly why she is now part of a program that doesn't just wear black but embraces the role of iconoclast. Georgia likes being just a little bit different.
"We're just scrappy," DiCarlo said. "I don't think you ever see Georgia softball getting down and upset when they're losing. That's what I remember, also, watching Georgia softball when I was younger. They just kept fighting and fighting."
Perhaps that explains why the Bulldogs often seem to save their best for Florida. A rival in all sports, Florida is also SEC softball royalty. It has the NCAA titles. It has the lauded recruiting classes. It has Kelly Barnhill, the best pitcher in the country who is working on a career résumé that could place her among the most dominant of all time.
Against all of that, even as a perennial top 25 team and not-infrequent World Series participant in its own right, Georgia is always the underdog. It was an underdog two years ago when it ended Florida's pursuit of a third consecutive national title in a super regional stunner. It was an underdog again this past week. That the Bulldogs won two of three games against the Gators was a mild surprise. Going directly through Florida's pitching to win the series was an eye-opener.
No one had more to do with that than DiCarlo, espnW's softball player of the week. She hit two home runs in three plate appearances against Barnhill, who had allowed one home run in 70-plus innings entering the series.
She hit home runs off Barnhill and Aleshia Ocasio in the same game, including a walk-off that was just the fifth home run Ocasio had allowed this season and her 11th in more than 250 innings over the past three seasons.
For the week, which also included a slightly less dramatic midweek doubleheader sweep against Bucknell, DiCarlo hit four home runs and two doubles and drove in nine runs.
The Georgia she grew up watching didn't always win, but it was never intimidated. And neither was she.
"When we were watching Barnhill and watching all the pitchers and preparing, it wasn't like we were scared looking at them," DiCarlo said. "We were watching them thinking 'Oh, we got this.' There was just a feeling across the whole team that we were going to beat them ... we just knew it."
Easier said than done, although neither happens with any regularity. The confidence was the product of work. As part of her preparation, DiCarlo watched video of hitters who had been successful against Barnhill. An All-American in her own right, the junior shortstop also watched video of her own at-bats against Barnhill from a season ago. She went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in two games. But that wasn't as bad as her own blurred memories.
"I thought that she just struck me out, to be honest," DiCarlo said. "But I watched it again, and I made some good contact off of her a couple of times. So that gave me a little bit of confidence coming into the game."
Even when Barnhill pulled the strings on her in her first at-bat, getting her to swing and miss for strike one and freezing her for strike two, DiCarlo said she felt like she timed her swing on the ensuing two-strike pitch well. She just happened to get under the ball enough to pop it straight up. She recalled thinking as she ran out the inevitable out that she just needed one more pitch to get it right. An illegal-pitch call meant she got that additional chance.
Back at the plate, she took a ball low and fouled off another high rise. The next pitch sat up near the letters, and DiCarlo hit it over not just the center field fence, but also the bleachers behind it.
DiCarlo also hit a home run off Barnhill in the second game of the series, a hit that chased the Gators' ace for the second time. But the more impressive feat might have been hitting home runs off both of Florida's best pitchers in the first game. Much of the preparation for Barnhill involved her low rise ball, a pitch that starts low and fools a hitter into inaction before it rises through the zone at the last moment. Ocasio presents the opposite puzzle, working well low in the zone with an outstanding drop ball.
Making that adjustment overnight is difficult enough in going from one game to the next. Making it in the middle of an intense game requires that much more discipline.
"I kind of had to reconfigure, redo my approach," DiCarlo said of the pitching change. "The low one that Barnhill was throwing that I was going to attack, now I'm probably not going to attack because it drops for Ocasio. I think my first at-bat against [Ocasio] I actually swung at a drop ball and I grounded out. So then I told myself, 'We're facing somebody else now, this is different.' "
True. But for much of the weekend, it didn't really matter whom DiCarlo faced.
Previous winners: Washington's Kirstyn Thomas (Feb. 14) | Duke's Katherine Huey (Feb. 21) | Arizona's Taylor McQuillin (Feb. 28) | Michigan's Faith Canfield (March 7) | Alabama's Alexis Osorio (March 14)