Rain could only delay it. Pregame miscommunications could only keep it prevent it for so long. The sun broke through the clouds Saturday evening, and two hours after a pushed-back first 8:05 p.m. first pitch, the No. 3 Washington softball team was spilling out of the dugout after a 5-0 win over No. 14 Kentucky to clinch its super regional.
The Huskies will go to their 14th Women’s College World Series and their seventh under Heather Tarr. It’s the second time in program history the Dawgs have gone to three straight World Series; they made four in a row from 1996-2000.
“I’m so excited to be go,” sophomore pitcher Gabbie Plain said. “I’m so excited to be there with all of the girls, all of the coaches, all of our family. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Once again, the pitching led the way. But while Friday was a combined effort, Saturday was all about Plain. The Aussie ace earned her second win of the weekend, shutting out the Wildcats and only allowing two hits.
Plain struck out eight batters, and pushed her current shutout streak to 31.2 innings, the longest of her career.
It’s the first time under the current postseason format that the Huskies have swept a super regional with a pair of shutouts.
“I’m not surprised, I’m happy,” Tarr said. “I’m proud of our ability to stay tough when the lead-off got on or there’s runners that got on. I think it just speaks to our mental toughness, and really sticking to what we do.”
Afternoon showers delayed the game by an hour. At one point, ESPN’s crawler on other broadcasts began saying that it had been postponed to Sunday. An hour before the new start time, the stadium staff, Kentucky coaches, ESPN on-site crew, and UW officials were milling around the concourse down the right-field line when word finally came in that the game would in fact be played.
“We actually thought we might not play the game tonight,” Tarr said. “I’m sure that fired us up a bit. Then we had the opportunity when the game was back on, and the team took care of business.”
But once the game started, the Huskies — designated the visitors for the game — got off to a fast start and never looked back. But they did so with some help.
Junior Morganne Flores, who came into Saturday with four homers in her past three games, laced a ball that short-hopped the wall in left-center and slid into second with a double. Kentucky’s Bailey Vick’s throw into second base went wide, allowing Flores to get up and go to third. UK first baseman Mallory Peyton, backing up the play, picked the ball up and tried to throw Flores out, but her throw got past Abbey Cheek and hit Tarr in the coach’s box, who then knocked the ball further away from the bag, allowing Flores to score.
The Wildcats wanted Flores to be put back on third base because of the interference. According to rule 12.17.4 of the NCAA Softball rulebook, so long as a base coach in foul territory doesn’t intentionally touch a ball, the ball is live.
So for the fifth straight game, the Dawgs got on the scoreboard in the opening frame.
That would be all for either team until the top of the sixth inning, when Tarr went to her bench with a runner on and two outs, calling on Noelle Hee to pinch hit. The sophomore came through in just her second at-bat of the postseason, blasting a ball the other way over the fence in right field to put the Huskies up 3-0.
“That was probably one of my most proud moments as a coach, watching a human lock in and be able to perform in that moment, and do what were team needed her to do,” Tarr said.
The Huskies added two more runs in the top of the seventh to put it away beyond any doubt.
Washington will face off against Pac-12 foe Arizona in the opening round of play in Oklahoma City on Thursday.
Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at email@example.com. Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum
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