For the second straight day it was the No. 6 Washington softball team’s defense that was the highlight as the UW won the final game of the weekend, 5-1, to earn the series sweep of California.
Unlike Washington’s flawlessness with the leather, it was a defensive miscue from California in the sixth inning ultimately ballooned the scoreline in the UW’s favor, but it was a much tighter contest than the first three games of the series.
For the Huskies (28-4, 6-2 Pac-12), fifth-year senior shortstop Sis Bates and junior second baseman Baylee Klingler showed out, each making fine defensive plays to keep the Golden Bears (12-11, 1-5) off the board for much of the game.
Their defense came to play early, as senior starting pitcher Gabbie Plain (17-0) faced a jam in the third inning.
The Bears’ first two batters reached base, as Lauren Espalin hit a single followed by a bunt from Mikayla Coelho. It looked as if Plain were going to be able to contain the damage herself, striking out the ensuing batter, followed by a sac fly to center which advanced both runners, but then a hard hit from D’Asha Saiki looked to put the Bears on the scoreboard.
Instead, Klingler made a diving stop to her right, sat up on her knees and snapped a throw to first in time to get Saiki in time and end the threat.
“That was such a big time play,” Bates said. “That changed the momentum of the game. It was full extension, like, ‘oh my god,’ you see that on a magazine.”
Bates also flashed the leather herself, making a tricky hop in the fifth inning look routine, a prime example of her textbook defense. On the season, Bates has committed just two errors, while as a team the Huskies committed just one all weekend.
While the Huskies were able to make the little plays to keep themselves in the game, small miscues from the Bears, including command struggles from starter Sona Halajian (1-7), gave the Huskies an opportunity to score first.
In the bottom of the third, Washington hit two singles and drew two walks, including one that pushed the first run of the day across, to take a 1-0 lead.
In total, the Huskies drew six walks on the game, including three from junior Sami Reynolds.
Although Halajian was allowing free passes to the UW bats, it was tough sledding to get the runs across, as it scored only one run through the first three innings. The third time through the order, Bates found something that worked, slapping a bloop RBI single into right field to stretch the lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning.
“You have to have a plan,” Bates said. “You hunt one [pitch] and you execute that and then you just keep it simple and out-compete, outlast.”
Following the insurance run in the fourth inning, the UW went to the bullpen as fatigue began to set in for Plain after throwing 253 pitches on the weekend. Saturday, she hit two batters and struggled to throw as many strikes as usual.
Head coach Heather Tarr called on sophomore Brooke Nelson and the Bonney Lake, Washington native was able to hold the Bears scoreless in the fifth, but was only able to record two outs in the sixth. With runners on the corners, the Huskies opted for freshman Sarah Willis to retire the final out of the inning.
Cal chipped into the lead, slapping a single into the outfield to make it 2-1. Willis then walked another batter to load the bases, but came back strong with a three pitch strikeout to end the threat.
“She’s supposed to go in there and throw strikes and she did,” Tarr said. “She got herself out of the jam, so it was really good to see.”
Ultimately, the UW scored three runs and stretched its lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth as Coelho made an error in right field off of a line drive from sixth-year senior Morganne Flores.
Willis worked around two singles in the seventh, closing out the game with a scoreless inning as the UW completed the weekend sweep of Cal.
Washington hits the road next weekend for another series against a Pac-12 bottom-feeder, Oregon State. The Beavers (14-3, 3-5) are seventh in the conference and haven’t won a game versus the Huskies since 2017. First pitch is scheduled for Friday, April 9 at 5 p.m.
Reach Co-Sports Editor Anthony Edwards at email@example.com. Twitter: @edwardsanthonyb
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