UW softball team returns stronger after Cal-induced tailspin
The Huskies' softball team plays in a super regional at Cal this weekend, after bouncing back from 16 losses in 20 games.
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The tailspin — 16 losses in 20 games, the darkest 20-game stretch any Washington softball team has endured — began on California's home field on March 30.
But that was then; this is now — and now is looking pretty good to the revitalized Huskies.
Energized by three straight shutout wins at home in last week's NCAA regional, UW returns to Cal this weekend ready, even eager, to tangle with the nation's unanimous No. 1 team in a best-of-three super regional. Up for grabs: a berth in the Women's College World Series.
"Everybody is good at this point," UW coach Heather Tarr said of the 16 remaining tournament teams. "We're just preparing ourselves to play our best. Whoever is in the other dugout, they deal with us."
A sizable challenge awaits the 16th-seeded Huskies (39-17) when the series begins Saturday at 7 p.m. Top-seeded Cal (54-5) features an elite pitching combo in junior Jolene Henderson (34-2) and senior Valerie Arioto (20-3).
The hard-throwing Henderson ranks 16th in the country in strikeouts (284) and sixth in earned-run average (1.16). Arioto, a finesse pitcher, has a 1.32 ERA (11th nationally). At the plate, she ranks sixth in home runs (22). Henderson has 15 shutouts (second in the country), posting three last week when Cal had to go through the loser's bracket of its regional.
Cal lost to Arkansas (29-28) on Saturday but thumped the Razorbacks twice Sunday to survive. Henderson pitched all but one inning of Cal's five regional games.
Back on March 30, UW led Cal 1-0 with two out in the bottom of the seventh. With the bases loaded, a two-strike pitch Tarr viewed as borderline was called a ball. The next pitch was ripped down the left-field line, driving in two. "Game-winner," Tarr said.
Washington lost the next two games 5-3 and 6-4. "We competed just fine," Tarr said. "We just didn't win." UW then staggered through the rest of its Pac-12 games, dropping 16 of 20 (UW's next-worst 20-game span: 6-14 in 2008).
But the three shutout wins and sufficient clutch hitting (including a three-run home run by Niki Williams in Sunday's regional clincher) have given the Huskies a flashback to the way they started this season — 32-1, with six wins over ranked teams.
"We had that reprieve, and we got an opportunity to see how we were, to see what the Pac-12 season has actually done to us," Tarr said.
"Did it kill us? No, it didn't. I think we proved, at least to ourselves, that we know how to compete. We didn't all of a sudden forget how to play, or we don't know what we're doing coaching.
"Now we get to move forward into this next adventure and make things happen at the next level."
|How the UW softball team has fared in the NCAA Super Regionals:|
|2005||Lost at Michigan 2-1|
|2006||Lost at Texas 2-0|
|2007||Won at home vs. Alabama 2-0|
|2009*||Won at Georgia Tech 2-0|
|2010||Won at home vs. Oklahoma 2-1|
|2011||Lost at Missouri 2-0|
|*Won national championship|
Batting average/.321 (8)/.299 (35)
Slugging pct./.528 (10)/.445 (39)
Runs per game/6.81 (5)/5.52 (19)
Stolen bases per game/1.46 (36)/1.45 (37)
Earned-run average/1.26 (3)/2.53*
NCAA ranking in parentheses; *Not in NCAA top 50.