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Originally published May 15, 2013 at 7:36 PM | Page modified May 17, 2013 at 12:11 AM

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Wetmore driving home instead of the lane

Surreal doesn't quite describe the serendipitous oddity that landed Mercedes Wetmore on Washington's nationally ranked softball team.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Surreal doesn't quite describe the serendipitous oddity that landed Mercedes Wetmore on Washington's nationally ranked softball team.

Yes, that Mercedes Wetmore, who will be the only senior scholarship player on the women's basketball team next season. Now she's playing a part in helping the softball team try to win a national championship.

She'll be on the bench when No. 11 Washington hosts Portland State on Friday in the opener of the NCAA Seattle Regional.

Say what?

Last month, then-assistant women's basketball coach Mike Neighbors needed to appear at a monthly birthday party function for UW staff. It was barely 24 hours since news broke that coach Kevin McGuff was accepting the head-coaching job at Ohio State.

Dismissing the chaos, Neighbors brought Wetmore to the event, expressing to his colleagues the competitive spirit and drive Wetmore brought to his team.

It resonated with softball coach Heather Tarr.

A few days later, Wetmore was watching McGuff's news conference introducing him as the coach at Ohio State. Her roommate, outfielder Marki Creger-Zier, broke the solemn moment.

"Hey, my coaches want you to come talk to them," Creger-Zier said. "They want you to come be on the softball team."

"It turned into a delirious moment of, 'Are you joking with me right now?' " Wetmore said; the two often teasing in the past about Wetmore joining just to run.

It wasn't a joke. Tarr offered a spot as a utility player. Neighbors, named the head women's basketball coach the following day, was the final encouraging vote.

"They are nationally ranked. They've got a chance to win a championship," Neighbors said. "I thought if I was going to get the UW job, I wanted somebody like that to come into our locker room and share what they have — to see what (a championship team) looks like. There's a certain way that champions do things."

Tarr's Huskies are making their 20th NCAA tournament appearance, advancing to the women's College World Series 10 times and winning the championship in 2010. So Tarr wasn't scouting for a player to fill space or be a practice prop.

Wetmore's a pinch-runner who adds depth to Tarr's in-game strategies. Wetmore has scored twice in games against Stanford and Utah, jetting from second base to home.

Wetmore played softball as a youth and wanted to focus on basketball in high school. Her mother, however, is a bigger softball fan and begged her daughter to play. To appease her, Wetmore played one season as a sophomore at Auburn Riverside High School.

"I feel like the mechanics are still there," Wetmore said. "I still know how to catch and throw a ball. I can still swing a bat. It's just some of the in-between things I didn't develop when I was 12."

Wetmore is missing spring basketball workouts. Neighbors isn't concerned, given her discipline and drive to improve — characteristics that landed her on the softball team in the first place.

"We're asking amongst our staff how do we find people like Mercedes," Tarr said. "They're coaches' players because they think about learning and how things work. For that, they can learn quicker and help you lead your team as a coach. She's very unique in that way."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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