Huskies open softball World Series against Nebraska on Thursday
Washington's softball team hopes great pitching and defense, combined with enough clutch hitting, can carry it through the Women's College World Series.
Special to The Seattle Times
Women's College World Series
Where: At Oklahoma City.
When: Thursday through June 5.
First UW game: Thursday, 9 a.m. (PDT), No. 11 seed Huskies (43-15) vs. No. 14 Nebraska (45-14). If the Huskies win, they'll play again at 4 p.m. Friday. If they lose on Thursday, they'll play at 9 a.m. Saturday.
TV: The Huskies' first game will be televised live on ESPN2. All games will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2.
The format: Thursday through Sunday the eight teams play a double-elimination bracket to produce two teams for a best-of-three championship series. That series will be played Monday, Tuesday and, if necessary, Wednesday, June 5.
Other teams: The other first-round matchups on Thursday: Tennessee vs. Florida, 11:30 a.m.; Arizona State vs. Texas, 4 p.m.; Michigan vs. Oklahoma, 6:30 p.m.
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Why not Washington?
Part of an eight-team Women's College World Series field that includes many talented teams but no overwhelming favorite, the 11th-seeded Washington softball team is eager to see how far its postseason surge can last.
"A team that believes in itself is pretty dangerous at this time of year," said UW coach Heather Tarr, making her fourth WCWS appearance in her ninth season.
The Huskies (43-15) swept sixth-seeded Missouri with two one-run wins in a super regional last weekend and have won five straight postseason games. The keys: stellar pitching (just two runs allowed), outstanding defense (twice last weekend UW fielders made ESPN's Top 10 plays) and just enough offense.
Next up: The Huskies open the series at 9 a.m. Thursday (on ESPN2) against the bracket's only other double-digit qualifier, 14th-seeded Nebraska (45-14). The Huskers surprised third-seeded Oregon last weekend, winning two of three games against the Pac-12 champ.
"They've got good pitching and defense," Tarr said. "Like us, they weren't the same team in February as they are now. They're going to be tough."
Washington and Nebraska each finished second in their conferences, each feature two capable pitchers and back them up with great defense. Washington is tied for the nation's best fielding percentage (.981) and has not committed a postseason error. Nebraska has turned 48 double plays, tops in the nation.
The Huskies will be looking for more from star pitchers Kaitlin Inglesby (1-0, 0.47 earned-run average in postseason play) and Bryana Walker (4-0, 0.37, 31 strikeouts vs. six walks), and scratching out enough runs. Washington is hitting just .234 in tournament games and has exceeded two runs in just one game.
"It's good to have that one-two combination any way we need to use them," Tarr said. In the clincher at Missouri, Walker (19-7, 2.81 overall) threw five no-hit innings before giving up back-to-back singles to open the sixth. With UW leading 1-0, Inglesby (19-7, 1.87) entered and threw two perfect innings for the save.
"They're throwing strikes with multiple pitches. It's not just always one thing," Tarr said. "They're putting good pitches in good spots and using a great defense behind them. That gives them a lot of confidence. It's not a competition where one is trying to outdo the other. They know either one is a No. 1."
Right fielder Victoria Hayward is hitting .462 (6 for 13) in postseason play, and her leadoff home run in Game 2 at Missouri carried UW to a 1-0 win.
"Our lineup, one through nine and even off the bench, can produce," Tarr said. "We haven't relied on the home run or huge slugging numbers. We know it comes down to clutch hits. You may go 0 for 4 but maybe have the sac fly that wins the game. So we don't freak out when we don't have an 11-hit game."
• Junior second baseman Kelli Suguro, a Kentridge graduate, earned the No. 6 spot on ESPN's Top 10 plays Friday for sprawling to stop a hard grounder headed to right field, then throwing to first base from a nearly prone position to get the out. On Saturday, Kylee Lahners earned the No. 9 nod for reaching over the center-field fence and snagging a deep fly ball that otherwise would have been a game-altering two-run home run. "That was pretty cool," Tarr said.The Huskies at the World Series
2010/Tie, 7th/0-2/Heather Tarr
2007/Tie, 3rd/2-2/Heather Tarr
2004/Tie, 7th/0-2/Scott Centala, Steve Dailey
2003/Tie, 5th/1-2/Teresa Wilson
2000/Tie, 5th/1-2/Teresa Wilson
1998/Tie, 3rd/3-2/Teresa Wilson
1997/Tie, 3rd/2-2/Teresa Wilson