Experienced Huskies ready to advance out of regional
The Huskies are in a familiar role, hosting a four-team regional for the fifth consecutive season, and also have the experience and talent to reach the Women’s College World Series.
Special to The Seattle Times
NCAA softball regional
Husky Softball Stadium
4:30 p.m.: Northwestern (33-16) vs. BYU (33-21).
7 p.m.: No. 12 Washington (33-13) vs. Iona (24-22)
1 p.m.: Thursday’s winners
3:30 p.m.: Thursday’s losers
6 p.m.: 1 p.m. loser vs. 3:30 p.m. winner
Single day: $12 to $8 ($6 youth/seniors). All tournament: $30 to $21 ($15 youth/seniors)
If experience and senior leadership matter, the Washington softball team is well-stocked with both as it opens postseason play Thursday, marking the school’s 21st straight NCAA tournament appearance.
The Huskies (33-13) are the tournament’s No. 12 overall seed and will host a four-team regional for the fifth straight year. Washington plays Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champ Iona (24-22) at 7 p.m. at Husky Softball Stadium.
Northwestern (33-16) and BYU (33-21) meet at 4:30. In the double-elimination format, Thursday’s winners play Friday at 1 p.m. That winner advances to Saturday’s championship round (noon). Saturday’s winner moves on to a round-of-16 super regional and will face the winner of the regional hosted by fifth-seeded Florida.
Last year, Washington’s junior-dominated roster was seeded 11th, a modest standing, but got hot at the right time. UW became the only double-digit seed to reach the Women’s College World Series and came a win from advancing to the best-of-three championship series.
This year, six seniors, including pitchers Kaitlin Inglesby, a 2013 first-team All-American, and Bryana Walker, will do much to determine how far the Huskies progress.
It has been an up-and-down season for the Huskies, who were ranked as high as No. 3 during nonconference play, then opened the Pac-12 schedule 2-6 before winning 12 of their last 15 games, including nine of their last 10.
A turning point may have come April 18 in a home doubleheader against Arizona State. The Huskies dropped the opener 3-1 after Inglesby threw six perfect innings against the nation’s top offense but gave up a walk and two homers in the seventh to take the hard-luck loss.
In the nightcap, UW rallied for an extra-innings win when senior first baseman Hooch Fagaly stroked a walkoff home run in the 10th inning.
Coach Heather Tarr, who has guided UW to the round of 16 in eight of the past nine seasons (and four World Series appearances), believes her veterans are ready to step up and stand out.
“In the past other girls have taken the leadership part,” Tarr said after the Arizona State rally. “They’ve been young for so long. It’s their time now. They don’t have to wait for other people.”
Seniors have had good late-season runs. Center fielder and leadoff hitter Victoria Hayward is batting .424, in the national top 30. Kylee Lahners (. 350) has 17 home runs, six off the national lead.
Left fielder Whitney Jones is hitting .325 with 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. Marki Creger-Zier (. 329) has 12 steals.
“Our expectation is to start to play our best when it matters most,” Tarr said this week. “We’ve played well the last few weeks. We’re just trying to continue to improve as a team every single pitch we have. When we keep it in that frame, the team is pretty much unbeatable.”