The gritty, unforgettable Huskies were an absolute ball to watch
The best college softball team in the nation resides in Seattle, a feisty gaggle of athletes who became champions because of talent and toughness.
Seattle Times staff columnist
OKLAHOMA CITY — Alicia Blake only knew she wanted to be the first to hug her pitcher. In past celebrations, her teammates would beat her to the embrace, would smother Danielle Lawrie before the catcher could get there, but this time Blake refused to follow the rush.
As soon as strike three zipped into her mitt, Blake rose and sprinted. She threw the glove and softball to the side along the way, and when the two met, they hugged each other to the ground.
Soon after, the entire University of Washington softball team joined them and rumbled around in the dirt.
If not for the trophy presentation, the players might have stayed there for hours.
The best college softball team in the nation resides in Seattle, a feisty gaggle of athletes who became champions because of talent and toughness. Of all the great things that can be said about the Huskies, one simple word sums them up the best.
That's what Lawrie told herself with a victory in danger late in this game.
That's what this team told itself through a trying three weeks of nail-gnawing postseason action. And that's what emphasizes this team's most endearing quality — their resistance to anything that stands in the way of success.
"They were tenacious," UW athletic director Scott Woodward said. "They were beautiful. They were vivacious, gritty. The whole team was just a ball to watch."
The Huskies won their first softball national championship with fitting drama.
The way their 3-2 victory over Florida ended captures them best.
Florida had the tying run on second base because Francesca Enea doubled off the left-field wall, barely missing a home run. The Gators had the potential winning run on first because Lawrie walked Kelsey Bruder.
There was only one out and the fear of disaster lingered in the stands.
Lawrie took a deep breath and followed her motto. No, she told herself. No. No way. No more. No worries.
She struck out the last two batters and ensured pandemonium.
"I was like, 'No, no, no!' " said Lawrie, the national college player of the year.
"We've worked too hard for this to happen. I like to keep it interesting, but no, it wasn't going to happen."
Florida wasn't going to score. Not after all the Huskies had been through.
They had to win an epic 15-inning game to advance past Massachusetts three weeks ago. They rallied from a deflating 9-8, extra-innings loss to Georgia last week and won a third game against the Bulldogs to earn a berth in this championship series.
And now, they're No. 1, ending a long quest for a proud program once rocked by a scandal involving painkillers that led to the departure of former coach Teresa Wilson.
Heather Tarr, who played for Wilson, wound up taking over later, and now the program is higher than it has ever been.
The journey was not lost on the coach during the celebration Tuesday night.
"I am so proud to be a part of what this program is about and has been about," Tarr said.
"We all understand what this feeling is like. We've knocked on the door. For it to be a reality, it's hard to put it into words."
Woodward used a few Huskies athletic greats to put this team into perspective.
"They are a combo of Steve Emtman and Brandon Roy," he said.
Emtman's determination. Roy's grace and clutch performance.
Throw Lawrie's competitiveness on top of that, and you have one unforgettable team.
Lawrie got out of jams in the first, fourth, fifth and seven innings to secure the victory.
Whenever the Gators threatened, she thrived.
"It seemed like every time we got a runner on base, she revved it up another gear," Florida coach Tim Walton said of Lawrie. "In the last two innings, she revved it up probably two more gears."
Lawrie delivered history. In the city that houses the ex-Sonics, she helped the Huskies win it all.
Oklahoma City doesn't have to be a place of bad memories for Seattleites anymore.
"Now I don't really want to leave because then I have to go home and do laundry and clean and feed my cat," Tarr said.
The chores can wait. The accomplishment is worth enjoying a little while longer.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Jerry Brewer
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.