Freshman catcher Shawna Wright doubles down the left field line, scoring shortstop Jenn Salling and clinching the 2-1 victory for the Huskies.
Shortstop Jenn Salling (right) and catcher Shawna Wright (center) celebrate with third baseman Morgan Stuart (left) after Wright hit Salling home in the bottom of the eighth inning of yesterday’s regional final against North Carolina.
Shawna Wright wanted only one thing when she stepped into the on-deck circle yesterday afternoon in the bottom of the eighth inning with a berth in the NCAA Super Regional on the line.
“All I could think about when I was on deck was, ‘Just get me up to bat, Dani, just get me up to bat,’” Wright said afterward.
With No. 3 Washington locked in a 1-1 tie with North Carolina, Wright’s wish was granted by Danielle Lawrie — or rather, Tar Heels ace Danielle Spaudling — by way of an intentional walk, and Wright took advantage.
The freshman catcher crushed a one-out, game-winning hit down the third base line to drive in Jenn Salling from second, sending the sold-out crowd of 1,760 at Husky Softball Stadium into a frenzy and giving the UW a Regional-clinching, 2-1 win over UNC.
Lawrie, who leads the team with 15 home runs, didn’t mind being walked. In fact, she knew that her catcher had it in her.
“As soon as I did get walked, I just knew, something in my stomach I knew, this is Shawna’s time,” Lawrie said.
The defending-champion Huskies (48-6), who defeated North Dakota State 3-0 Friday and UNC 1-0 Saturday, advanced to the Super Regional with the win yesterday. They will host the three-game series, which begins Thursday against No. 14 Oklahoma.
Wright’s game-winning hit wasn’t the only drama on Montlake yesterday afternoon.
Lawrie had pitched 20-straight innings of shutout ball up until the seventh inning yesterday. She was unstoppable, just like a National Player of the Year should be.
So with Lawrie needing just three outs to send the Huskies to their second-straight NCAA Super Regional, it seemed all but over.
But the Tar Heels (42-20), who won earlier yesterday over Nebraska off an eighth-inning home run to advance to the championship game, did not give up.
Brittany McKinney collected UNC’s second hit of the game to lead off the seventh, a base hit up the middle. Dani Manko pinch ran and advanced to second by way of a Lawrie wild pitch.
After a Spaulding pop out, Ally Blake shocked the world by making contact on a Lawrie change-up, a base hit that just went over the glove of left fielder Niki Williams and all the way to the wall.
“The ball was crushed,” said Williams, who put the Huskies up 1-0 earlier with a second-inning solo home run. “I kind of got a bad read. I took a step in, and it was over my head.”
That drove in Manko, and all of a sudden, the game was tied. The 20-or-so Tar Heel faithful were screaming, while the rest of the pro-Husky stadium fell silent in disbelief. Lawrie didn’t seem fazed, though, retiring the final two batters of the inning.
Wright’s hit was set up by some small ball from shortstop Jenn Salling. With one out, Salling bunted the ball back to Spaulding, and in Ichiro-like fashion, Salling raced down the first base line while Spaulding had trouble getting the ball to first base. The ball got past UNC first baseman Constance Orr, allowing Salling to slide safely into second base.
“We gave everybody, I think, what they wanted, a good game,” head coach Heather Tarr said.
Another Danielle was equally impressive on the mound yesterday. Spaulding, a UNC senior, matched Lawrie in nearly every fashion. She struck out nine and gave up two earned runs yesterday, this coming after she threw her second-straight no-hitter against Nebraska just hours earlier.
“I told her that she’s by far one of the best pitchers I think I’ve ever faced,” Lawrie said. “When you face people that are like that, they deserve to hear that. I think she could be [one of] the top-three pitchers I’ve ever faced overall, just with everything coming at you.”
Minus her seventh inning, Lawrie was untouchable yesterday, striking out 15 and giving up just three hits. She ended up with the win, running her record to 38-2.
First round: Washington 3, North Dakota State 0
Lawrie was unstoppable, both on the mound and at the plate, in Friday’s 3-0 win over NDSU. She hit a two-run shot in the second inning that just cleared the left-field fence, and it was all the Huskies would need. Lawrie also struck out 13 and allowed four hits.
Semifinals: Washington 1, North Carolina 0
On Saturday, the Huskies faced UNC, and Spaulding, for the first time. Right fielder Kimi Pohlman got things started in the first inning with a double, and Salling drove her in with a single.
Once again, it would be all the Huskies needed with Lawrie on the mound, as the All-American struck out 11 and gave up just two hits for her second-straight shutout.
Reach Sports Editor Taylor Soper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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