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UW begins quest for third-straight World Series appearance

Playtime is over.

From this afternoon, when the Huskies begin their postseason against Portland State at 6 p.m., until the season’s end, No. 15 Washington will be just two losses away from seeing its year come to an end. Five wins and four teams spanned across the next two weekends are all that stand between the Huskies and their third consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The experience brought by those last two trips will be a decisive factor in determining just how far this team goes.

“We have nothing to lose, but we also know what it is going to take to get to the end,” head softball coach Heather Tarr said. “It is a good position to be in right now because we have a lot of people who have been there before.”

Which is true. The Huskies (34-14, 9-12 Pac-10) do have veteran players who know the road to Oklahoma City like the backs of their hands. But there are also five freshmen who have never made the journey before, all of whom will be expected to contribute this postseason.

One thing is for certain: The Huskies will either win or lose as a team. This year, there is no Danielle Lawrie to hitch the team to her back.

Here are the three cogs that just may have the biggest say in how far this UW team can go.

THE SPARKPLUG

A month and a half ago, sophomore Maggie Wagner had never started a Pac-10 softball game.

Now, she is a regular on Tarr’s lineup card at second base. And after hitting eighth for most of the year, she was moved up to second last weekend at Oregon State.

Wagner provides the Huskies with something that a team simply can’t get enough of at the top of the lineup: speed and pressure on the defense. She won’t hit for power — heck, she might not even hit it out of the infield — but she doesn’t have to.

“If Kimi (Pohlman) gets on and there’s a runner at one, it puts more pressure on the [defense] for what I do,” Wagner said of her role when batting second. “And that’s just [to] get the ball on the ground. And then it gets the shortstop out of position, and it kind of just jacks the defense a little bit more. … It helps us score more.”

Wagner’s growth this season has been nearly unprecedented, going from a right-handed hitter, mainly playing as a pinch runner and defensive specialist, to an everyday player hitting lefty on a top-15 team.

“Amazing,” Tarr said of her progression. “I just can’t say enough about her ability to, one, change over [to] the left side, and two, to be able to just come in and be valuable at the point of the season where she came in.”

THE SLUGGER

Two years ago, junior Niki Williams was not an everyday player during the regular season of her freshman year.

Then the postseason came. As the Huskies continued to win and win on their way to the national championship, Williams began to play more and more. In Oklahoma City, she cemented her place in Husky lore with two home runs against the best pitching in the country.

The rest has been history.

Williams has led the Huskies this year in home runs (13), in RBI (50), and in on-base percentage (.514). She hit a walk-off home run against California in the second weekend of the conference season and a game-winning triple last Saturday against Oregon State.

In short, she has done it all.

“[I] just put pressure on the defense,” the first baseman said. “Just get in the box with a mentality that you are going to crush, and if you can put pressure on the [defense] and make them catch and throw the ball, then you are doing your job.”

THE STAR

OK, so Lawrie is gone. But apparently freshman Kaitlin Inglesby took some very thorough notes from her home in Portland, Ore., last year.

The freshman has been doing her best Lawrie impression all season long, getting the job done both in the circle and at the plate. She leads the team in nearly every pitching statistic and is second on the team with 11 home runs, while occupying the cleanup spot for most of the conference season.

Thus, it would stand to reason that much of the UW’s coming success or failure would hinge upon the success of the 6-foot-1 freshman, which is exactly what Tarr believes.

“It is going to be all about executing the game plan and [Inglesby] being at her best when we need her,” she said.

And don’t worry about the freshman being nervous for the postseason. Even if she hadn’t been tested all season long in the crucible that is the Pac-10 conference, her catcher, sophomore Shawna Wright, says Inglesby won’t bat an eye.

“She is always ready,” Wright said with a massive grin. “Kait is just that person that you don’t have to teach to be ready for this, and she doesn’t have to go through it to be ready. She has played enough softball to be ready for it.”

Reach reporter Kevin Dowd at sports@dailyuw.com.

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