It would make all the sense in the world if the Washington softball team was reeling.
After all, No. 1 Cal dispatched of the No. 10 Huskies (32-4) last weekend in a three-game sweep. That trio of losses plummeted the UW seven spots in the NFCA coaches’ poll, dropping them behind two more conference foes.
On the eve of tonight’s series-opener against No. 19 Arizona, though, the first of six games against top-20 opponents the Huskies will play in the next seven days, the UW’s do-everything pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby and her teammates couldn’t be more confident.
“It doesn’t matter who wins now,” Inglesby said. “It matters who wins in June. I know, and every single one of the girls on our team knows, that we will see Cal again, and we’re going to beat them when it counts. They can sweep us now, but two months, try again. Try to beat us for a fourth time. Because it’s not going to happen.”
Those words could easily be dismissed as sour grapes and empty promises from a player and team that simply came up short. Maybe they are. Either way, UW head coach Heather Tarr couldn’t care less.
She’s already moved on from the Huskies’ heartbreak in Berkeley, already refocused her sights on Arizona. And, in typical Tarr fashion, has already found a way to turn the losses into a positive.
“We’ve got to go through stuff, we’ve got to experience stuff,” Tarr said. “We’ve got to come back, and we’ve got to respond. We’ve got to hit the ground and scrape our knee and get up. We haven’t really fallen yet, and we have to experience that to be who we want to be.”
Who the Huskies want to be is simple: national champions. There’s no better meat-grinder in the country to prepare a team for just that than the Pac-12, as the UW will again be reminded this week.
Arizona is far from your typical No. 19 team. As always, the eight-time national champion Wildcats are stacked with top recruits and top-line talent. At the plate they’re led by freshman shortstop Shelby Pendley, whose 12 home runs rank third in the Pac-12, and junior third-baseman Brigette Del Ponte, who has more extra-base hits than singles in her career.
Things get a bit trickier for Arizona when it comes to their enigmatic pitching staff. Junior hurler Kenzie Fowler was an All-American her first two seasons in Tucson, but has seen her ERA rise by a full point in her third campaign, to 2.87. She’s seen much of her workload seized by sophomore Shelby Babcock, whose ERA has dropped nearly two full points, to 2.22, in her second year.
Not quite on the level of the one-two punch the Huskies saw from Cal last weekend — few pitching staffs are — but a unit that will challenge the UW’s dangerous attack nonetheless, particularly on the heels of the Huskies’ struggles against the Bears.
“We let a lot of good pitches go by,” senior Niki Williams said of the series with Cal. “As hitters, we just need to stick to a plan once we’re in the box and take advantage of the pitches they are going to give us.”
If the determined Inglesby has her way, that’s exactly what the Huskies will do. And it will be the Wildcats who feel their wrath.
“We want to make Arizona feel the way we felt on Sunday afternoon,” Inglesby said.
Reach Sports Editor Kevin Dowd at email@example.com. Twitter: @kevindowd.
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