The Huskies rush the field after pitcher Bryana Walker struck out Harvard’s Jane Alexander (pictured) to end the game, sending the UW on to its fourth-straight super regional. Photo by Joshua Bessex
So many of the questions surrounding this Washington softball team all season long were about dominance. After all, when the Huskies won it all in 2009, All-American pitcher Danielle Lawrie threw just about every inning of every game. It’s accepted wisdom in college softball that the team with the best pitcher has the best chance to win. Who would rise to occasion and assume that role for this 2012 team? Who would be the one workhorse the UW could turn to when the going got tough, as it inevitably does at this crazy time of the season?
The obvious answer was Kaitlin Inglesby, the sophomore who has played with skill belying her youth for much of her two years on Montlake. But during the UW’s three games at the Seattle Regional last weekend, a new answer emerged.
These Huskies don’t need one dominating ace. They just might have three.
In Sunday’s championship game against Harvard, the UW’s third-consecutive shutout win of the regional, it was sophomore Bryana Walker’s turn to lead the Huskies to victory. Walker tossed a complete-game shutout against the Crimson in a 4-0 UW victory that sent her team on to super regionals for the fourth-straight year.
Awaiting the Huskies in that next round will be a familiar face: the No. 1 Cal Bears, who came back from a Saturday loss to Arkansas to win three-straight games and clinch their spot in the round of 16. The two teams will play a best-of-three series in Berkeley, Calif., next weekend, with the winner moving on to the Women’s College World Series.
If her pitchers keep up their play from the regional, UW head coach Heather Tarr has to like her team’s chances. It speaks to the dominance the UW displayed in the circle all weekend long — from a variety of sources — that Walker’s outing may not have even been the best of the bunch.
In Friday’s regional opener, also against Harvard, Inglesby allowed just three hits en route to a 2-0 win. Against Texas Tech on Saturday, freshman Kasey Stanchek got the ball and responded with four no-hit innings before being pulled in favor of Inglesby, who closed out the Red Raiders with three more scoreless innings in another 2-0 victory.
That set the stage for Sunday’s rain-soaked championship game. The UW had two chances to beat Harvard on the double-elimination tournament’s final day, two shots to clinch their spot in the next round. After senior Niki Williams put the UW ahead 4-0 with a three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning, it became apparent the Huskies would need only one of those opportunities.
Through it all, Walker was nearly flawless, scattering four hits and striking out seven Harvard batters — including the final three, in a triumphant ending to the seventh inning — in the most important start of her young career.
Not bad for a pitcher who found out she’d be getting the start just 70 minutes before the game’s first pitch.
“I was nervous, but I kind of expected it,” Walker said of getting the call. “I wanted this game. I wanted to win. I wanted to lead my team to victory.”
Most expected Inglesby to be the pitcher Sunday. Tarr, though, never afraid to be unconventional, went with her less heralded sophomore and never looked back.
“We know we’re prepared, and we’re fortunate to have three pitchers that have been prepared through the Pac-12 season and the regular season,” she said. “There was no time like the present to allow Bryana the opportunity.”
After Walker began the game by issuing a free pass to Harvard’s Jane Alexander, it looked like a risk that might backfire. But the sophomore promptly buckled down, striking out the next two Crimson batters and retiring 11 of the next 13 hitters she faced.
And even though she didn’t throw a pitch in Sunday’s regional finale, Inglesby’s impact was felt.
On Friday, while Inglesby was busy mowing down Harvard hitters, Walker was taking notes. She noticed the Crimson’s aggression early in the count, its propensity for small-ball, and its lineup stacked with left-handed hitters. And when she got the chance, she put that knowledge to use.
“Me and Kaitlin are different pitchers, obviously, so I knew when I went in there I was going to have to have a slightly different game plan,” Walker said. “But seeing what they did and how they stepped and stuff was definitely helpful.”
Next weekend’s rematch with the Golden Bears will mark a quantum leap in the pedigree of the UW’s opponents. Harvard offers no athletic scholarships; Cal has two of the best players in the world, in pitchers Jolene Henderson and Valerie Arioto. The Huskies, of course, who were swept by Cal back in March, know this all too well.
But Tarr’s never felt better about her team, and those good vibes couldn’t be coming at a better moment.
“We played great defense, and we got the timely hitting we’ve been waiting to have,” Tarr said. “We think that’s what Husky softball is all about, and there’s no time to put it all together like now.”
Reach Sports Editor Kevin Dowd at email@example.com. Twitter: @kevindowd
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