UW junior Niki Williams had two of the UW's three hits against Cal on Sunday, but it wasn't enough to prolong the Huskies' season. Photo by Joshua Bessex
When her softball career at Washington finally came to an end, Niki Williams was standing in the on-deck circle.
The senior was close, so close. One more at-bat, and perhaps Williams could have given her team the base hit necessary to earn the Huskies one more game. And who knows what could have happened then, in a winner-take-all rubber match.
But Williams and the Huskies ran into the best team in the country last weekend, when it was easy to get the feeling that the No. 1 Cal Bears would have won no matter who was in the other dugout. In her last moment as a collegiate athlete, Williams seemed to embody the ultimate fate of her team: standing inches away from her sport’s pinnacle, unable to take the final step.
On Sunday, the Huskies (39-19) became the most recent victim of a Bears team (56-5) that certainly appears dead set on honoring the 10-year anniversary of its program’s lone national championship with the another NCAA crown. And so Williams looked on as sophomore Victoria Hayward grounded out to third base to end the UW’s 2-0 loss to Cal in the second and clinching game of the Pac-12 rivals’ super regional in Berkeley, Calif.
It was a loss made all the more painful by its brutal familiarity. The Huskies played five games in the den of the Bears this season and lost them all — all by close margins, all games that would have been very different if the Huskies had been able to come up with the clutch hits they so desperately needed.
In Sunday’s season finale, the Huskies loaded the bases in the first inning before Cal’s Jamia Reid scooped a tailing liner by the UW’s Shawna Wright off her shoestrings to end the threat. In the second inning, with runners on first and second and two outs, Williams was struck out looking by Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Jolene Henderson, one of her nine punch-outs on the day.
It was bad timing squared for UW head coach Heather Tarr and the Huskies. Their bats fell silent at the worst moments in the game in which the Huskies could least afford missed opportunities.
“You have to attack them early and you have to keep going, and once you kind of let go of the rope and she grabs on, it becomes a tug of war,” Tarr said of Henderson. “And usually the great pitcher has a way to win those games. She is a great pitcher, and we tip our cap.”
Sunday’s loss brought to an end the careers of the last four Huskies who played for the UW’s 2009 national champions: Williams, Kimi Pohlman, Jenna Clifton, and Taylor Smith.
“I am a baby, so of course I bawled after the game was over,” Pohlman said. “It has been a roller coaster: a lot of ups and a lot of downs, a lot of wins and a lot of losses. It has been an honor to put on this uniform every day and get to play with great people, and it is sad that it is over.”
It’s the end of an era on Montlake, but there appeared to be signs last weekend that it could also be the start of a new one. There was the pitching of sophomore Bryana Walker, who continued her stellar postseason with four no-hit innings in the season finale, staking her claim to the title of the UW’s best pitcher. There was the experience gleaned by the UW’s baby-faced infield, made up, for most of the year, of three freshmen and a sophomore.
But for the Huskies, it’s tough to think about all that now. In her own quirky, so-obvious-it’s-insightful manner, Tarr tried to say why.
“I think the worst part about this,” Tarr said, “is that the season is over.”
Reach Sports Editor Kevin Dowd at email@example.com. Twitter: @kevindowd
Please read our Comment policy.