UW softball begins title defense in Arizona
Led by pitcher Danielle Lawrie, the Huskies open a four-day tournament Thursday at Arizona State
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College softball's most dominant player, Washington pitcher Danielle Lawrie, will be joined by a modified supporting cast Thursday when the No. 1-ranked Huskies begin defense of their 2009 national championship in Tempe, Ariz.
"I think we're officially over '09," UW coach Heather Tarr said as her players prepared to begin the new season with five games in a four-day tournament at Arizona State.
The Huskies, who began last season ranked 15th and 21st in two polls, open against Auburn (a 2009 NCAA tournament team) at 5 p.m.
Last June, Washington swept another Southeastern Conference team, top-ranked Florida, at the Women's College World Series in the best-of-three championship final. That gave UW its first NCAA softball crown in nine WCWS appearances.
"It was fun to celebrate all the wonderful things '09 had to offer," Tarr said, "but we're officially into the 2010 season — and we obviously enter with a huge target on our back."
With Lawrie in the circle, the Huskies can wear that target boldly. Lawrie begins her senior season ranked 13th on the NCAA career strikeout list after fanning 521 batters in 352-2/3 innings in 2009. If she duplicates that output this year, she would finish fourth all-time.
Last year the native of Langley, B.C., went 42-8 with a 0.97 earned-run average. She threw every pitch of every postseason game, including six in six days at the World Series. In the regional round, she famously struck out 24 in a 15-inning, 251-pitch performance — all after pitching a complete game earlier in the day.
"I took the necessary rest this fall," said Lawrie, the national player of the year. "That's the thing with underhand pitching — the more you throw the better shape your arm gets in. I'm expecting to throw a lot this season."
Tarr has added right-handed freshman Baily Harris from R.A. Long in Longview to share the load. Harris, twice a Greater St. Helens League most valuable player, joins sophomores Felicia Harris (7-2, 3.12) and Jenna Clifton (2-2, 4.93) as UW's pitching options.
"We have a No. 2 in all three of them," Tarr said. "It's their job to win a spot and to help support this team. We're better off than we were than last year (in backing up Lawrie)."
Seven players graduated, four who started against Florida in the championship final. Key departures included All-American second baseman Ashley Charters (a team-best .447 batting average in 2009), Ashlyn Watson (.330, mostly as designated player) and Lawrie's trusted battery mate, catcher Alicia Blake (.271).
"It's never going to be like it was with Alicia," Lawrie said. "She's going to be super-missed. I relied a lot on Alicia, but I relied a lot on Charters as well. For me to sit and sulk because Alicia and Charters are gone does nobody any good."
Senior utility player Amanda Fleischman and freshman Shawna Wright will compete for the full-time catcher's role.
"I've had both of them catch for me, and there haven't been a whole lot of shakes, so that's a good thing," Lawrie said. "It's just about being on the same page and communicating. That's the No. 1 thing."
Key returnees include sophomore outfielder Kimi Pohlman (.360 last year), like Lawrie a 2010 player of the year candidate; junior infielder Morgan Stuart (.322); first baseman Niki Williams (.288); and junior shortstop Jenn Salling (.270).
Salling, who played with Lawrie on the Canadian national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, joined UW at midseason and started slowly, but hit .415 in the postseason. Salling was an All-American at Oregon in 2007.
Tarr, in her sixth season, says lineups may change often between now and the start of Pac-10 play April 1. "Last year we probably had 20 different lineups throughout the season," she said. "We definitely don't have a set catcher or a set lineup yet."
• New this year: Night games at Husky Softball Stadium. Donors provided an estimated $400,000 to install six light towers around the field, built in the mid-1990s. Lights boost UW's chances of hosting postseason games. Only Sunday games will start at 1 p.m.
• Also new is altered Pac-10 scheduling. Home-and-away matchups are over. Now teams will play three-game series in one city during a trip. This year UW plays four of its seven Pac-10 series at home. Advantageously, the Huskies host top foes UCLA (April 1-3) and Arizona (April 9-11) during the first two weeks of conference play. The first home series is the Husky Softball Classic March 11-14. Opponents include Miami (Ohio), Portland State and Seattle.