Washington eliminated from Women's College World Series
The defending national champions lost 4-3 to Arizona in a controversy-filled elimination game in Oklahoma City.
Seattle Times staff columnist
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OKLAHOMA CITY — Eyes red, tears trickling, Heather Tarr wiped her cheeks and spoke with disbelief.
"Well, if you would've told me before we started the postseason that we would've finished like this," the Washington softball coach said softly, "I don't think I would've believed it."
It wasn't the dream, not even close. Not after remaining No. 1 in the rankings all season. Not after handling the pressure of being the defending national champion with grace. Not after entering the Women's College World Series as the clear favorite.
With the best player in college softball and a versatile team to complement the virtuoso Danielle Lawrie, the Huskies wanted to win it all again. Instead, they exited early, losing their first two games in this double-elimination event and trudging off the field stunned and upset following a controversial game.
The Huskies' season and Lawrie's remarkable collegiate career ended Saturday with a 4-3 loss to Pac-10 rival Arizona. They'll be miffed by this conclusion for quite a while.
The Huskies (50-9), who hadn't lost consecutive games all season, are befuddled that two of their dominant strengths — clutch hitting and defense — became weaknesses. To make matters worse, in a game full of debatable calls, they lost two prime opportunities to score runs because of umpire rulings.
Most painful was a decision in the fifth inning. The Huskies trailed 3-1 at the time, but they mounted a two-out rally. The Huskies had runners at the corners with Lawrie, the two-time national player of the year and their RBI leader, coming to the plate.
But she never got to bat.
All-American shortstop Jenn Salling was called out for being illegally off third while pitcher Kenzie Fowler had the ball in the circle.
The Washington coaches argued with the umpires for several minutes. ESPN commentators expressed their disapproval of the call. But the ruling wasn't overturned.
It's called the Look-Back Rule, and after the game, Tarr smirked and noted the irony. This rule was invented partly because during UW's early years under former coach Teresa Wilson, its base runners became notorious for exploiting unobservant teams. They would swipe bases between plays by walking back to the bag, stopping short and then dashing to the next base while the pitcher returned to the circle and infielders left the bases uncovered.
It was a clever trick for Wilson (who is now Arizona's pitching coach) to employ, but now the rules state that runners must be on the base when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the circle.
In Salling's case, however, the Huskies say there was no intent to do something funny. Salling simply was a hair slow getting back to third. Replays showed she was an inch or two off the bag when Fowler had the ball.
"I can't explain it," Tarr said. "I don't know. It was unexplainable. She was en route. I don't know. I can't explain it. It's weird. I don't know if (the umpires) really knew."
Tarr and her coaches also argued a call in the third inning after Amanda Fleischman was thrown out at the plate. They thought Arizona catcher Stacie Chambers obstructed Fleischman's path to the plate before the throw came. Again, their pleas didn't result in change.
Washington wasn't the only team with gripes. Fowler was called for five illegal pitches, a rule umpires have been enforcing religiously during the World Series. The Huskies scored two runs with the assistance of Fowler's infractions.
Said Arizona coach Mike Candrea: "There were some interesting calls, to say the least."
Said Tarr: "Maybe I need to go to an umpire clinic and become more knowledgeable of these things, but they're just odd. Weird."
The coach used that word — weird — many times. The Huskies committed just 39 errors this season, a school record for fewest miscues, but three came in this game and led to three unearned runs. Weird. Fleischman, a senior second baseman who had never committed a postseason error, booted two balls. Weird. Throw in a lack of timely hitting, and the Huskies were bounced from the World Series before they won a game. Weird.
"Unlike last year, this year we just didn't peak at the right time, and we're sitting here two and out," Tarr said.
It marks the end of an incredible era. Lawrie (40-5, 1.11 earned-run average), a three-time All-American, led the Huskies to three World Series appearances in her career. She was a part of a group that helped rebuild the program.
"It's not a temporary success and the house is going to fall down when they're gone," Tarr said. They've left a legacy, and it's going to live forever."
Lawrie fought back tears as she reflected on her time at Washington. She revealed that she stressed too much during this postseason run. She barely slept, wanting so badly to end her career with another championship. Now, she accepts that it's over, even though the ending was bittersweet.
"I'm just proud to say that I went to the University of Washington," Lawrie said. "I helped them go to their first national championship. I was just a part of something that's very unique, and I'm leaving at peace. I'm OK with it. Obviously, I'm upset, but damn, the stress that I've been putting on myself lately. I wanted to win, obviously, but right now I'm at peace and I'm happy. I'm disappointed we lost, but at the end of the day, it's been a good five years."
She exited, jersey untucked, face dirty from a crazy game. A few minutes later, Lawrie signed an autograph for a little girl with an NCAA program promoting the World Series. Her face was on the cover.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
|Del Ponte 3b||3||0||0||0||0||2||.000|
|Arizona||002 010 1||—||4||6||2|
|Wash.||000 101 1||—||3||7||3|
|Fowler W, 35-7||7||7||3||1||2||8||1.00|
|Lawrie L, 40-5||7||6||4||1||2||12||1.00|