Huskies have balance to go further this year in NCAA softball
Washington takes a 19-4 record into the start of Pac-12 play. The Huskies were a surprise to make it to the World Series last season, and they hope to return this year.
Special to The Seattle Times
A year after making a surprise push to the Women’s College World Series as the No. 11 seed and nearly reaching the championship finals, the Washington softball team appears capable of repeating, maybe exceeding, that performance.
Ranked fifth with a 19-4 record after five weeks of warm-weather tournaments, the Huskies come home to begin Pac-12 play this weekend, meeting Utah (9-8) in games Friday (5 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon) at Husky Softball Stadium.
Coach Heather Tarr, in her 10th season at UW, cites experience with six senior regulars, pitching and defense as her team’s strengths, and with the nation’s fifth-best batting average (.350), the offense looks decent, too.
“We definitely surprised a lot of people last year,” Tarr said. “A lot of things came together for us at the right time. Our ability to win on the road (in the postseason) showed a lot about the character of our team, and we’re building on last year.”
The Huskies are 3-2 against current top-25 teams (including a victory over No. 8 Michigan). The challenges continue in Pac-12 play, home to five of the nation’s top seven teams: No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 Washington, No. 6 Arizona and No. 7 Arizona State.
Tarr, who has guided UW to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament eight times, said her team’s experience is a valuable edge.
“A lot of these seniors weren’t on a lot of websites or recruiting rankings for being top players,” she said. “We pride ourselves on being a great team versus a group of great individuals. I think this group still has a lot to prove to the softball community, so we have high expectations.”
Washington presents a formidable one-two punch at pitcher with seniors Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryana Walker alternating in the circle.
Inglesby, a 2013 first-team all-American who mixes power with a knee-buckling changeup, is 6-1 with a 1.69 earned-run average and 44 strikeouts against 20 walks. Walker, a finesse/control pitcher, is 11-2 with a 0.96 ERA.
“If they got the chance to go play pro beyond their college years, they’re not even near their peak,” Tarr said.
Walker fanned 14 on Feb. 16 in a 3-1 victory over defending NCAA champ Oklahoma.
“Bryana really grew last year,” Tarr said. “The pitcher she was in conference was not the pitcher she was in postseason (when she threw a no-hitter). She’s more seasoned this year.
“The combination of both of them on any weekend can be really threatening,” Tarr said. “You might get one for three innings and get the other for four. If you’re the other team, you never know what you’re getting. That’s exciting for us.”
At the plate, UW relies on clutch hitting more than power. Top hitters include seniors Victoria Hayward (.444) and Kylee Lahners (.426) and freshman shortstop Ali Aguilar (.435).
Lahners hit three homers and drove in 13 runs in each of the first two weekends this season.
“We’re pretty balanced throughout our lineup,” Tarr said. “The ability to play great defense and pitch well on any given day always gives us a chance to hit the ball and find a way to win. We just have to execute every game.”
• The Huskies play just 12 home games over four weekends this year. Next weekend, UW is home against UCLA in a big early season showdown. Arizona State visits April 17-19, and during the Arizona series, May 2-4, the team will honor former national player of the year Danielle Lawrie by retiring her jersey.