Underdog Huskies will need Hyatt, others to deliver runs
With a 5-for-11 showing in last week's NCAA regional softball tournament, Washington junior Sarah Hyatt picked a fine time to break out...
Special to The Seattle Times
With a 5-for-11 showing in last week's NCAA regional softball tournament, Washington junior Sarah Hyatt picked a fine time to break out of a lingering funk at the plate.
And with the 21st-ranked Huskies facing top-ranked Michigan today in the first game of a best-of-three series in the NCAA Super Regional, she hopes her hitting woes remain banished.
Hyatt, a 21-year-old first baseman and former standout at Sedro-Woolley, delivered key hits in all three UW wins at the regional in Nebraska. The victory put the Huskies (34-20) two wins away from a third straight Women's College World Series berth — which would be their 8th overall.
Hyatt drove in the tying run in the bottom of the 11th inning as UW came from behind for a 2-1 win over Creighton on Friday, hit two home runs in a 7-6 comeback win over Nebraska on Saturday and singled home the winning run in the sixth inning of the Huskies' regional-clinching 2-0 win over Iowa on Thursday.
Her efforts earned Hyatt an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection and a spot on the all-tournament team.
"It was about time," Hyatt said with a laugh. "I was in a huge slump. It was awful. Hopefully (the hitting) is coming at a key time."
How bad had it been? Entering the regional, Hyatt had just five hits in her previous 34 at-bats. During that stretch, the 2004 team leader in runs drove in just two runs and, after batting cleanup in the season opener, had fallen as far as the No. 7 spot in the batting order.
"I went in saying, 'I've got nothing to lose,' " said Hyatt, who has 44 RBI for the season and is ninth the UW career list with 112. "I decided to go out, swing as hard as I can and look for a good pitch to hit."
The Huskies will look for more of the same against host Michigan (58-4) in today's 4 p.m. opener in Ann Arbor, Mich. The teams play the second game of a best-of-three series tomorrow at 11 a.m., then again at 2 p.m. tomorrow if necessary.
"I think it's a great opportunity," Hyatt said. "I love going into this game knowing we have no expectations. We're definitely the underdog, but we have a high potential to go on and get to the World Series."
It's been several years since the underdog mantle was draped over the UW softball program. The Huskies have been ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Top 25 poll for 153 consecutive weeks, dating to the 1994 preseason poll. They have made 12 straight NCAA regional appearances, and Sunday's win over Iowa was their 11th straight in regional play.
But in the Wolverines, Washington will be facing a juggernaut that has steamrolled through the season with a combination of pitching and power hitting.
"Playing Michigan is like playing a similar kind of team," Hyatt said. "We both have two good pitchers and have strong hitting teams that don't just rely on base hits but can hit the longball."
Senior hurler Ashley Boek (20-12) won all three regional games for the Huskies and was named MVP of the regional tournament. Freshman Caitlin Noble (14-8) has 227 strikeouts in 159-1/3 innings and along with Boek gives Washington a solid 1-2 punch.
Offensively, Ashley Charters sets the table and has scored a team-high 52 runs while stealing 32 bases in 37 attempts. But the Huskies have some serious punch through the middle of the lineup.
Hyatt has hit 15 home runs this year to rank 10th on the UW's single-season list and fourth on the career list with 34, and she ranks only third on her own team. Senior catcher Kristen Rivera, a finalist for USA Softball's Collegiate Player of the Year award, has 19 homers and 51 RBI. Junior Aimee Minor has 17 homers and a team-high 53 RBI.
Hyatt brushes off her own heady numbers, crediting her teammates for her production in three years as a Huskies starter.
"You know, hits are contagious, and I just try to keep the rally going," she said. "I think pitchers are just happy to get through those guys, and then I get good pitches to hit.
"This program has always had high expectations. With the talent we have and the players we have, we should have those expectations."
UW @ Michigan, NCAA Super Regional, 4 p.m.
UW @ Michigan, 11 a.m.