From The Daily: Huskies Happy To Be At Home

May 21, 2010

By Christian CapleThe UW Daily

Maybe it's fair to say that the Washington softball team was disrespected (Sunday) when it was given the No. 3 seed in this year's NCAA tournament, behind both Alabama and Michigan, despite spending the entire season ranked first in both major polls and rolling to the Pac-10 title without losing a series.

And maybe Danielle Lawrie and the rest of her teammates would have cared more had that three-seed announcement during (Sunday's) selection show come without the news that the Huskies, at long last, will be staying home for the regional round of the postseason.

That's the only thing a happy room full of UW softball players cared much about (Sunday) night, cheering as the television screen revealed that Washington will host its first NCAA Regional since 2000.

The Huskies (45-6) face North Dakota State (33-23) on Friday at 5 p.m., and will play the winner of Nebraska vs. North Carolina should they win their first game.

So yes, they got a bit of a slap in the face from the selection committee.

But as long as they get to stay in Seattle, they say that's good enough.

'Bottom line, you're home, it's your routine, you do what you do,' Lawrie said. 'I don't care where they seed us; I don't care who they're bringing in. It's all about us. It's not about anyone else.'

Washington's road back to the national championship will be considerably easier than last season's, when the Huskies had to spend three consecutive weeks away from home despite being the tournament's No. 3 seed, because their stadium didn't have lights.

The Huskies could face No. 14 Oklahoma in a Super Regional series should both teams advance past the Regional round, a tough task against a tough team, to be sure.

But again, they'd be in Seattle, as they're now faced with the ideal scenario of playing back-to-back postseason rounds without having to check into a single hotel room.

'They're going to the expense of sending three teams from pretty far away to come play us,' UW head coach Heather Tarr said. 'I think that must be a testament to something.'

Something, yes. It's only possible because UW remedied the stadium-lights problem during the offseason with the help of a couple of generous donors, the idea being that the same kind of success this year would be rewarded with the privilege of hosting games during the postseason. The lights, it was thought, were the only thing they needed.

And maybe the NCAA took last year's road journey into consideration when putting together this year`s field. There was speculation during the weekend that the Huskies may have lost any hope of hosting when Portland State lost in its conference tournament, because the NCAA weighs geography and ease of travel heavily when deciding on host sites. PSU fit both of those requirements, and there were no other non-Pac-10 Division-I teams in the state of Washington or Oregon that had any shot of qualifying.

But the Huskies were rewarded anyway, as the NCAA decided to send three teams from different time zones to the Northwest for the first postseason play in Seattle since the Huskies beat Alabama in a 2007 Super Regional.

There will likely be debate over the order of those top-three seeds, and some are sure to wonder how the defending national champion could go the entire season as the nation's top-ranked team and still not earn the tournament's No. 1 seed.

Or how a Pac-10 team can go an entire conference season without losing a series. And win the Pac-10 title without even needing to play its final three games. And enter the postseason with the fewest losses in school history, with the reigning National Player of the Year and last season's national-championship trophy sitting in its trophy case.

Just count the Huskies out of that argument.

'Winning the Pac-10 and stuff like that, it's great, and I think it's so cool for our team to be able to do that, but hell, if you're not No. 1, who cares?' Lawrie said. 'I'm not about to sit here and be all Bitter Betty about it.'

Said shortstop Jenn Salling: 'Who can complain about playing in front of the best fans in the country and your family?'

Well, not the Huskies, apparently.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Last year's win over UMass still serves as lesson for UW softball team

By Christian CapleThe UW Daily

Chief among the problems facing the Washington softball team at last year's NCAA Regional in Amherst, Mass. -- 3,000 miles away from home and at the beginning of a three-week road trip that would eventually define the program's legacy -- was a dilemma of the cosmetic kind.

The worst thing,' UW ace pitcher Danielle Lawrie said on Tuesday, 'was it was hard to find a place to get our hair done and stuff. That was probably the worst.'

Easy to say when the end result is a national title.

And the No. 3 Huskies (45-6) will begin their quest for a second consecutive championship today with a 5 p.m. Regional-round game against North Dakota State at Husky Softball Stadium, marking the official beginning of UW's postseason journey.

This one should be a little easier, if only in terms of less time spent waiting at baggage claim.

Washington's 2009 travel travails have been well documented. Seeded third overall but relegated to the road due to a lack of stadium lights, the Huskies left Seattle for Amherst and didn't return until they won the school's first national championship three weeks later, with stops in Atlanta (Super Regionals) and Oklahoma City (Women's College World Series) in between.

It was that first round in Amherst, though, that will go down in UW softball lore forever. The Huskies finally beat Brandice Balschmiter and UMass 6-1 in a marathon, 15-inning Regional-championship game/test of wills, Lawrie deciding, at that point, that if they could persevere through the day ­-- which had already seen Massachusetts beat them once earlier -- there was no way they were going home without the big trophy.

She was right. Washington technically won the national title when it beat Florida 3-2 in the second game of the championship series at the WCWS. But they may as well have crowned the Huskies that fateful, exhausting, long night in Massachusetts.

'I think when you experience those types of moments ... when you win that game, nothing will get in the way,' Lawrie said. 'I think that was the defining moment ... in my mind, I went, `We're going to win by far. Nobody's going to beat us.''

It's important to revisit today, as the Huskies host their first Regional since 2000, because it was that game that made the UW program what it is today. Lawrie struck out 24 batters in that game and threw 251 pitches, but it was Amanda Fleischman's season-saving snag of what would have been a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth that best put things in perspective.

These teams here this weekend -- North Dakota State, North Carolina, Nebraska -- are all here for a reason. And the fences are only so far. It's a lesson that Lawrie says still fuels her and her teammates to this day.

'I think that game still sets me up at times to do well now, because it's like, if you can do that, one pitch at a time for 15 innings, your team is prepared to do anything,' Lawrie said.

'You can't take pitches off,' UW head coach Heather Tarr said. 'You have to go for it every pitch.'

And just think: After all of that, the worst part was still trying to find a good hair salon.

PRICEY LIGHTING

How much would you pay to host a Regional?

If you're asking UMass, the answer is about $32,000. And that's just for the lights.

A report in the Daily Hampshire Gazette says the school shelled out the same sum for temporary lights as it did last year when it hosted, bringing the two-year cost to about $64,000 for a grand total of six days of softball.

NCAA rules require host institutions to either have lights at their stadiums or rent portable ones.

Washington faced the same problem last year, though logistical issues prevented the Huskies from bringing in temporary lights. Thanks to a fundraising effort, though, the Huskies raised the $475,000 necessary to purchase and install permanent stadium lights for this season.

'If, long term, they want to make their programs better, they should save their money and maybe go on the road and wear it for a year, and maybe be able to afford the lights. That's what we had to do,' Tarr said. 'We had to find a way to raise the money over time, and we eventually did it.'

What gets lost in all of this is that the lights aren't strictly there so the Huskies can host postseason games. Tarr said it also gives them better crowds for Friday-night games and can make it easier to schedule practices around class schedules, since they aren't battling the daylight anymore.

'Lights are great for every time of year, not just for one time of year,' Tarr said. 'We've been able to go to class more this year because we have the lights. We had awesome Friday crowds because we could play at 6 versus 1 o'clock.'

And speaking of UMass, the Pac-10 gets another taste of the East Coast this season. No. 13 seed Arizona State faces Boston U in a first-round game in Amherst today.

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