Welcome Back, Lawrie

Feb. 18, 2009

By Graham Hays, ESPN.com

View complete entry: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3913819&name=college_sports

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Early in her team's opening game against UC Santa Barbara at the Campbell-Cartier Classic, Danielle Lawrie gestured for time and took a few steps outside the circle. Then, almost apologetically, she confirmed the request out loud with the home-plate umpire.

'In Canada, they're polite,' cracked an assistant coach from the Washington dugout.

Lawrie is back in uniform for the Huskies after a year away on Olympic duty, and while the unfailingly polite and polished British Columbia native is about as menacing off the field as one of fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan's songs, her return ought to scare every coach south of the 49th parallel.

Lawrie pitched the Huskies to within a game of the final series in the 2007 Women's College World Series, including a no-hitter in her first World Series start, and yet she looked like a distinctly improved product in San Diego. Lawrie picked up three wins on the weekend and allowed just five hits and no runs in 19.1 innings.

'I think she recognizes what she can do with a game,' Washington coach Heather Tarr said. 'I think [2007], her sophomore year, taught her maybe how good she could be in this game. And I think taking a year off and spending it with older players and with the national team and international softball, it helped her just be more mature, mentally stronger. Physically, I think she's pretty much what she is; she's going to be what Danielle is going to be. But I think mentally, it kind of helped her take a step back and recognize what does she really want to do in the game?'

Lawrie struck out 26 during her time in the circle against Utah State, San Diego State and UCSB, and has 36 strikeouts in 22 innings this season. But we already knew she was a dominant strikeout pitcher. What caught my attention was that Lawrie walked just one batter and didn't hit anyone in three appearances over the weekend. Two years ago, she struck out 457 batters in 258 innings, but she gave teams what they couldn't come up with on their own in the form of 104 walks and 32 hit batters.

This season, she has just four walks and two hit batters.

'I definitely have a year of experience playing against the best athletes in the world by far,' Lawrie said of her improvements since college fans' last extended look at her. 'I think [I have] that confidence, definitely, as well as being able to kind of control the tempo of the game. There's times when I would play before and I would kind of let, at times, the game kind of control how I play, instead of me controlling the pace, getting out there and just taking a breath, like 'OK, I have everything under control.' I know we have a good defense, so we can just go. It's not just all me here.'

With last season's shortstop, Morgan Stuart, playing extensively at third base and Ashley Charters back at shortstop, the Huskies have the makings of a tremendous infield defense.

• Backing up Lawrie and freshman pitcher Felecia Harris, the Huskies showed off plenty of offense in San Diego. Tarr's lineup has a solid core in Charters, Stuart, Alicia Blake, Lauren Greer and even Lawrie, whose bat gets overlooked because of her pitching. But there's one other name to keep in mind when plotting out a path to Oklahoma City (no, not the other well-known Canadian Olympian, although she was certainly a topic of conversation among those not wearing purple in San Diego).

Ashlyn Watson was a player to whom a lot of signs pointed as a potential breakthrough player. She hit just .248 overall last season, her first of more than 100 at-bats, but she did it with a solid .238 gross production average and .235 secondary average, numbers indicative of a player with good plate discipline and good power. And with two home runs and a double this season, that breakthrough could well be under way.

'We don't know what Ashlyn's ceiling is yet,' Tarr said. 'And I don't know if she really knows. I know what she wants to do this year, and I'm excited to see her be able to do it. I think she's always had the tools to do it physically, but she's maybe never had the amount of experience to allow her full capabilities to shine.'

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