Secret Weapons

Feb. 25, 2010

By Christian Caple
The UW Daily

It's uncommonly sunny for a February afternoon in Seattle, so a couple of members of the UW softball team are getting some cuts in the batting cages before practice starts.

Danielle Lawrie has her car parked next to the cages, Beyonce blaring from the speakers, Lawrie singing along while joking with her teammates the way someone who threw a perfect game just a week prior typically would.

But she's not here to talk about that. Instead, she's singing the praises of Baily Harris and Shawna Wright, two UW freshmen whose relationships with Lawrie will have subtle but noticeable impacts on the Huskies' quest for a second-consecutive national title.

Wright, a right-handed power hitter from Lancaster, Calif., made her NCAA debut by catching Lawrie's perfect game in a season-opening win over Auburn. She also hit a pinch-hit home run during the same tournament to help lead UW to a 4-3 win over Ohio. And those were just her first two games.

'She did a really good job,' Lawrie said in between Beyonce lyrics. 'She was confident. She wasn't nervous -- at least, I couldn't tell.'

It seems fitting that Wright's game-winning homer came during Harris' collegiate debut. The freshman from Longview, Wash., allowed three runs over six innings to earn her first career win.

It's especially impressive considering what she was doing the night before: vomiting, likely due to food poisoning from some bad chicken teriyaki she got at the airport. So she wasn't there for Lawrie's perfect game, instead hanging out at the hotel trying to get healthy enough to pitch the next day.

And though she said she was a little dehydrated, she made the start, toughing through a couple of jams en route to the victory.

That's what head coach Heather Tarr likes about Harris, though.

'I think there's obviously the intangible of toughness and confidence, and just kind of demeanor,' said Tarr, who first saw Harris pitch against fellow freshman Hooch Fagaly's select travel team.

That's when she noticed the movement on Harris' pitches. Pac-10 caliber, she thought.

'Pitchers don't always have to throw 65-70 mph,' Tarr said. 'Although speed is nice, because it's hard to teach speed. But movement is key. I thought that she could be someone who could keep the ball down and get a lot of groundball outs for us.'

And it might serve Harris better to be a groundball pitcher. She's like the softer, craftier complement to Lawrie's dominant fastball and razor-sharp backdoor curveball, and she says it's her job to 'take innings' from Lawrie, to fill in here and there so Lawrie doesn't wear her arm out before the postseason begins.

Enter Wright -- the catcher who links the two pitchers together -- whose composure for someone her age has already earned her comparisons to former UW backstop Alicia Blake, Lawrie's catcher for three seasons who was long thought of as one of the best in the conference.

Blake called all of Lawrie's pitches. So does Wright. So far, so good.

'She's just calming,' Lawrie said. 'The way she receives the ball isn't stressful, so if a runner steals, she's not freaking out. It's just throw and go, gets her, she's fine. I've only had people like Alicia catch for me, so that's all I've been used to. It isn't really a big difference other than it's a righty to a lefty, or a lefty to a righty.'

Wright already seems to get it.

'Behind the plate, it comes from a lot of help from Danielle to learn what she likes and doesn't like in certain situations,' Wright said. 'You learn when she shakes the same one off, sooner or later you learn that it's not the right pitch.'

But, while Wright's demeanor helps soothe Lawrie, it's the fifth-year senior who can do the same for Harris on days when Lawrie isn't throwing. Tarr described her All-American as a 'motherly' figure because of the way she cares for everyone else on the team.

If Lawrie wants to run, she calls Harris. If Harris wants to run, she calls Lawrie. It's as if Lawrie can sense that Harris could be 'it' for the Huskies in the circle after she's gone, so she's doing everything she can right now to make sure she's ready for the spotlight when the time comes.

'I'm just trying to get her on the track of, `You've got to work your butt off to play, and you've got to work hard and get the mental side of it,'' Lawrie said. 'I was always there for her [the first weekend], whether it's after an inning, come in and get a high five, hey, good job, just to know that I'm kind of in her back pocket, so she knows she's not doing it by herself.'

And the family comparisons just keep on coming.

'I'd say Danielle is like my older sister,' Harris said. 'She's always encouraging me, always giving me advice. Just really trying to get me going. She's very supportive.'

It'll be Harris and Wright supporting the Huskies when she's gone.

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