Battle-Tested Huskies Ready For NCAA Tournament
Despite injuries, early season defeats and rainouts, surging UW (33-13) is back hosting its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament regional. The nation’s 12th seed hosts Iona (24-22) Thursday at 7 p.m. “We had to build up our RPI the last few weeks,” coach Heather Tarr says. “That’s definitely a sign of how tough this team is.”
By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing
SEATTLE – They lost six of their first eight games inside the Pac-12.
They lost three catchers, starting last fall with 2013 postseason hero Kimberlee Souza to a torn knee ligament that cost her all of this season. Last weekend at California they lost another catcher, converted sophomore Dani Braun, to a concussion. That sent freshman Bridget Raftery to the key spot behind the plate.
They lost four home dates to Seattle’s drenching spring rains. Heck, even Danielle Lawrie’s jersey-retirement game got washed out.
Through all that, coach Heather Tarr’s Husky softball team really hasn’t lost anything. The Huskies are seeded 12th in this week’s NCAA tournament and are hosting a regional.
"We had to do it a little bit the hard way," Tarr said before practice Tuesday, two days before the Huskies (33-13) host Metro Atlantic Athletic League-champion Iona (24-22) Thursday at 7 p.m.
It’s been 11 months since UW advanced to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, and the experience of peaking last May is coming in handy now. This season Washington has won nine of its last 10 games and 12 of their final 15 in the regular season. That rise has UW back as a NCAA national seed hosting a regional for the fourth consecutive postseason.
"We had to build up our RPI the last few weeks," Tarr said of the ratings index that is a large factor in NCAA tournament seeding.
"That’s definitely a sign of how tough this team is."
The other two teams in the Seattle regional are Northwestern (33-16) and Brigham Young (33-21). They meet in Thursday’s first game at 4:30 at Husky Softball Stadium.
The Thursday winners play Friday at 1 p.m. The winner of that one advances to Saturday’s regional final at noon. The loser of the Thursday games come back to play Friday at 3:30 and perhaps Friday night for the chance to play on Saturday.
The Huskies lost to Northwestern 4-2 on Feb. 21 and beat BYU 8-0 Feb. 22 in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, Calif.
Washington has a two-headed pitching force for this year’s tournament. Bryana Walker (18-8, 1.73 ERA, 139 strikeouts) and Kaitlin Inglesby (13-4, 2.12, 111 strikeouts) have almost the exact workload this season, 137 2-3 and 132 1-3 innings, respectively. Both have excelled, bulling through the fact three different catchers have been handling their games.
That makes UW tougher to scout and more versatile than it’s been in recent postseasons. Tarr can mix and match Walker and Inglesby over a regional or even within the same game, depending on who is cool or hot.
Not that either veteran pitcher is planning on being cold in this NCAA tournament.
"We realize that we play our best when the best is most required," Inglesby said of both this last month and the Huskies’ run last year to the Women’s College World Series. "It was great to experience that the tougher it got the tougher we got.
"It prepared us for this season. We’ve never had it easy all year. We’ve worked our butts off to get here."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Braun started 23 games at catcher despite no prior experience there -- until she took a foul ball off the mask of last weekend’s series opener at Cal. She missed the final two games of UW’s sweep in Berkeley but Tarr said “Dani’s concussion has gone away. That’s great. Now we have two catchers and not just one” for the NCAA tournament. … This is Washington’s 21st consecutive NCAA tournament. The Huskies have reached 11 Women’s College World Series. Tarr is 44-20 in the postseason over her first nine seasons as coach at the school for which she was a star third baseman from 1994-97. Her postseason record as a coach includes UW’s first national championship in 2009.