As senior shortstop Ali Aguilar caught the final out, a popup in shallow left field off the bat of two-time Pac-12 player of the year Hannah Flippen, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. But the cheer of the crowd might not have measured up to the screams of the players themselves. In fact, I’m pretty sure the players were louder.
The Husky softball team advanced to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2013 with a 2-1 win over Utah. The Huskies managed to win despite getting outhit 8-3, as Kirstyn Thomas broke out of a mini-slump with two of the Huskies hits (Aguilar had the other leading off the game).
The Husky runs were both manufactured with small ball. In the first, the Huskies got two runners on with nobody out on Aguilar’s single and a 4-pitch walk to Sis Bates. After a strikeout by Stangel, Flores hit a grounder to Flippen at second that could have, and probably should have, been an inning-ending double play. But Anissa Urtez mishandled the quick toss from Flippen - enough of a bobble that Bates really should have been called safe at second because Urtez didn’t gain control of the ball until her foot came off the bag. Bates was ruled out, but the bobble still cost Utah the DP chance. The 3-1 pitch to Taylor Van Zee was in the dirt and got away from Utah catcher Kelly Martinez as Aguilar slid in safely for the game’s first run.
Unlike the first run that required some help from Utah (error and wild pitch), the run in the second inning came on perfect execution by the Husky bats. Trysten Melhart drew a leadoff walk, and Thomas followed with the first of two hits she would have in the game to put Huskies at 1st and 2nd with nobody out. Kelly Burdick put down a textbook sacrifice bunt on the first pitch she saw to advance both runners into scoring position. Aguilar came up, knowing she just needed to get one in the air to the outfield to get Melhart home. She nearly gave UW a big 4-0 lead when she hit a ball that bounced off the top of the wall and over it in left field, but it was about two feet foul, at most. She still got the job done, as she sent Utes RF Alyssa Barrera to the warning track, easily scoring Melhart for a 2-0 advantage.
That was all the support that Taran Alvelo would get, but due to some fancy pitching on her part and three gigantic defensive plays, that’s all she needed. On four separate occasions, Alvelo got in trouble. Two times she got herself out of trouble, the other two times her defense picked her up:
- 2nd inning: 1st and 2nd, nobody out.
- 4th inning: 1st and 2nd, nobody out; then later bases loaded with two outs.
- 5th inning: bases loaded, one out.
- 6th inning: 1st and 2nd, one out.
Three of those four innings resulted in no runs, the 5th only resulted in one run. In the second and fourth innings, Alvelo worked herself out of trouble, including impressively striking out the side in the second.
In the fifth, a pair of fantastic plays most likely saved the game for the Huskies. With a runner on first and nobody out, BreOnna Castaneda grounded a ball back up the middle. Sis Bates dove full extension to get the ball near second base, then flipped it out of her glove backhand to Aguilar at second to get the lead runner. Aguilar’s relay to first wasn’t quite in time to get a double play, but just getting an out at all there was huge.
The next batter, Alyssa Barrera hit a double that moved Castaneda to third. The Huskies wanted no part of Pac-12 co-player of the year Hannah Flippen in a clutch situation, so she was intentionally walked to load the bases for Urtez. The Utah shortstop blooped one to shallow right. Trysten Melhart made yet another diving play to help Alvelo escape further damage. Castaneda scored on the sacrifice fly, but that was just the 1 run, and Barrera had to hold at second. Taran was able to get the next batter to get out of the inning and minimize the damage.
The final Utah threat came in the sixth, as the Utes got runners at first and second with one out. Pinch-runner Ryley Ball tried to steal third, but a great throw from Morganne Flores down to Taylor Van Zee at third caught her easily. The next hitter blooped one to Van Zee, and the Utes would not threaten in the seventh.
Here are the teams that will be at the WCWS:
- (1) Florida
- (9) Texas A&M
- (5) UCLA
- (13) LSU
- (3) Oregon
- (6) Washington
- (10) Oklahoma
- (15) Baylor
Yes, you are reading that correctly. The first game for the Huskies in Oklahoma City will be against the green and yellow birds from Eugene. That game will be at 4 PM PDT on Thursday, June 1st on ESPN2.
Press conference sound bites
Head coach Heather Tarr had high praise not only for what her ace pitcher did today physically, but for mentally being able to move on: “Taran had a tough game yesterday; she didn’t have her best stuff on Friday night (either)...I thought she did a tremendous job of owning what happened yesterday, waking up, and being a completely different pitcher.”
One of two seniors to play her final home game as a member of the Washington Huskies, left fielder Casey Stangel, when asked to reflect: “It’s amazing to see yourself set a goal, work hard for months as a group, go through adversity, go through highs and lows, and find yourself achieving the goal. Obviously it’s not our ultimate goal, but...it’s the greatest feeling because you just know how much you put into it.”
Tarr, on the ability to win a low-scoring game: “This team has gone through a lot. I mean, the majority of these guys - not including Taran - had to deal with a couple years ago when we didn’t have a shutdown pitching staff and we had to find a way to score sometimes 15, 16 runs.”
Personal aside: I was interested in the history here, so I looked up their 2015 season: she’s right. There’s a whole lot of big box scores: the 2015 team, which although not on par with this year, was still a pretty good team, going 42-17 and making the regional final before losing to Alabama. Of those 17 losses, almost half of them (eight) came in games that the Huskies scored at least 5 runs. This year’s team? Just three of their 12 losses have come when scoring at least 5 runs, one of which is yesterday’s near-comeback 9-8 loss to the Utes in game 2.