#3 UCLA swept #1 Washington by scores of 3-0, 3-2, and 1-0 last weekend to take over the Pac-12 lead.
Washington dropped to #4 in the NFCA poll as a result of getting swept. UCLA jumped to #1, and previously 4th-ranked Oregon had a 4-0 week including a shutout of Oklahoma, so the Ducks moved up to 2. The Sooners slid down a spot to third.
Good news, bad news
Bad: Washington's shot to win the Pac-12 title for the first time in 8 years is pretty much gone.
Before last weekend, there was a fairly simplistic path to clinching a title for UW regardless of other results: winning 2 of 3 vs UCLA, 2 of 3 vs Oregon, and sweeping OSU. There were plenty of other paths, too, but all of them required at least 1 win at UCLA. In order for UW to even have a chance at this point, the Bruins would need to drop three of their last six conference games (3 at Cal, 3 vs ASU). Even that would only do the trick if UW can go 6-0 against the Ducks and Beavers.
Good: UW is still well above the cutoff for a top-8 seed, which is more important than their exact seeding 1 through 8
It's not a sure thing after going 0-3 at UCLA, but the Huskies are still on pace for a very high seed (both my latest bracket and one by College Sports Madness have the Huskies with the #4 overall seed).
With the way the Road to the WCWS is laid out, the difference between #1 and #8 is probably only slightly bigger than the difference between #8 and #9. Sure, facing the 16th-best team in Super Regionals is more appealing than facing the 9th-best team, but not having to travel, getting to play on your home field that you're familiar with (and your opponent likely is not — Utah last year was an exception), getting to bat last in 2 of the 3 games, and getting home fans is a big edge. If the Huskies go 4-2 or better in their last 6 games, a top-8 seed is clinched. 3-3 would probably do the trick, but would also lead to some nail-biting on Selection Sunday.
Bad: The offense against good opponents has to step up
I'll be the first to say it: the Huskies should have won on Saturday (or at least be up 4-3 with 2 outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 7th). With 2 on and 2 out in the top of the sixth in a tie game, Taylor Van Zee laced a ball down the right field line that would have easily scored one and probably two. The first base umpire inexplicably was not even looking in the right direction, and the home plate umpire, who shouldn't have to make that call, called it foul. The ESPN2 broadcast was openly questioning the call made:
They're literally showing the divot that Van Zee's ball kicked up from the RF line on the ESPN2 broadcast right now. Pretty obvious missed call.— Highly Caffeinat(Ed) Strong (@DawgoneCrazy) April 21, 2018
The missed call underlies a larger point, though. Sure, UW should have probably gotten out of LA with one win, not zero. But the Huskies have had difficulty getting their offense cranking against top competition this year. Runs scored vs current top-20 opponents:
- 4 in 9 innings vs Texas A&M — neutral site (won 4-3 in 9 innings)
- 4 vs #17 Long Beach State — neutral site (won 4-0)
- 8 vs #18 Alabama (won 8-0 in 5 innings)
- 4 vs #18 Alabama (won 4-1)
- 0 at #9 Arizona State (lost 2-0)
- 7 at #9 Arizona State (won 7-0)
- 0 at #9 Arizona State (lost 2-0)
- 2 vs #10 Arizona (won 2-1 in 8 innings)
- 4 vs #10 Arizona (won 4-3 in 8 innings)
- 2 vs #10 Arizona (won 2-0)
- 0 at #1 UCLA (lost 3-0)
- 2 at #1 UCLA (lost 3-2)
- 0 at #1 UCLA (lost 1-0)
In 13 games, UW has scored more than 4 runs just twice and been shut out four times.
This pitching staff is so good that UW doesn't need to be scoring more than 4 runs very often — UW has allowed 4 runs just once all year (8-4 win vs BYU), and never 5 or more. But getting shut out almost one-third of the time against top-20 teams isn't going to work.
Taran Alvelo and Gabbie Plain are good enough to carry UW past their regional opponents by themselves, and shouldn't need much help to win a Super Regional series at home, either. But most of the teams UW could run into in OKC are too good offensively to be expecting to win while scoring 2 runs or fewer.
It doesn't have to be an offensive explosion. But hitting with RISP has failed this team multiple times in close games this year: even some of the wins were the pitching bailing out an offense that couldn't come up clutch in their first several chances (a 3-2 10-inning win against NMSU is at the forefront of that list). Just making more consistent contact when runners are on base would be a big help: strikeouts in general haven't been a big problem, but there's been multiple times that even a productive out would have done the trick — Van Zee at third and Bates at second with nobody out in T3 of the series finale at UCLA (which ended up being a 1-0 loss) was the roughest example.
- #1 UCLA (40-3, 15-3 Pac-12)
- #2 Oregon (38-7, 12-3)
- #4 Washington (41-5, 12-5)
- #9 Arizona State (35-9, 9-6)
- (RV) Oregon State (26-19, 7-8)
- #10 Arizona (32-13, 8-10)
- (RV) California (30-13, 4-10)
- Stanford (22-23, 2-13)
- Utah (20-22, 2-13)
Upcoming Schedule (all Pac-12 series are Friday-Sunday)
(RV) Oregon State at #10 Arizona
#9 Arizona State at Utah
(RV) California at Stanford
#2 Oregon at #4 Washington
#1 UCLA has a Pac-12 bye this week, but hosts a 3-team tournament with South Dakota and #25 Oklahoma State, playing each of them twice.
Ducks-Huskies: When and How to Watch
Fri, 5 PM: Free live stream (pac-12.com/live/university-washington)
Sat, 1 PM: ESPN2
Sun, 1 PM: ESPN2
With this being UW's final regular-season series, the Huskies will honor their six seniors: outfielders Kelly Burdick, Trysten Melhart, and Julia DePonte; infielders Taylor Van Zee and Kirstyn Thomas; and pitcher Kristin Cochran.
The Huskies-Ducks matchup will feature two of the four best 1-2 punches in the circle in the country: Alvelo and Plain against Oregon's Megan Kleist and Miranda Elish (Florida's Kelly Barnhill-Aleshia Ocasio and Oklahoma's Paige Parker-Paige Lowary would be the other two). Elish was FloSoftball's #1 recruit in the country out of high school, but was the third pitcher last year behind Kleist and fellow freshman Maggie Balint. But Elish has clearly passed Balint on the depth chart, and with good results.