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Huskies knock off #1 Oregon with more fifth inning magic

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UW’s 4-run fifth blew open a scoreless tie, and that would be all the duo of Gabbie Plain and Taran Alvelo would need as Washington rolled to a 6-2 victory, pushing the Huskies straight to the national semifinal (Sunday, 10 a.m., ESPN).

Edward Strong

For the second day in a row, the fifth inning gave UW their margin of victory.

4.5 innings into a scoreless tie, Megan Kleist seemed to be outdueling Gabbie Plain. Kleist had looked dominant, allowing just a hit, a walk, and facing one over the minimum. Plain looked good but not quite as good as she did against the Sooners yesterday, allowing just two hits but also walking three up through the 5th, an unusually high number for her.

Noelle Hee led off the fifth with a solid single past a lunging DJ Sanders at shortstop, where Kaija Gibson pinch-ran for her. Emma Helm hit a weak chopper to third baseman Jenna Lilley, who gave UW a huge gift.

Apparently not realizing that Gibson was taking off with the pitch, Lilley made an ill-advised attempt to get the lead runner at second, and then her throw got far enough away from 2B Lauren Lindvall that Gibson got up and ran to third as Helm was safe at first. The error is only there for allowing the runner to advance, but the bad decision was far more important. Lilley would have had a very routine play on Helm at first with Gibson advancing, and what turned out to be UW’s game-winning rally may have never happened.

Instead, UW pounced. After Nawai Kaupe popped up a squeeze bunt attempt for the first out, Trysten Melhart walked on 4 pitches to load the bases. Kelly Burdick chopped a grounder to Sanders, who threw home, trying to get Gibson at the plate. Her throw may have been in time, but it sailed a bit to the third-base side of the plate, forcing catcher Gwen Svekis to reach out to her left. The throw from Sanders actually hit Gibson’s left arm, re-routing it to deflect off the edge of Svekis’ glove as Gibson scored for the first run of the game.

The play also created a scary moment. With Svekis reaching her glove out and Gibson sliding feet-first with her head up, Svekis’ gloved hand accidentally “punched” Gibson in the face, knocking her helmet partway off. Gibson was attended to by trainers and briefly disappeared into the clubhouse, but re-emerged later with a bandage on her chin. ESPN’s Laura Rutledge later reported that Gibson’s parents got the chance to see her and that the cut on her chin was the extent of her injuries.

Taylor Van Zee lined one to right, scoring two more. Maggie Gallagher, running for Helm, scored easily, and then Melhart was awarded home as Svekis was called for obstruction (blocking the plate without the ball). Obstruction is usually a hotly contested call, but it was pretty clear Svekis was in Melhart’s line to the plate multiple seconds before receiving the ball. On replay, it’s not even clear that Svekis managed to tag Melhart at all. Sis Bates then lined an RBI double to left-center, just past a diving Shannon Rhodes to up UW’s lead to 4-0.

Taran Alvelo came in to pitch the sixth and escaped a jam when Oregon put two runners in scoring position with 2 outs. Washington added two more in the sixth to push the lead to 6-0, which came in handy when Oregon rallied in the seventh, getting the tying run as close as the on-deck circle.

Lindvall led off T7 by singling off Alvelo, who exited as Plain re-entered to finish the game. Alvelo went just 1 inning and didn’t seem to have her best control, falling behind in the count against multiple hitters. Two of the next three batters reached against Plain on a hit and an E4, scoring UO’s first run and giving them 2 on with just 1 out.

Sanders hit a bouncer that took Bates right to the bag, and Bates nearly ended the game with her second 6-3 DP in as many days. But in her stretch to receive the throw from Bates, Kirstyn Thomas’ foot came off the bag, keeping the Ducks alive. Svekis would get another run in by lining a single over Van Zee’s head to score Lilley.

Rhodes hit a weak grounder to shortstop that Bates charged, but Sanders slowed down and caused Bates to run into her trying to field the ball. The umpires called Sanders out for interfering with Bates’ ability to make the play, and the game ended on an odd 6U putout.

What’s next

By starting 2-0, Washington gets to sit out all of Elimination Saturday and skip straight to Semifinal Sunday. All four games being played tomorrow will send somebody home, starting with Oklahoma/ASU at 9 a.m. PDT. The four teams that lost their opening game — Arizona State, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida State — have to win in the morning to stay alive, then would have to win again in the evening session against today’s losers, Oregon and Florida.

Washington plays Sunday at 10 a.m. against one of four teams. Their opponent on Sunday will be either Florida, Oklahoma, or Arizona State. Here’s a snapshot of the games which directly impact UW’s Sunday opponent:

G7 (Saturday, 9 a.m.): #8 Arizona State vs #4 Oklahoma — loser is eliminated

G9 (Saturday, 4 p.m.): Winner G7 vs #2 Florida — loser is eliminated

Washington plays the winner of game 9 on Sunday, needing just 1 win to advance. If Washington were to lose that game, the teams would play again at 4 p.m. on ESPN2, with the winner of that second game moving on to the championship series starting Monday night.