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Late rallies help SB to 5-1 mark in Florida

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UPDATE: Bates (concussion) ruled out as #2 UW heads to Palm Springs

Baylee Klingler had the game-winning three-run double to avoid an upset vs Liberty.
UW Athletics/Red Box Pictures

Unexpected names stepped up as top-ranked Husky softball avoided what could have been a disastrous weekend, going 5-1 on their Florida trip despite missing star shortstop Sis Bates and sub-par performances overall by the team.

  • #1 Washington 12, UCF 3
  • #9 Alabama 8, UW 0 (5 inn.)
  • UW 7, #5 Florida State 0
  • UW 11, Liberty 6
  • UW 5, #18 South Carolina 4
  • UW 11, #17 Texas Tech 5 (8 inn.)

A scheduled exhibition game vs Team USA following the Texas Tech game was cancelled due to the UW-TTU game running long and travel restrictions. The Huskies will still get a chance to face the Red, White and Blue — and former star Husky Ali Aguilar — in their first home appearance of the year on Thu., March 12, just prior to the official home and Pac-12 opener vs Utah that weekend.

Injury Report

After playing the Wednesday’s game at UCF with no issue, Bates was mysteriously gone vs Alabama on Thursday — not just from the lineup but from the dugout as well. Bates did not play in any of the five games in Clearwater, although she was spotted in the dugout on Sunday. It’s the first time she has missed a start since arriving at Washington, having made 193 consecutive starts through Wednesday,

On Monday, a spokesperson for the team said that Bates had been in concussion protocol. There is no official timeline for her return.

UPDATE (Thu., Feb. 20, 1:15 p.m.): Bates has been ruled OUT for the entire weekend, according to a spokesperson for UW athletics.

What We Learned

Something’s bothering Gabbie Plain. For the second week in a row, UW’s junior ace looked surprisingly hittable, allowing 3+ runs in under three innings of work not only to Alabama (understandable) but also to a decent-but-nothing-spectacular Liberty team. Of particular note, teams have been able to hit her for power in the air, which she excelled at limiting through her first two seasons with the Huskies.

  • 2018: 18 extra-base hits in 166.1 IP (0.76 per 7 innings)
  • 2019: 27 XBH in 186.0 IP (1.02)
  • 2020 so far: 6 XBH in 31.1 IP (1.34)

She was called for an illegal pitch twice early against Alabama and it certainly seemed to bother her — it simply results in an automatic ball, replacing any result of the pitch that may have happened, but it really has a tendency to get in the pitcher’s head. Under NCAA rules, pitchers are supposed to keep their trailing foot in contact with the dirt (i.e. no crow-hopping). However, this is within the international rules, which Plain not only grew up under, but are also the rules she’s working with as she prepares for the 2020 Olympics, which she was at a training camp for less than a month ago. It’s something she worked on a lot to minimize once she decided to come to Washington prior to her freshman year and in the early stages of her freshman season.

The biggest problem at the NCAA level is that it’s really inconsistently called. Plain, recently-graduated Florida ace Kelly Barnhill and multiple other nationally notable pitchers crow-hop at least a little on basically every pitch. It will go uncalled for a while, then suddenly one umpiring crew decides to make it a big issue and calls it multiple times — Brittany Finney of Ole Miss was called for nine in a single game last year after being called for two in three months prior.

Unexpected contributions helped the Huskies dodge trouble.

  • After slashing just .207/.288/.241 last year and missing opening weekend this year with an ankle injury, redshirt sophomore outfielder Livy Schiele (SHEE-lee) was stellar for the Huskies in Florida. She had a hit and a walk in her season debut at UCF and then was nearly unstoppable in the final two games to help fuel rallies vs South Carolina and Texas Tech: 4-for-5, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, SB. A highly-touted recruit who redshirted at Auburn in 2018 before transferring, her defense is a major plus (especially her arm), so as long as she can provide even decent output at the plate, she should be a regular fixture in the lineup, if not an everyday starter.
  • Until throwing a complete-game shutout against Furman on opening weekend, junior pitcher Pat Moore had only appeared in one game since March 9, 2019: one inning of mop-up relief in a 13-3 win at BYU in which she allowed four hits and two runs. That narrative changed rather dramatically this past week, as Moore pitched in five of UW’s six games and had back-to-back great relief outings vs Liberty and South Carolina to keep the Huskies within range for their late rallies, earning the win both times. Some of this was by necessity: Plain is struggling overall, and the two freshmen have had opposite problems: Kelley Lynch has been very hard to hit but also has had a lot of issues finding the strike zone consistently, while Brooke Nelson has been aggressively going after hitters and getting outs but has become extremely hittable at times. But with three more weeks of non-conference play and then a fairly soft start to Pac-12 play (vs Utah, at Oregon State), the Huskies would do well to keep giving all four pitchers chances over the next month.

Pitchers who rake (and run?)

One of the storylines coming into the year with Lynch and Nelson entering was the likely scenario that UW would have significant at-bats taken by pitchers for the first time since 2015. Not only has that been proven true, but all four pitchers have actually found time with the offense.

  • Lynch has been an even greater fixture than expected, starting 10 of 11 games in the hitting lineup, even when not in the circle. She has an extra-base hit in seven of her last eight games, a huge boost for a team that lacks a lot of power outside Morganne Flores, or at least definitely did in 2019.
  • Nelson hasn’t been a regular hitter, but has two hits in four at-bats, hitting a double vs Texas Tech to start a two-run rally in the fourth inning.
  • Plain had just three plate appearances through her first two seasons, but already has four as a junior, getting a hit vs UAB and drawing a walk vs Texas Tech to extend a late Husky push.
  • Unlike the other three, Moore is not a hitter. However, she is unusually fast for a pitcher, and has been used as a pinch-runner and scored three runs for the Huskies. In general, this probably won’t happen a huge amount, as Tarr will generally go with sophomores Francesca Torraca and Megan Vandegrift as her first two pinch-runners and there is often no reason for a third one. She also is apparently a good bunter, so I wouldn’t be very surprised to see her pinch-hit in an obvious sacrifice situation for a power hitter like Noelle Hee or Emma Helm.

Pac-12 Standings (Rankings are NFCA/USA Softball; Records updated through Wed., Feb. 19)

  1. #1/1 UCLA (11-0)
  2. #15/17 Oregon (9-0)
  3. #2/2 Washington (10-1)
  4. #5/5 Arizona (9-1)
  5. RV/RV Stanford (11-2)
  6. #16/16 Arizona State (9-2)
  7. RV/RV Oregon State (7-2)
  8. NR/RV Utah (7-2)
  9. California (7-4)

This week’s schedule

All games are at the Big League Dreams complex in Cathedral City, Calif. and are only available for watching with a subscription to FloSoftball. If you don’t mind hearing opposing broadcasts, Saturday’s games vs Oklahoma and Nebraska will both be available on the radio.

  • RV/NR Wisconsin (6-3): Fri, 6 p.m.
  • Bethune-Cookman (1-9): Fri, 8:30 p.m.
  • # 3/3 Oklahoma (8-1): Sat, 12:30 p.m. — Sooner radio
  • Nebraska (5-4): Sat, 5 p.m. — Husker radio
  • #25/RV Northwestern (4-5): Sun, 9 a.m.