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Unexpected contributions keep #2 softball rolling

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Top-5 doubleheader looms Friday vs LSU, Texas

One of multiple unlikely heroes early for UW, junior lefty Pat Moore has stepped up big for a stumbling Husky pitching staff.
UW Athletics/Red Box Pictures

An emphatic rout of #3 Oklahoma bookended by walk-offs to beat Big Ten teams carried second-ranked Husky softball to a perfect 5-0 weekend at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif.

Washington (15-1) finishes their brutal three-week stretch with another big SoCal tournament this weekend, battling three top-15 teams (#4 LSU, #3 Texas, #13 Michigan) among five games at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. Full details near the bottom of the article.

Results:

  • #2 Washington 5, Wisconsin 3
  • UW 8, Bethune-Cookman 1
  • UW 12, #3 Oklahoma 2
  • UW 10, Nebraska 2 (6 inn.)
  • UW 3, Northwestern 2

Notes:

Washington nearly became the first team to run-rule Oklahoma in more than four seasons. The Huskies held a 7-0 lead through four innings, coming up one run short of ending OU’s day early — last done by Baylor on April 16, 2015. The Sooners were actually beaten by what would normally be a run-rule margin in game 1 of the WCWS Championship series last June by UCLA, but run-rule is not utilized in the title series (UCLA led 11-2 after six, eventually winning 16-3).

Kelley Lynch earned her second consecutive Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honor after hitting walk-off home runs to beat Wisconsin and Northwestern. She reached base in eight of 19 plate appearances, hitting three home runs.

  • Leads eligible Huskies in homers, doubles (tied), slugging and OPS.
  • Second Husky freshman to hit a walk-off homer.
  • First Husky to hit multiple walk-off homers in a season.

In the first three weeks, the Huskies have gotten remarkably little production from the four players that made Softball America’s top 100 list (at their primary positions, anyway):

  • Sis Bates was very good through six games (.571 AVG, 8 R) but hasn’t played since UCF due to concussion.
  • Morganne Flores has been fine, but nothing special (.340/.400/.660 slash line is pretty similar to career averages, but competition so far has been weaker than the average competition UW faces over a whole season).
  • Gabbie Plain has had maybe the worst three-week stretch of her career — which isn’t saying a whole lot — posting an ERA of 2.96 (career ERA = 1.35)
  • As a pitcher, which she was primarily recruited to do, Kelley Lynch has been mildly effective (3.45 ERA) but very wild, getting into long counts and walking batters at a dangerously high rate of 5.75 per 7 innings.

Instead, the Huskies have gotten contributions from some unlikely sources:

  • Until pitching a complete game shutout in the week 1 finale vs Furman, junior pitcher Pat Moore had only pitched once since the start of conference play last season: an inning of rather ineffective mop-up duty in a blowout win at BYU. She’s pitched in 9 of the 12 games since, posting a team-best 1.94 ERA including game-saving relief outings vs Liberty and South Carolina.
  • It appeared on opening weekend that sophomore outfielder Livy Schiele might have lost the right field job, as both sophomore Madi Huskey (started a majority of games in 2019) and senior Kaija Gibson (started nearly every game in 2019, although mostly at first base) saw time while Schiele did not. But since Schiele’s ankle injury that was keeping her out healed up, she’s been on fire. She’s gotten a hit in all seven games that she’s had at least two plate appearances, slashing a fantastic .522/.607/.652.
  • SilentRain Espinoza hit quite well in her freshman year, earning a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team with a .324 batting average. But the power she’s shown through three weeks in 2019 has been a huge step up. She’s matched her freshman totals in extra-base hits, recording two doubles and two homers in just 38 at-bats, which took her 105 to do last year. Less dramatic but perhaps just as impressive? After a rough freshman year defensively with six errors and a handful of other miscues, Espinoza has been perfect on all 22 defensive chances this season.
  • Calling Kelley Lynch’s hitting performance so far a surprise doesn’t really match up to some of the others on this list: if you’re good enough to hit with the U.S. Junior National Team, you’re a good hitter. But given her fairly low placement in the lineup initially, her quick ascension to being one of the Huskies’ best power threats (5 HR, 5 2B) has been impressive.
  • Most unlikely of all: forced into unexpected action with Bates’ absence, sophomore utility player Ari Quiñones has already matched or eclipsed her freshman totals in nearly every offensive category, going 6-for-10 with her first career homer at the Mary Nutter Classic. Nearly all of her playing time as a freshman came either during blowouts or as a pinch-runner, so there wasn’t a lot to learn about her in 2019. But with Nawai Kaupe gone to Hawaii, UW needs a solid backup infielder, whether that be Quiñones or fellow sophomore Megan Vandegrift. Hitting .400 is certainly not required, but it’s a fantastic bonus.

One statistic of mild concern that is pretty surprising to see: UW has thrown out a grand total of one baserunner in 33 chances since the start of last season, with all 14 attempts this season being successful. Flores threw out a spectacular 11 of 28 base-stealers in her sophomore season in 2017, but hasn’t been the same since tearing her ACL in 2018 (which seems a bit odd — as much as ACL injuries hurt, one place that seems like it should be mostly unaffected is throwing).

This could be a major factor in the late game of UW’s top-5 doubleheader on Friday. Former Oregon coach Mike White is a small-ball guru who has taken his philosophy (and a handful of his players, via transfer) to the third-ranked Longhorns, who are averaging over a steal per game. It isn’t quite as fast of a team as the Ducks team that came into Seattle in 2018 and stole 13 bases in three games in a dreadful series for the Huskies, but still expect lots of bunts and steals by UT.

Pac-12 Standings (rankings are NFCA Coaches/USA Softball; records current through 2/26):

  1. #1/1 UCLA (15-0)
  2. #10/10 Oregon (14-0)
  3. #2/2 Washington (15-1)
  4. RV/RV Utah (12-2)
  5. RV/RV Stanford (13-3)
  6. #7/7 Arizona (12-3)
  7. #17/16 Arizona State (12-5)
  8. RV/RV Oregon State (10-5)
  9. California (9-6)

Upcoming Schedule

All games are at the Judi Garman Classic, hosted by Cal State Fullerton in Fullerton, Calif.

Video: A free live stream of the game against host CSUF is available through BigWest.tv. All other games are only available with a paid subscription to FloSoftball.

Audio: In general, UW only has radio broadcasts available for home games. But each year, Husky announcer Mike Brown follows one regular season road trip: this year, it’s Fullerton. Links to each game can be found here.

  • #4/4 LSU (13-1) — Fri, 11:15 a.m.
  • #3/3 Texas (16-2) — Fri, 3:45 p.m.
  • RV/RV Fresno State (13-3) — Sat, 3 p.m.
  • #13/11 Michigan (10-3) — Sun, 9 a.m.
  • at Cal State Fullerton (8-5) — Sun, 1:30 p.m.

Scouting LSU & Texas

The top-five twinbill on Friday will be great tests in two very different ways for the Huskies. LSU is just extremely hard to score against, period. The Tigers four primary pitchers have allowed a total of six earned runs on the season, with two of them — Ali Kilponen and Shelby Wickersham — combining to throw 34 23 scoreless innings so far, with their team ERA of 0.76 ranking second in Division I. But one or two runs might be enough to win. Although LSU actually averages 7.35 runs per game, that number is highly inflated by a handful of major blowouts against overmatched teams. In four games against NCAA-tournament caliber opponents, the Tigers have scored a total of nine runs, with a high of four.

Texas, as mentioned above, is going to bunt and run, a lot. Be on the lookout in particular for leadoff hitter Janae Jefferson, who is hitting a sizzling .551 and has stolen all six bases she’s attempted. As a team, the Longhorns rank #1 in the country in both batting average (.404) and on-base percentage (.481) and are top-5 in multiple other categories. They walk 50% more often than they strike out, and eight of their nine regular hitters are posting an OPS above 1.000. But for as big as the offense goes, it still has cold spells: the Longhorns were nearly upset by Utah and North Texas before finding their offense late to escape, and couldn’t pull it off a third time against Duke, falling 1-0.

But the more notable way to beat Texas is with your bats. Miranda Elish, one of many former Ducks on the roster, is elite at preventing extra-base hits (two in 47 innings) but will give up her share of base hits. That’s not the only reason getting the ball in play will be key: the Longhorns have committed well over an error per game so far this season, a ghastly total for a top-25 team. That nearly came back to bite them in a big way in a nail-biter vs Lipscomb, committing five errors as the Bisons (yes, Bisons, not Bison) erased a six-run deficit to tie before ultimately falling 12-11.