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Huge week for Klingler as #2 Softball goes 4-1 in Fullerton

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Sophomore 3B hit over .700 to earn Pac-12 POTW

UW Athletics

After being pretty lucky to escape with a split of their top-5 doubleheader on Friday, second-ranked Husky softball stepped up their game the rest of the weekend for a solid 4-1 showing at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif.

  • #2 Washington 3, #4 LSU 1
  • #3 Texas 8, UW 6
  • UW 8, RV Fresno State 0 (5 inn.)
  • UW 10, #13 Michigan 2 (5 inn.)
  • UW 7, at Cal State Fullerton 2

Notables

  • The run-rule win over Michigan was the worst UM has suffered in quite a while. The Wolverines hadn’t given up double-digit runs or been run-ruled since a shocking 10-1 upset in five by nemesis Ohio State on Michigan’s Senior Day (May 6, 2018). The last time Michigan gave up more than ten runs? That would be a 12-4, five inning defeat on May 20, 2017 at...Washington, one of two defeats the Huskies would hand Michigan in two days to end the Wolverines’ season. Fun fact about that weekend: Michigan ace Megan Betsa was battered by the Huskies that weekend, but particularly by UW shortstop Ali Aguilar, who homered off her in both games, and then was plunked (intentionally?) in the sixth inning of the regional title game.
  • Kelley Lynch took home her third straight Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award, tying Gabbie Plain (2018) for the most by a Husky. She’s hit at least two home runs in each of the past three weeks, including her first career grand slam to jumpstart UW’s offense in the rout of Michigan. She hasn’t just been feasting on the lesser teams in the schedule, either. Six of her seven homers have been key ones: two were walk-off winners, three came when UW was tied or trailing to take the lead, and one came in extra innings while holding a narrow 1-run lead. Her 25 RBI in her first 20 games are the most ever by a Husky in the first 20 games of her career, passing Jaime Clark (2000-03) who had 23. Clark and Aguilar are the only two Huskies to ever be part of the senior USA National Team.
  • The Huskies took home two of the three weekly Pac-12 awards for the first time this season. In addition to Lynch, Baylee Klingler’s fantastic weekend in Fullerton won her the Pac-12 Player of the Week. It’s the first weekly award in Klingler’s career, although she was named to the 2019 SEC All-Freshman team while at Texas A&M. She went 11-for-15 with two homers and eight RBI, capping the tournament with a 4-for-4 day vs Cal State Fullerton. Hitting just .270 after going 0-for-3 vs Wisconsin to open the Mary Nutter Classic, she’s gone an absurd 18-for-27 (.667) since to boost her batting average all the way to .438, tied with Taryn Atlee for the best on the team among eligible players (Sis Bates is batting .500 but missed enough games that she won’t be eligible for leaderboards for at least a few more weeks).
  • One really good sign that Klingler’s success is likely sustainable: she’s struck out just twice in 64 at-bats this season. She was already very tough to strike out as a freshman at TAMU, fanning just 12 times in 173 at-bats (6.19%) and she’s dropped it to a measly 2.78% this year. A strikeout rate that low is impressive for any player, but it’s doable for an elite contact hitter such as Bates. For a player who offers the kind of power Klingler does, it’s basically unheard of. Hot streaks can turn quickly if your hard hits start going right at people, but as long you’re still putting the ball in play consistently, even the lows shouldn’t be too bad.
  • Three of four outings for Gabbie Plain were good, but a disastrous first inning vs Texas still caused her ERA to rise above 3.00, territory never really encountered before in her Husky career. Lynch has been amazing offensively, but her start in the circle (23 walks in 30 innings) has been an adventure, although she’s been great with damage control to keep a 3.50 ERA despite all the baserunners. And after a huge weekend in Palm Springs, Pat Moore came back to earth somewhat, allowing four hits including a homer in just 1.2 innings over the weekend. Enter Brooke Nelson, who returned after missing a week with illness to be one of UW’s stars over the weekend. She allowed just four hits and two runs over five innings to slow down a red-hot Texas team and give the Husky offense a chance to come back on Friday before earning the first win of her career with a stellar outing in the finale vs the Titans: 6 innings, 3 hits, no runs, no walks, 4 strikeouts. Her ERA peaked at 6.22 after getting chased by South Carolina on Feb. 15; since then, she’s allowed just two runs in 14.2 IP to cut that by more than half to 2.96.

Mailbag

I’ve decided to start answering a question or two from fans about the team in my weekly posts. I’d love to have more options of what to talk about. I encourage you to ask questions either in the comments or on Twitter (a simple post or DM) at twitter.com/ByEdStrong. This week’s question is from Twitter user @V_DAWG5.

Have you heard anything on Noelle Hee? She seems non-existent after her less-than-desired performances early on.

No, I haven’t heard of anything that would be keeping her from playing as far as injury/illness/etc. Her role has decreased a lot but not disappeared completely; she’s had pinch-hitting opportunities vs Wisconsin and Michigan over the past two weeks. Hee’s start to 2020 has actually been significantly better than 2019, albeit with a pretty small sample size.

  • 2019 through week 4: .167/.220/.167. 36.6% strikeout rate, 4.9% walk rate.
  • 2020 through week 4: .154/.313/.385. 18.8% K rate, 18.8% BB rate.

My guess is this: in 2019, Washington was so desperate for power (outside of Morganne Flores) that Hee had a much longer leash, still getting plenty of ABs — not everyday starts, but over half of the time — even though she didn’t have a single extra-base hit until late April. With Lynch and Klingler rolling, plus better power than expected from SilentRain Espinoza, UW is no longer in desperate need for pop, so UW is less willing to put up with her poor batting average.

Hee isn’t the only one to fall victim to this: After starting a majority of games in 2019, Madi Huskey was hot early but she’s having trouble making the lineup because Livy Schiele is hitting so well. And then along with Klingler, Nelson was the player I was most impressed with power-wise at the practices I was able to go to. She’s 3-for-5 with a double, and would likely be getting more PH opportunities if she were on the 2019 team instead of 2020.

Pac-12 Standings, current through March 4 (Rankings are NFCA/USA Softball)

  1. #1/1 UCLA (20-1)
  2. #2/3 Washington (19-2)
  3. #11/9 Oregon (17-2)
  4. RV/RV Stanford (18-3)
  5. RV/#25 Utah (12-2)
  6. #4/5 Arizona (17-3)
  7. #17/15 Arizona State (16-6)
  8. RV/RV Oregon State (14-7)
  9. California (10-9)

This Week’s Schedule

The Huskies will spend their final weekend of non-conference play at the Silicon Valley Classic II, co-hosted by Santa Clara and San José State. The three games that have a stream available (both games on Friday, plus the SJSU game on Saturday) are all free. No radio broadcast available. Records current through Wed, March 4.

  • St. Francis-PA (5-13) — Fri, 2 p.m., hosted by Santa Clara. Video: SCU Softball on Youtube
  • at Santa Clara (7-13) — Fri, 7 p.m. Video: SCU Softball on Youtube
  • UCSB (9-13) — Sat, 11:30 a.m., hosted by San José State. Video: none.
  • at RV/NR San José State (19-4) — Sat, 2 p.m. Video: Mountain West Network
  • Saint Mary’s (6-14) — Sun, 9 a.m., hosted by San José State. Video: none.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t get why Washington is at this tournament. In past years, UW has hosted the Husky Softball Classic, usually in week 5 of the pre-season, but occasionally in week 4. I’ve heard that not playing it this year has to do with the fact that it’s hard to get good teams to come to Seattle, which is true: the SEC and ACC have already started, and other teams like the Big 12 powers want to be somewhere warmer, either at home or in California/Florida.

But if being unable to schedule good teams at home is the reason the tournament isn’t being played, then why go on the road and play teams that aren’t really any good either, San José State’s unexpectedly strong start aside? Either play at home and give the fans more opportunities to see the team (getting a Big Ten team to come to Seattle isn’t usually too difficult, at least), or take a road trip to see tougher competition — there isn’t a huge tourney available this weekend as big as any of the first four weeks, but there’s still at least four tournaments that would have offered tougher competition, hosted by UCLA/LBSU, Oklahoma/OK State, Texas, and LSU, respectively.

One other exception to the “either play good teams or play at home” idea is playing at tournaments that give your players from non-traditional recruiting territory a chance to play close to home in their college careers. It’s undoubtedly why UW was at Georgia Tech in week 1 (Kelley Lynch), as well as the trips to Bradley (Taran Alvelo, who’s from Ohio but played on a Chicago-based club team) and Sam Houston State (Kirstyn Thomas) in 2018.

But UW already plays at either Cal or Stanford every year — Stanford is about half an hour from these two teams. UW has three players from Northern California: senior 2B Taryn Atlee (Sacramento), senior SS Sis Bates (Ceres) and redshirting freshman OF/1B Hannah Dardano (El Dorado Hills). Prior to a series at Stanford in April, UW will play single games at Pacific, the closest DI team to Ceres, and then UC Davis, a short drive from Sacramento.

If UW has any problems putting away any of the other four teams besides San José State this weekend, that’s a very bad sign. The second-best opponent UW plays according to MasseyRatings is Saint Mary’s, which is #172 in the country. The only teams UW has played so far worse than that: #184 Ohio (won 10-2 in six), #227 Furman (won 10-0 in five) and #268 Bethune-Cookman (won 8-1). And while the Huskies do have a few non-conference games sprinkled in to the schedule during conference play, all of them are top-100 teams (vs Seattle U, at Pacific, at UC Davis).

Scouting San José State

Those gripes aside, San José State is definitely not a team to be taken lightly. They draw a ton of walks, with seven of their eight regular hitters posting an OBP of .409 or better. Senior LF Suzy Brookshire is tied for tenth nationally in homers with eight, posting a robust .369/.455/.862 slash line. But the biggest key to SJSU’s early success has been the fantastic start for freshman righty Shannon Haddad, who’s already racked up 11 wins with an ERA of 1.00, pitching just under half of the innings for the Spartans. In particular, Haddad had a stretch from Feb. 8 to Feb. 28 in which she pitched 48 innings while allowing just one earned run, which unsurprisingly coincided with SJSU posting a program-record 17-game winning streak, breaking the mark of 12 set just last year. But this will be a huge step up in competition for the Spartans, having faced just a few NCAA Tournament-caliber teams so far and nobody remotely close to a national title contender like the Huskies.