Seeded sixth, UW goes into NCAA tournament play this weekend at Husky Softball Stadium ready for any game scenario imaginable
Not many softball teams can dig out of a 12-1 hole on the road and rally for a comeback win against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.
But on May 13, in their final regular season game in Salt Lake City against Utah – the eventual 11th-seed in the NCAA Division I softball tournament – that’s exactly what the UW Huskies did.
Down 11 runs to enter the fifth inning, the Huskies ignited their offense with four hits apiece from Ali Aguilar and Casey Stangel, and a game-winning RBI from Taylor Van Zee in the eighth to squeeze out a 13-12 victory in eight innings.
That’s the kind of win that imbues a team with irrepressible confidence going into postseason play.
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This Friday, the Huskies begin their campaign for a fifth Women’s College World Series berth under Heather Tarr, who’s in her 13th season as head coach.
The No. 6 seed Huskies (43-11) open postseason play against Montana (35-22) at home Friday night, and will have to get past either Fresno State (34-21) or Michigan (41-11) to advance to the Super Regional round.
Their top-eight seeding means the Huskies will host Super Regionals if they make it out of their regional pod this weekend – a nice bonus which could go a long way toward helping them earn their first trip to the Women’s College World Series since 2013.
“No one on our team has played in a College World Series. Only the coaching staff has had that experience,” Tarr said. “This is the first time this group has earned a top-eight seed. The objective for this group was to earn that seed and get the chance to get to the College World Series. There’s been a lot of growth and opportunities for us to fail and recover this year and learn a lot.”
Last season, the Huskies went into the NCAA tournament seeded 11th and fell to sixth-seeded Alabama in Super Regionals, but that experience has aided their development, especially for sophomore pitcher Taran Alvelo, who has compiled a 28-6 record en route to All-Pac-12 first team honors.
Alvelo pitched UW to victory in the final game of NCAA Regionals last season, but ran into trouble against Alabama in the Super Regional, giving up 10 hits in two games as the Huskies succumbed to the Crimson Tide.
This season, Alvelo has matured as a pitcher and gained a heightened level of trust in her teammates that stems from game experience and innings upon innings of playing together.
“I feel like last year I was more focused on trying to get the big strikeout,” Alvelo said. “I wanted to do everything, and I was too scared to let things fall on my team. Now, I know I just need to put a good pitch in the right spot, and if they hit the ball, they hit the ball. My team will take care of things. We adapt to each situation and play for one another.”
As the regular season finale in Utah showed, Alvelo says, the 2017 Huskies have demonstrated a knack for coming up with big plays in clutch moments.
“We’ve had multiple people who’ve come through big time when we’re down,” Alvelo says. “(Catcher) Morganne Flores and (infielder) Taylor Van Zee have been big when we’re down, they find a way to get it done.”
Between Flores and Van Zee’s clutch playmaking, Stangel and freshman Sis Bates’ big bats, and Aguilar’s superior run scoring abilities, the Huskies are loaded with offensive potential. Combined with Alvelo’s pitching, they go into the NCAA Tournament as a well-rounded squad that could prove to be a tough out.
“We’re ready. We’re more dialed in now than we’ve ever been, and we have each other’s backs,” Alvelo said. “We’ve been through every situation a game can throw at us, and we’ve found a way to come through on top.”