A determined UW coach Heather Tarr says team can't let up as it faces elimination against Arizona. "It's an opportunity to get on a roll," Tarr said. "We need some more games and some good things to happen to get on a roll. Four more games — you know we can win four games. I...
OKLAHOMA CITY — Heather Tarr gets bolder by the word. She’s concerned. No, determined. No, no, convicted.
As the coach of the Washington softball team, she now must guide her squad through an overwhelming challenge. If the Huskies want to win back-to-back national titles, they need four victories over the next two days at the Women’s College World Series just to advance to a best-of-three championship round. For a team hitting .189 this postseason, it seems, at best, improbable.
But Tarr remains unbowed.
“All that’s in the way of our goal is four games,” said Tarr, whose team plays Arizona at approximately 11 a.m. Saturday in a win-or-go-home affair. If the Huskies win, they’d play for their lives again at 6 p.m. “That’s what we have to do. That’s what we’re going to do.”
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In five years of this World Series format, no team has lost its opener and crawled through the loser’s bracket to play for the title. Then again, a team coached by the dogged Tarr has never been asked to do so until now.
You call it a predicament. Tarr offers another word — opportunity. Considering her career path, it figures she’d have such a refreshing attitude.
Improbable? For most of her life, Tarr has made a name for herself by putting the unlikely in a headlock.
She played baseball against the boys until she was 15. She really wanted to play college volleyball and could’ve received a scholarship somewhere, but former Huskies coach Teresa Wilson convinced her to come to Washington as a walk-on softball player. Typical Tarr, she went from walk-on to All-American.
Then, as an assistant coach at Pacific, she applied for the Washington head job, fought to get an interview and wound up being the most prepared applicant in the field. Typical Tarr, she got the job, brought the Huskies out of the shame of the infamous “Dr. Feelgood” scandal and won the program’s first national title.
If you’re going to attempt the improbable, hire Heather Tarr as your coach. Repeatedly, she has proven that tough situations merely reveal her greatest traits. Her leadership is ample reason to trust the Huskies’ championship defense isn’t already over.
On Friday afternoon, still reeling from a 6-3 loss to Georgia the night before, the Huskies gathered for batting practice on a rundown field. They talked about their hitting mostly, or lack thereof, emphasizing their problems are more mental than physical. And then Tarr sold them on this so-called opportunity they have.
“It’s an opportunity to get on a roll,” Tarr said. “We need some more games and some good things to happen to get on a roll. Four more games — you know we can win four games. I think we’ve shown that. Once we get going, this team is unstoppable.”
It’s the “get going” part that’s problematic, though. In addition to that sub-.200 batting average this postseason, the Huskies have also stranded 47 runners in seven games, including 10 in the defeat Thursday.
As an offense, Washington has lost its identity. The Huskies aren’t a team full of big boppers and .400 hitters, but during the regular season, they produced by getting clutch hits and having good balance throughout the lineup. The Huskies ranked 25th in the nation in runs per game (5.6) coming into the World Series, and their .296 team batting average is a shade higher than their production during the 2009 title season.
So, what’s the problem?
“It’s a mental thing,” Tarr said. “It’s not a swing thing. Honestly, it’s a matter of taking possession of the batter’s box. At-bats are won before they’re started. At this level, they’re going to pitch around who they want to pitch around. So, the next batter has to make them pay. You can’t take any pitches off at the plate. It’s a grind, and it’s tough.”
As she explained the struggles, Tarr didn’t become frustrated. Interestingly, she grew more excited. She has built this program on four ideals: selflessness, accountability, competence and toughness. She looks for those characteristics in recruiting. Tarr hates that the Huskies played poorly against Georgia, but she can’t wait to see how her team responds.
“It’s a slugfest from here on out, honestly,” Tarr said. “That’s just what it’s going to be. We’re not going to shut out these teams. Our offense has to come ready. Even when you get on a roll, get ready to endure some pain. Teams will come back. We can’t let up. It’s not acceptable. It’s not going to happen.”
Improbable? From the brink, Tarr clenches her fists and gnashes her teeth. The Huskies have no choice but to fight.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer