As usual, Pac-10 is loaded, with seven softball teams ranked in the top 15.
Balancing a rockin’ offense with a sometimes rocky group of young pitchers, the sixth-ranked Washington softball team opens Pac-10 play at home this weekend against 14th-ranked Oregon.
The Huskies (25-2) begin a three-game series Friday at Husky Softball Stadium at 6 p.m., followed by games Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (noon). Oregon (28-4) has won 12 straight games since losing 10-0 to top-ranked Alabama on March 5.
As usual, the Pac-10 appears loaded. The past five NCAA champions, and nine of the past 10 (including Washington in 2009), have come from the Pac-10. Seven Pac-10 squads are ranked in this week’s top 15.
“It’s very even, very competitive,” said UW coach Heather Tarr.
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She recalled 2005, when four Pac-10 teams tied for first. “I don’t know if it’s going to be quite like that, but it’s going to be a battle.”
The Huskies enter the fray with the nation’s second-best team batting average (.383, behind only Arizona State’s .389). Yet UW’s five pitchers, all freshmen or sophomores, have combined for the worst numbers in the conference in earned-run average (3.19), opponents’ batting average (.260) and strikeouts (119).
While 6-foot-1 freshman Kaitlin Inglesby owns the team’s best stats (14-1, 1.70 ERA, 70 strikeouts vs. 16 walks in 78-1/3 innings), Tarr says any of her pitchers could see action in Pac-10 play.
“It’s got to be a committee thing this year,” Tarr said. “We plan on keeping everybody in the stable ready to go.”
Is Inglesby capable of shouldering a heavier load?
“Who knows?” Tarr said. “She’s got a lot of room to grow.”
• Kimi Pohlman (.495) and Niki Williams (.494) rank seventh and eighth nationally in batting average. Fellow junior Taylor Smith, the team leader in home runs (10), ranks 18th (.464). “We haven’t had to rely on one person’s good outing,” Tarr said. “We’ve had a good collective team effort on offense. Niki (with nine home runs and the nation’s fourth-best on-base percentage, .618) has been very consistent for us all year. That was her goal this season, to be a consistent team leader in everything she does.”
• The Huskies have only three home weekend series this season. The Huskies host No. 10 California April 8-10, play three road series and then host No. 4 Arizona State May 6-8. Tarr is OK with that. “We travel so much before Pac-10 games, three weeks on the road isn’t that unusual for us,” she said.