In University of Washington softball circles, the legacy of Danielle Lawrie looms large. Not surprisingly, her shadow extends to the Huskies’ two current aces, Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryana Walker.
But they don’t see it as the daunting burden of trying to match one of the most dominant pitchers in recent collegiate history. Rather, both carry with them supportive messages from Lawrie, still a rabid supporter of the program in her new life as a wife, mother of an infant, and professional softball player.
It’s an entirely different dynamic now for the 11th-ranked Huskies, who open a key three-game series with No. 5 Arizona State on Thursday at Husky Softball Stadium.
Lawrie was a workhorse of the first order, pitching virtually every key game — including every inning of the 2009 World Series, when Washington won the title.
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“With Danielle, that’s all we had, so you deal with what you’re dealt,’’ said Husky coach Heather Tarr.
But now, Tarr has the luxury of two front-line starters of diverse style, seniors who entered in the same freshman class of 2011 that followed Lawrie’s graduation. The two quickly bonded in Inglesby’s dorm room, where Walker often found refuge to escape a roommate with whom she didn’t click. On the softball field, they faced the same quest: keeping the staff productive in Lawrie’s absence.
“We were both pretty clueless in the beginning together,’’ laughed Inglesby.
No longer. Inglesby, in addition to being one of the top hitters on the team with a .292 average and four homers, carries an 8-3 record and 2.03 earned-run average in 21 appearances (11 starts) into the ASU series. Walker is 14-7, 1.67 in 24 appearances (21 starts).
On the mound, they push each other in practice all week, then join forces to try to stifle the opposition. Tarr has the ability to mix and match through a series, or even in the course of a single game, using matchups and feel to guide her choices.
It’s a much more nuanced way of doing business than during the Lawrie years, when pitching decisions were virtually nonexistent. But the days of the everyday ace are dwindling.
“The sport has grown so much, it’s very difficult for one pitcher to beat a potent Pac-12 lineup three days in a row,’’ said Inglesby, a first-team All-American last year. “Oftentimes, it’s difficult for one pitcher to be good in one seven-inning game.”
Sometimes the two pitchers laugh at how different are their approaches, but that’s part of the beauty. Inglesby is all about power, tempering her heat with a devastating change-up; Walker is more finesse, trying to befuddle hitters with an array of spinners, risers and drops — “strategy and movement,” in Tarr’s words.
Together, they hope to help the Huskies get back to the World Series, where they finished third last year.
“We know it’s going to take both of us to get where we want to go,’’ said Walker.
“I think a lot of people want to pit us against each other,’’ added Inglesby. “But Bry and I know we can’t get anywhere without each other and the rest of our staff. We know we have each other’s backs.”
Walker remembers having breakfast with Lawrie as a freshman, and receiving advice she says she still carries within her: “Have confidence, and know you belong,” and own your realm, whatever it is.
Similarly, Inglesby received a detailed, 10-page email from Lawrie after the Huskies were eliminated from the postseason in her sophomore year.
“She said she was on a bullet train from Tokyo (where Lawrie played professionally), and wanted to write to me,’’ Inglesby recalled. “She said if you want to get back to the World Series, this is what you’ve got to do. I still read that email. It has some of the most important things I’ve learned.’’
Inglesby said her main takeaway, amid all the in-depth prose, was the need to “work harder than everybody else … from that point on, it was kind of my foot on the gas.”
Lawrie will have her jersey retired at Husky Softball Stadium in two weeks, but her successors gather strength from both her example and words as they try to repeat a championship run.
Afterward, they might follow Lawrie into a professional career, having both been selected in the recent National Pro Fastpitch draft. Walker was the ninth overall choice by the Pennsylvania Rebellion, and Inglesby was selected 14th overall by the Akron Racers. A third Husky, outfielder Victoria Hayward, was taken 19th overall by the Rebellion.
Lawrie plans to play for the USSSA Pride in Kissimmee, Fla., this summer, but one eye always is on the program she helped put on the map.
“The nice thing, I never really felt I was following in her footsteps,’’ Inglesby said. “It was a new team, new era. The best part, she was so supportive. She never once made me feel lesser just because I was the new freshman. She wanted this program to keep being successful. She didn’t want it to die after she left.”
It might now take two (or more) hurlers to do what Lawrie’s magical right arm did alone, but the Husky program is indeed still thriving.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146