Oklahoma’s softball team is a walking mismatch, the greatest show on turf (or grass), a collection of mashers rarely, if ever, seen in college annals.
The Huskies walked into its stadium Friday, jammed to the rafters with Sooner fans eager to witness the latest in a long line of routs. Some no doubt wondered if UW would be the latest mercy-rule victim of softball’s most feared and most successful team. That wasn’t an indictment of the Huskies but rather a testament to a Sooners team that hasn’t merely been beating opponents, but crushing them.
Well, guess what? The Huskies showed Friday that not only could they hang with No. 1 Oklahoma, but in the first game of the best-of-three super regional in Norman, Oklahoma, had a golden opportunity to defeat them.
As Husky coach Heather Tarr said more than once in her postgame Zoom, “We had every chance to win that game.”
The fact that the Huskies didn’t, losing 4-2, is a complex story with numerous twists and turns, some self-inflicted pain, some coaching regrets and a centerpiece of controversy.
The take-away is twofold for the Huskies — the knowledge that they are fully capable of beating the now Sooners (49-2), and the urgency of also knowing they have to. Twice in a row. At least, if they don’t want their season to end short of the Women’s College World Series, their season-long goal. Technically, it’s their two-season-long goal, since the 2020 campaign ended prematurely because of COVID-19.
By all rights, in fact, this matchup belonged in the WCWS. It had that kind of tension, that kind of gravitas. It matched two talent-laden teams with a rich history of success on the grandest stage. Blame those in charge of seeding one final time for the fact that Washington, the fifth-ranked team in the country, had to go on the road for a matchup that would have been more appropriate in the title series.
Right from the start, this game had tension and controversy. The Huskies felt the batter’s box was too close to home plate, an assertion that was evident to anyone watching on television. But when Tarr brought that up to the home-plate umpire in their pregame meeting, he dismissed her complaint.
“I should have, in hindsight, just said, ‘Can you please redraw the lines?’ But I did question how close it was,” Tarr said. “I didn’t get the answer that, ‘Yes, we’ll redraw it for you since you do think it’s too close.’ It was kind of like, ‘Move it along.’ “
The tighter-than-normal box became a factor when Husky pitcher Gabbie Plain, who normally has exquisite command, hit three batters in the first inning, leading to an Oklahoma run. After the final one, an irate Tarr came out and got in the ump’s face.
“I don’t usually cause a stink about those things, but when I knew it was probably resulting in Gabbie’s reference points possible being a little bit skewed, which is what I believe. … We know her enough to know she doesn’t hit batters a lot.”
Plain eventually adjusted, and Tarr said that Batter’s Box Gate wasn’t the reason Washington lost. But during a game in which every run proved vital, it forced the Huskies to play catch-up from the start.
Which they did, immediately, on Sami Reynolds’ homer to start the second. But the Huskies missed a chance for much more in the third when Morganne Flores’ bid for a three-run homer was hauled in against the wall in center for the final out of the inning.
“There’s just a bunch of things that could have gone our way,” Tarr said. “We don’t necessarily think anything is out of reach at this point.”
A three-base error in center field was a huge blow to the Huskies, giving Oklahoma a gift run in the fifth. But the play that had Tarr kicking herself after the game was one that ended it: A double play that resulted in Taryn Atlee being thrown out at the plate as the Huskies were rallying from a three-run deficit in the seventh.
With one out, one run already in, runners on first and second, and the Husky dugout crackling with energy, Jadelyn Allchin hit a hard grounder to second. The force was made at second, but Allchin beat the return throw to first. Atlee, however, tried to score and was thrown out to end the game. What really hurt is that All-American Sis Bates, with two singles in the game to make her Washington’s all-time hits leader, was due up.
“I wish I could take that back,” Tarr admitted. “I wasn’t sending her. I just didn’t stop her, if that makes sense. It’s kind of one of those weird plays. If we could just say, ‘Whoops, reverse,’ like a video game, we would have done it.”
There was a lot the Huskies would have done differently Friday if they could, and that they wish they had done just a little better. But as the Huskies face an elimination game Saturday and what they hope is another Sunday, they know one thing: This is no mismatch.