Untouchable for five innings, Gabbie Plain was unbeatable through seven.
On a cool, breezy evening, the sophomore from Australia was on fire in the circle, not yielding a hit until the sixth inning and striking out 14 as Washington defeated Fordham 2-0 in a regional opener of the NCAA softball tournament Friday night at Husky Softball Stadium.
Plain, who has set a high bar for herself (back-to-back no-hitters earlier this season; a perfect game as a freshman last year), was not wowed by her performance, which included three walks — two straight in the fourth, even though she struck out the other three hitters she faced.
“It definitely wasn’t my best one,” she said. “I got a little bit shaky in the middle, but I turned around and looked at Sis (Bates, her junior shortstop), and she said, ‘You’re doing great, you’re doing great.’ So that gave me some confidence.”
By winning for the 24th time in 25 games, the Huskies (46-7) advance to face Mississippi State (34-21), the Southeastern Conference’s 12th-place team, in a winner’s-bracket game of this double-elimination regional Saturday at 3 p.m. The Bulldogs defeated Seattle University in Friday’s early game 5-3. The Redhawks (39-16) play Fordham (29-25) in an elimination game at 5:30.
If the Huskies, the tournament’s third overall seed, win Saturday, they need a win on Sunday to host a round-of-16 super regional next weekend, with the most likely opponent being the tournament’s No. 14 seed, Kentucky, which finished in a three-way tie for second in the SEC. If they do, it will be Washington’s 10th trip to a super regional in the last 11 seasons, including the last four straight.
Plain struck out two batters in each of the first three innings before she fanned the side in the fourth.
Other than a deep fly out in the third and a hard-hit foul ball that cleared the left-field fence in the fourth, Plain (20-2) was dominant against the Rams until she gave up a one-out single to right to Walla Walla native Jordy Storm that cleared the glove of leaping second baseman Taryn Atlee by a foot.
Plain finished with a two-hitter and one strikeout shy of her career high. Her pitch movement confounded Fordham hitters throughout the game. Storm said the spin Plain puts on a ball makes it hard to predict its trajectory.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” Storm said. “North, east, south, west; you never know. That’s what makes her so effective. She’s a spin master.”
Junior catcher Morganne Flores drove in Washington’s two runs, both times bringing home Sis Bates. Bates ripped a leadoff double to left-center in the first inning, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on Flores’ sacrifice fly to deep right.
Bates led off the third with a single to right, moved to second on a wild pickoff attempt and scored when Flores stroked a single to center on a 1-2 count. Freshman third baseman SilentRain Espinoza had two singles in three at-bats. UW finished with eight hits.
In the early game, Seattle U (39-16), making its first D-I tournament appearance, led 1-0 after an RBI single by Ally Choate in the top of the third, but fell behind 5-1 after a bases-loaded double by Mississippi State’s Kat Moore in the third, followed by an infield error in the fifth that allowed two runners to score.
Losing pitcher Carley Nance (17-9), a sophomore from Tahoma of Maple Valley, mashed a two-run homer to right in the seventh for the Redhawks. She finished with three strikeouts, two walks and just two earned runs of the five allowed.
“We have to play a cleaner game,” said Seattle coach Geoff Hirai. “But I liked the energy and fight of our team. I don’t think we had any nerves. It just didn’t bounce our way. We’re not here to just be here. We’re here to win. Whoever’s in the opposing dugout, we’re just going to keep fighting hard.”