At the softball Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Washington beats third-ranked Oregon. Taran Alvelo pitched a great game. Now UW faces Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
OKLAHOMA CITY — You could see the narrative being written.
Before the Washington Huskies (49-12) completed their 3-1 Women’s College World Series opening win over conference foe Oregon (52-7), the stage was being set for a different kind of show.
“We can outscore someone,” Huskies head coach Heather Tarr said of her team on Wednesday.
Women’s College World Series, UW vs. Oklahoma, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
The Huskies’ road to Oklahoma City was largely paved by a red-hot offense that ranked at or near the top of the Pac-12 in almost every batting statistic. But, as was the case in the Huskies’ 2-1 Super Regional victory over Utah, Tarr knew these next wins would need to come from someplace else.
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“At the end of the day, at the championship level, most likely it’s going to come down to who can pitch, play defense and score the couple runs that you need,” she said.
On this day, against the Ducks, that statement was a prophecy.
Washington was hitless through the first two innings, but a double from freshman Sis Bates provided the Huskies’ first run.
“Big key that we scored first,” Tarr said.
Washington registered just one hit over the next three innings. Instead, the Huskies relied on their defense.
Sophomore pitcher Taran Alvelo went the distance — a complete game of work — and struck out three. In the third, and again in the fifth, Alvelo registered a strikeout to end the inning while an Oregon runner was waiting in scoring position.
“Taran’s a pitcher that has special stuff inside of her,” Tarr said.
When Alvelo wasn’t striking out Oregon batters, she was forcing them to reach, forcing them to swing at unfavorable pitches that made for easy outs from her defense. Tarr praised the mental fortitude of a young pitcher that’s come a long way from her freshman season.
“It’s just a matter of being in shape mentally,” Tarr said. “She’s put the work in and now she’s able to really take off with it and really work the process and have the stuff to be able to stay pitch to pitch.”
Pitch to pitch, play to play, out to out, Alvelo and her teammates were focused on keeping their minds in the present.
“We have this saying: ‘So what, next pitch,’ ” Alvelo said. “So yeah, there’s runners on, runners in scoring position, but all that matters is that moment and that pitch I’m about to throw. I know if I can execute the next one, then those runners aren’t going to pose a threat to our team.”
When Alvelo fell into holes in the third, fifth and sixth innings, she remained calm, in the moment and she executed.
When the offense finally broke through in the seventh and junior Kirstyn Thomas gave the Huskies some breathing room with a two-run homer to stretch the lead to 3-0, the defense and Alvelo were again put to the test.
“Our team is really big on three outs only,” Bates said.
But the start to the seventh gave Oregon life. The Ducks opened with a double and after Alvelo hit Ducks freshman Jenna Lilley with a pitch, the tying run stepped to the plate.
“After those first few pitches the inning kind of got away from me,” Alvelo said. “But I was able to bring it back in and do what I needed to do for my teammates.”
Alvelo said she looked at her shortstop, senior Ali Aguilar, and tried to center herself. “You’ve got this, I’ve got you, let’s do it,” Aguilar said back at her. Then Alvelo took a breath and fired.
Oregon’s Danica Mercado made contact and sent the ball back up the middle. Just like she’d said, Aguilar had her pitcher’s back. She made a diving grab and backhanded a flip to Bates at second base for a force out. Any momentum that had been built by Oregon’s first two at-bats had been blunted.
Then a ground out, and another to end the game. It didn’t matter that Oregon was able to push a run across, it wasn’t enough.
“Just super-proud of our ability to stay in the moment and do what we do: pitch well, play our butts off on defense and find a way to score a couple runs,” Tarr said. “It’s tough to win that first game, tough to play in that environment for kids that haven’t done it before but have only dreamed about it their whole lives. Now it’s not a dream, it’s reality, and we’re ready for the next one.”
With the win, the Huskies will face No. 10 seed Oklahoma, which beat Baylor 6-3, Friday at 6:30 p.m. PT.