Taran Alvelo tosses a 3-hit shutout to lift the Huskies to a sweep of Alabama and a second consecutive WCWS berth.
There were doubts along the way. There had to be as the Washington softball team, ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the season, suddenly lost six consecutive games late in the season, at the worst possible time with the postseason approaching.
Could this team, seemingly invincible early in the spring, rebound to make a push to the Women’s College World Series?
The Huskies left little doubt Saturday.
Taylor Van Zee hit the game’s second pitch for a home run, propelling No. 5 seed Washington to the WCWS for the second year in a row with a 6-0 victory over No. 12 Alabama in Game 2 of the Seattle Super Regional before an overflow crowd of 2,194 at Husky Softball Stadium.
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“There were times probably in late April that we might have thought that this might not happen,” UW coach Heather Tarr said. “But we knew it could, and we knew what we needed to do to make it happen.”
Getting junior ace Taran Alvelo back to form from a back injury certainly helped. Alvelo threw a three-hit shutout, striking out eight over seven complete innings, as the Huskies (49-8) advanced to Oklahoma City for the 13th time in program history.
The Huskies finished third at the WCWS last season. They will play Oklahoma in the first game in Oklahoma City later this week. The event begins Thursday.
“OKC is always the dream when you’re little growing up,” said Van Zee, a senior third baseman. “Last year, it was amazing. But finishing off at third, it left a hunger in us and a fight. So to get another chance this year, I’m just really excited and I know the whole team is pumped and we’re ready to get there.”
On Friday night, Van Zee had the walk-off hit in the ninth inning to give the Huskies a dramatic 3-2 victory over Alabama. She led off Saturday’s game and on the second pitch she saw belted her ninth home run of the season to give the Huskies all the offense they would need.
“When (the top of the UW lineup is) clicking, the four of them are as good as anybody in the country,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “It creates a lot of headaches for the defense because you’re not sure what they’re going to do.”
The Huskies, the designated visiting team Saturday, built a 2-0 lead before Alvelo took the circle. She was confident, and in command, after her return from a back injury last month. It was around then that the Huskies dropped those six consecutive games — at No. 3 UCLA, and at home to No. 2 Oregon — that put their season outlook in question.
“We learned a lot about ourselves in those couple weeks there and dealt with adversity and grew through things together as a group,” Van Zee said. “Just communication and what we can do to win the little things in ballgames. That carried on into postseason … and got our mojo back.”
Freshman Noelle Hee added a solo home run in the fourth inning, and Kirstyn Thomas drove in two runs for the Huskies, who had 13 hits.
Alvelo allowed just four baserunners and didn’t give up a walk. She’s 22-4 this season with a 1.07 earned-run average.
“For her to be able to throw a complete game, I think it shows the softball world that she’s back,” Tarr said.
Alabama (36-20) had built a 2-0 lead in the second inning of Game 1 on Friday night, but the Crimson Tide were shut out over the next 14 innings. Alabama combined to hit just .115 (6 for 52) in the Super Regional.
Alabama had ended the Huskies’ seasons in both 2015 (regional) and 2016 (super regional) in Tucscaloosa. This weekend’s sweep completed a comeback of sorts for UW’s veterans.
“Ironically, we had a chance to beat a great team in Alabama to show how this group’s improved over the time, so that’s really neat,” Tarr said