To open the Women's College World Series, No. 5 Washington used a fifth-inning rally and some key defensive plays to defeat the two-time defending champions. Up next: the top-ranked Oregon Ducks, who swept UW last month.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Trysten Melhart knew she made the catch. No matter how many times or in how many different ways the Washington right fielder was asked about her game-saving play, the senior was steadfast in her answer.
“I felt like I caught it initially and that’s all that matters,” Melhart said. “It’s kind of hot out there if you didn’t notice and slippery, so things are going to happen, but it worked out for us, so that’s all that matters.”
It was that type of defensive prowess that keyed the Huskies’ 2-0 shutout of Oklahoma (55-4) on Thursday in the first round of Women’s College World Series.
“We pride ourselves in our defense and we’re pretty lucky to have these types of players that can come to Washington and do things,” UW coach Heather Tarr said. “Only three strikeouts defensively, so we’re going to have to make several outs via defense. They are all together, as always, and they are a fun team to watch. It was a great game today on defense. It was pretty elite.”
The Huskies (50-8) will face No. 1 seed Oregon (53-8) at 4 p.m. Friday in second-round action of the double-elimination tournament. The Pac-12 rival swept Washington during the regular season and that’s something the Huskies haven’t forgotten.
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“We haven’t beat them yet this year, so I mean, we’ve got to play our game, and yeah, we have to play Husky softball,” Tarr said. “But we know that we haven’t beat them this year.”
That streak could come to an end if Washington keeps the momentum going from its upset over the two-time defending champions. But it was a victory that came with its share of drama and controversy.
Trailing 2-0 in the sixth inning, the Sooners’ Sydney Romero and Jocelyn Alo both singled with two outs.
Tarr brought in pitcher Taran Alvelo to relieve Gabbie Plain. The Sooners’ Shay Knighten then drilled a fly ball to right field that looked like it was going to fall in for a hit. But Melhart sprinted in from near the warning track to make a diving, juggling catch for the out. The play saved at least one run from scoring, possibly two.
“I would say that ranked in the top 10 of great catches I’ve ever made, and in that moment, I felt like I had it, I went for it, and I did catch it,” Melhart said. “When I got up, people were still running and I was like — I just threw it in all nonchalant and it worked out for us and they saw what I felt, so that was good.”
The Oklahoma bench was not happy with the call as coach Patty Gasso discussed the play with the officials in between innings.
“They said that it was a 100 percent clean catch right to me,” Gasso said. “That’s what the umpire said — like I’m 100 percent sure that she made the catch, and the transfer is when the ball came out. That was what I was told.”
According to NCAA Rules Secretary, Vickie Van Kleeck, the call was correct.
“The right fielder caught the ball. She made the catch,” Van Kleeck said. “And the ball was dropped on the transfer, trying to take the ball from her glove to her hand. This is considered a secondary motion, so it’s ruled a catch. Any type of secondary motion, not standing so much as the transfer. It was ruled on the transfer. That secondary motion means that the catch was good.”
In the seventh Alvelo got the first two batters out before Nicole Mendes singled. Caleigh Clifton then singled to bring the game-winning run to the plate.
But Alvelo struck out Kylie Lundberg to end the game.
Plain picked up the win after giving up four hits and no runs in 5 2/3 innings. Alvelo earned her third save of the season.
“Coming in any moment in the game is tough, whether that be starting the game or, you know, halfway through where it’s the last inning,” Alvelo said. “I was going in to keep that zero up there. I gave up a few hits but it was all about keeping them from scoring. I was trying to protect Gabbie’s good game.”
Plain and OU All-American Paige Parker dueled throughout most of the day. They limited the opposing offensive attacks to ground outs and fly balls.
Despite that, Gasso pulled Parker in the fifth inning after allowing only three hits. She was replaced by Paige Lowary.
The Huskies continued to work as they put runners on second and third with Sis Bates at the plate. Bates hit a comeback to Lowary and Melhart took off from third. Lowary hesitated when throwing back to catcher Lea Wodach and Melhart slid underneath for the game’s first score.
Washington wasn’t done. Julia DePonte hit a double into shallow center field that brought in another run.
“We were going to play this game and execute how we need to execute and that was really our mission, and it wasn’t so much like, we have to face a lefty that throws 74 and we have to mimic that,” Tarr said. “We don’t have that. It’s just our mind-set of this is a game and we have to be ready to play it. We can’t think that there’s another tomorrow.”