Pitching, pitching, pitching.
That’s the key to success in college softball and it is why Washington is headed to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City for the third consecutive season.
Sophomore Gabbie Plain threw a two-hit shutout, Noelle Hee hit a pinch-hit two-run homer and the Huskies beat Kentucky 5-0 Saturday night at Husky Softball Stadium to sweep the best-of-three super regional.
“I am so excited to be going back (to the WCWS),” Plain said. “It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Washington (50-7), ranked No. 2 and the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament, will open the WCWS against Pac-12 foe Arizona (47-12), the No. 6 seed Thursday. Washington swept a three-game series against Arizona earlier this month in Tucson.
The Huskies, who reached the title series in last year’s WCWS before losing to Florida State, have been beating just about everyone the past couple of months, having won 12 straight games and 28 of their past 29.
Washington is blessed with two ace pitchers, senior Taran Alvelo and Plain and they have been especially tough in the postseason, with four shutouts in five games.
Plain got the victory in Friday night’s 3-0 win in relief of Alvelo, escaping a few jams along the way. But on Saturday, Plain was rarely in trouble. She got the only run she needed early and Hee gave her some welcome cushion late.
“Great pitching will stop great hitting any day of the week and I thought Gabbie pitched a great game,” Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said. “Their great pitching was the story of the weekend.”
Washington was the visitor despite playing on its home field and took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. On the same play, Morganne Flores doubled to the left-field wall and Kentucky (36-24) had two throwing errors, giving Flores a Little League homer.
The second errant throw bounced off the foot of UW coach Heather Tarr, who was coaching at third base, and into the Kentucky dugout, allowing Flores to score. Kentucky protested that Flores should have to go back to third, but after a long conference by the umpires, they let the run stand.
UW shortstop Sis Bates made a great defensive play in the bottom of the second to stop a Kentucky threat. With a runner on first with one out, Lauren Johnson hit a ball that seemed destined to be a single to center field, but Bates ranged well to her left, made a diving stop, and from her back, tossed the ball to second for a force out.
Meanwhile, Kentucky pitcher Autumn Humes was also rolling until there were two outs in the bottom of the sixth, having only allowed the unearned run in the first. But she walked Emma Helm and Tarr elected to pinch-hit Hee for Taryn Atlee.
Hee made her coach look very smart, hitting a ball well over the right-field fence to give UW a 3-0 lead. It was the second homer of the season for Hee, who entered the game hitting .198.
“We know the pieces that we have and we thought that (Hee) was the best matchup at the moment,” Tarr said. “That was one of my most proud moments as a coach, just watching a human lock in and be able to perform in that moment, and do what her team needed her to do. That was a life-changing moment for me.”
Atlee, who reentered the game, hit a two-run single in the seventh inning for the Huskies’ final runs.
And with the way Plain was pitching, the Huskies were soon celebrating, with bigger things ahead.
“Our mission is to win the last game in Oklahoma City,” Tarr said.