Australian freshman Gabbie Plain has paired with Taran Alvelo this year to give UW softball a fearsome pitching duo. How did she get to UW? By chance. Lots of it.
The random email that arrived out of the blue in UW softball coach Heather Tarr’s inbox in the summer of 2016 had a simple subject line: “2017 pitcher.”
The email came from a name no one on the Huskies’ softball staff recognized, but fortunately for Gabbie Plain, UW’s Australian import freshman pitcher, the Huskies were still looking for a pitcher for their 2017 recruiting class.
“So that piqued my interest,” Tarr said. “Fortunately, (the email) wasn’t filtered into junk because, as you can imagine, we get tons of emails from prospects.”
Tarr opened the email and could hardly believe her eyes. The three videos Plain had provided weren’t the clearest or most well composed, but the quality of the pitching stood out.
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Specifically, what caught Tarr’s attention was Plain’s unique spin on the ball.
“It was like true spin,” Tarr said. “A lot of young pitchers don’t learn to pitch with true spin. Her ball spins out of her hand with true backspin and true downspin.”
As Plain has shown this year, with a team leading 1.11 ERA, a 16-4 record and 145 strikeouts in 120 innings, her mastery of that true spin makes it extremely difficult for batters to hit her.
That bodes well for the Huskies (44-8), who begin their quest for a second-straight Women’s College World Series bid this weekend by hosting the NCAA softball regional tournament for the eighth time in nine years.
Between Plain and junior ace Taran Alvelo (21-4, 1.14 ERA, 219 strikeouts), the fifth-seeded Huskies open the Seattle regional against Boise State on Friday night with more depth to their pitching than they’ve had in years.
For just the fourth time in UW softball history, the Huskies had two pitchers named to the All-Pac-12 first team, and Plain and Alvelo are also the first Husky duo to record more than 125 strikeouts since 2013, when UW rode the pitching arms of Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryana Walker to a third-place finish in the Women’s College World Series.
So just how good is Gabbie Plain?
Tarr believes her potential is off the charts, and Huskies fans were treated to a groundbreaking moment at Husky Stadium on April 7 when, in a 12-0 win over Utah, Plain etched her name into the school’s record books by becoming the first UW freshman pitcher — and one of only four Husky pitchers — to throw a perfect game.
The other three in that illustrious club: Nancy Wagner, Jamie Graves and Danielle Lawrie — with the latter two finishing their UW careers as All-Americans.
Plain’s arrival has helped ease the load on Alvelo who, in the past, had been UW’s workhorse. Alvelo, a two-time All-Pac-12 first teamer, pitched in 47 of UW’s 64 games last year, compiling a 35-9 record.
Tarr has had the luxury of rotating Alvelo and Plain this season, with appearances from Samantha Manti and Kristin Cochran mixed in. Alvelo is more of a power pitcher, while Plain relies on control and finesse to get outs, Tarr said, adding that the Huskies will “probably” start Plain against Boise State.
So how did this gem of a pitcher land in the Huskies’ collective laps?
They have an Australian UW alum to thank for their good fortune.
Plain and her father were at the Australian national championship softball tournament in Queensland, Australia, a few years back when they struck up a conversation with the mother of an opposing player.
The Australian woman they chatted up happened to be a UW grad, and the Plains peppered her with questions about what it’s like to go to college in the U.S. Upon hearing that Plain wanted to play college softball in the U.S., this Husky alum encouraged the young pitcher to check out the perennially competitive UW softball program.
“So that sort of stuck with us,” said Plain, a native of Sydney, Australia. “And when we did check it out, we were like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing. So I sent an email to every coach I could find on the UW website. I was just lucky that one of them managed to see it.”
Actually, they all saw it. All her assistants had received similar emails from Plain. Her command and range made them salivate, and “we all forwarded the same email to each other, like, ‘Are you looking at this video?’ ” Tarr said.
That led to a Skype session with Plain and her family, and in August 2016, Plain and her father came out to Seattle on an official visit.
That September, the Huskies coaches flew to Hawaii to watch Plain pitch in person. The first pitch showed them all they needed to know. They offered Plain a scholarship, and even though she also visited Arizona and considered an offer from Texas A&M, Plain ultimately signed with UW.
Plain spent most of her first fall in Seattle acclimating to her new surroundings. For one, college softball rules are different from the international rules she’s used to after playing with the Australian U-19 team.
“It was all about learning the new style of pitching,” Plain said. “In international play, you’re allowed to leap off the plate. Your foot doesn’t have to drag. So, just making sure my foot was always on the ground was a challenge in itself, and having to make sure all the pitches worked with the drag too. It was a time of a lot of changes.”
Now, the Huskies have two ace pitchers to throw at opponents, and it’s already made a difference.
“When you play X amount of games for years in a row, it’s going to take a toll on anyone’s body,” Alvelo said. “Physically having another person you can share time with, any pitcher would be thankful for that. We feed off each other and we even each other out.”