What a difference a year makes.
On Friday, University of Washington senior Gabbie Plain became the second pitcher in the softball program’s history — alongside Danielle Lawrie in 2010 — to throw a perfect game in the season opener, hurling five spotless innings in an 8-0 run-rule win over Southern Utah.
It was the fifth no-hitter and second perfect game in Plain’s already illustrious college career. No. 2 Washington swept through its season-opening tournament in Las Vegas, recording five combined wins against Southern Utah, Dixie State and UNLV.
But a year ago?
Plain’s time was torn between teams, tournaments, continents and planes.
Before UW’s season started Feb. 7, 2020, the Harrington Park, Australia, native flew to her home country to participate in an Olympic trials tournament for the Australian national team. After immediately returning to Seattle, she was there “one or two days” before flying with the Huskies to Atlanta for their opening tournament of the season — followed by another tournament farther south in Clearwater, Florida.
So, let’s consider her comprehensively bamboozled body clock. A one-way flight from Seattle to Australia lasts approximately 16 hours, plus the unavoidable layover somewhere in between. To return to UW, she did it all again, only to board a four-and-a-half-hour flight a day or two later. And don’t forget the dramatic time differences, either; Blacktown, New South Wales — where the Australian qualifier was played — runs 19 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. And, following an unsatisfyingly brief return to Seattle, she relocated again to Eastern Standard Time.
And then it was time to pitch.
“So there was a lot of time-difference changes, a lot of jet lag,” Plain told The Times on Tuesday. “It was very crazy, for sure.”
With all that said, the results can be somewhat easily explained.
In her first eight appearances, in Georgia and Florida, Plain compiled a respectable but personally underwhelming 3.15 ERA — struggling in stints against Georgia Tech, Central Florida, Alabama and Liberty. Before her season was cut short by COVID-19 she went 10-2 with a 2.76 ERA and an opposing batting average of .206.
Which, for a two-time All-Pac-12 performer who went 24-2 with a 1.24 ERA and a .149 opposing batting average the previous season, didn’t qualify as a comprehensive success.
“I think it was really challenging,” UW pitching coach Lance Glasoe said. “She just didn’t get a lot of transitional time to settle herself back in with her teammates. Then we traveled the east coast for two weeks, so there’s even more time difference. So I think all those things impacted her feeling prepared and her feeling she was in a place she needed to be.
“We just continually sent the message, ‘We’re going to play our best when our best is required, toward the end of the season.’ We’re not going to throw away games, and we’re not going to try to lose a game, for sure. But she was fine. She just didn’t quite feel right.”
Unfortunately, the end arrived earlier than expected. UW was 23-2 and ranked No. 2 nationally when its season was canceled before Pac-12 play began.
And for Plain there were other potential complications to consider.
“I think it really was a bit of a shock to realize just how crazy the world was getting,” she said. “We knew about COVID, and we were taking precautions, but I don’t think it really hit us until all the sports got canceled. Luckily for us we hadn’t actually started our (conference) season, so we didn’t finish short like a lot of other sports did, which I think would have been more devastating. But it was quite a shock.
“Then to think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get home (to Australia) before all the borders close,’ it was a very quick turnaround.”
But for the next 10 months, Plain stayed busy. From her home in Australia, the 6-foot starter and psychology major attended virtual classes, trained with her state and national team and worked at a leather factory. Before returning to UW in January, she spent long stretches with fellow Australian softball players at the New South Wales Institute of Sport.
When Plain finally made the 16-hour flight back to Seattle, she did so with a different perspective on the game.
“It’s more eye-opening,” Plain said. “Before all of this happened, we kind of took for granted that we could travel and we could play games against people from all across the country and across the world as well. So having that realization that it’s not a definite made us appreciate the game more and the opportunities it allows us to have.”
Opportunities await the No. 2 Huskies — who kick off a tournament in St. George, Utah, against BYU on Thursday. In her first four appearances and 15.2 innings in 2021, Plain surrendered just nine hits and zero earned runs, with two walks and 22 strikeouts — earning Pac-12 pitcher of the week honors in the process.
In other words: she’s frustrating opponents in familiar ways.
“She’s certainly not overpowering with velocity,” Glasoe said. “She can move the ball up and down and left to right. She does a great job of being able to change pitch speeds. So she keeps hitters uncomfortable, and they’re uncomfortable when they walk to the dugout and they’re shaking their head like, ‘How could I not hit that?’
“In a baseball sense, she’s not (former Mariners pitcher) Jamie Moyer. She’s not change-change-change, or offspeed-offspeed-offspeed. She’s in the normal range of pitching velocity for a Division I kid that’s pretty successful at a program that’s pretty successful, playing opponents that are pretty good. But it’s just her ability to manage at-bats with pitches she wants to throw. I think that’s probably her strength: she gets to throw what she wants to throw most of the time.”
When she’s not hopping continents in between tournaments, the Huskies’ Australian ace is almost always in control. In fact, UW became so accustomed to strike-painting, double-play-inducing dominance that no one realized she’d thrown a perfect game until it was already over.
“It wasn’t until we were brought together for a meeting with the coaches,” said Plain, who’s still hoping to represent Australia in the Olympics this summer before returning to UW for a fifth season in 2022. “They said it (was a perfect game), and I was like, ‘Oh, wait. What?’ I feel like everyone had a similar reaction.”
Added Glasoe: “She’s played in the Australian national team program, so she’s played internationally. She’s played in Japan. She’s done a lot of those things. So I think the game, to her, is just doing what she does. Any one game isn’t bigger than another game. So she has that ability to just be Gabbie.”
And, unfortunately for opponents, she looks like Gabbie again.
“I think I let the highs and lows of the game and the situation that I was put in dictate how I was personally coming at the sport (early last season),” she said. “So I think just settling down and trusting that I can do what I can do and the team will for sure have my back whatever the case, it made it a little bit easier to transition into this season.”