The Huskies ended a long Saturday with a win that kept their season alive.
But Washington still faces a tough task trying to advance in the NCAA regional at Husky Softball Stadium, thanks to a tough-to-stomach loss earlier in the day.
Just when it seemed the Washington softball team was going to escape from a major jam in that opening game, it didn’t.
Texas (40-17-1) took advantage of a UW error with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, scoring three runs in the frame and going on to an 8-2 victory over the Huskies on Saturday afternoon in an NCAA regional game at Husky Softball Stadium.
Washington (37-16) rebounded from that loss to defeat Lehigh for the second time in two days, this time in an elimination game, with junior pitcher Brooke Nelson leading the 6-1 victory.
But the Huskies still have plenty of work left, needing to defeat Texas twice Sunday — starting at 3 p.m. — to move on to a super regional.
“We’re just happy to continue to advance and live to see another day,” said UW coach Heather Tarr.
That is a predicament that didn’t seem likely heading into the sixth inning against Texas, with ace Gabbie Plain having allowed just one hit and the Huskies leading 2-0 thanks to Baylee Klingler’s 24th home run of the season.
But Plain got into immediate trouble in the sixth inning, allowing a hit and walking the next two hitters to load the bases with no outs.
Plain, a two-time first-team All-American, was unfazed. She rebounded by striking out Texas cleanup hitter Mary Iakopo on a 3-2 pitch. Up came Alyssa Washington, who fouled off four straight 3-2 pitches before Plain blew a pitch past her.
The escape act seemed completed when Katie Cimusz hit a grounder to Klingler at shortstop.
Klingler, having perhaps the greatest offensive season in UW softball history and normally reliable in the field, booted the ball, bringing in a run.
It got worse for the Huskies when Lauren Burke hit a blooper to left field. That allowed one run to score. That might have been it, but left fielder Sami Reynolds overran the ball and that allowed the go-ahead run to come home without a throw.
That ended the day for Plain. Reliever Pat Moore got the final out of the inning without any more damage, but Texas scored five runs off her in the seventh to end the suspense.
Things were much happier for UW in the first inning. Kinsey Fiedler led off with a sharp single to right field. After a fly out, Klingler jumped on a 2-1 pitch from Texas ace Hailey Dolcini, and it got out in a hurry.
The only question was if it was high enough to clear the wall in center field. It was.
Klingler, who won the Pac-12 triple crown by leading the conference in homers, batting average and runs batted, has 24 homers this season. That leaves her one off the school record of 25 that was set by Kristen Rivera in 2003.
Klingler was in position to do more damage in the third inning. She grounded out to the pitcher with runners on second and third with one out. Two pitches earlier, she just missed a homer when a long drive curved foul.
With the way Plain was pitching, not allowing a hit through four innings, it seemed it might not matter. But after the defensive miscue in the sixth inning, it certainly did.
It also didn’t help UW that Dolcini retired the final 15 hitters she faced.
With their season on the line against Lehigh (31-20-1), Tarr elected to start Nelson at pitcher, an interesting choice considering she had not pitched since April 23 and has pitched two total innings the past two months.
Nelson made her coach look smart, not allowing a hit until Brooke Cannon had an infield single with one out in the fifth inning.
Nelson, who said she learned “just prior to the game” that she would be the starting pitcher, and said she had no idea she was throwing a perfect game into the fifth inning.
“It was just me and (catcher) Jenn (Cummings),” Nelson said. “Just good pitches in good spots.”
Washington got solo homers from Madison Huskey, Sarah Willis, Fiedler and Kelley Lynch to lead the offensive onslaught, and it gave the Huskies a team record 89 homers on the season, breaking the mark of 86 set in 2016.
The four homers were more than enough support for Nelson, who allowed one run on three hits in six innings.
“She pitches every day to us (in practice), so she’s prepared and ready,” Tarr said of Nelson. “Opportunities maybe haven’t presented themselves to her yet, but she obviously came in and did an amazing job for us.”
Willis pitched a perfect seventh, with the game finishing nearly nine after hours after the first pitch of the day.
Now it’s on to Sunday.
Husky fans only need to look back to last season to have reason for hope. UW lost to Michigan in a winners’ side game, then beat Seattle U later that night and the Wolverines twice the next day to advance.
“For this group of mind, I think it gives them peace of mind, knowing it’s just softball games, and we know the road,” Tarr said.