We can’t say for sure why Gabbie Plain kept grinning.
Maybe it’s because the Washington pitcher has an ever-chipper disposition.
Maybe it’s because she thought the home-plate umpire was being stingy with her strike zone.
Or maybe she saw what so many watching that super regional game Saturday saw — that against that Oklahoma team, there wasn’t anything she, or maybe anybody, could do.
No need to shed tears for the UW softball team. Yes, the Huskies were eliminated from the postseason Saturday, but not because of a lax effort, slip-up or unfavorable call. They simply faced one of the most potent offenses the NCAA has ever seen.
In a 9-1, five-inning victory, the Sooners steamrollered the Huskies en route to their 34th mercy-rule win of the year. Sad UW’s season is over? Understandable. Want to watch greatness for a little while longer? Oklahoma will likely provide it for you after advancing to the Women’s College World Series.
“Quite possibly, one through nine, it’s a lineup with some of the best offensive players that are in the game,” Huskies coach Heather Tarr said of Oklahoma, in what should be considered an understatement. “When you have to deal with that two days in a row, no matter who you are — whether you’re Gabbie or Pat Moore or anyone who’s going to face that team, it’s a very challenging lineup.”
That’s kind of like saying K2 is a “very challenging climb.”
Oklahoma came into the super regional averaging 11.52 runs per game — nearly four more than any other team in Division I. Its .424 batting average was .75 points better than any other D-I team, its .814 slugging percentage was .200 points better, and its 2.84 home runs per game was 0.9 more than second place. The Huskies hung in Game 1 of the series Friday, when they lost 4-2. But in Saturday’s blowout, they experienced what most of the Sooners’ opponents have at some point this year.
It started right away, too.
Tiare Jennings, whose .488 batting average coming into the series was the fourth best in the country, led off the first inning with a double. Jocelyn Alo, whose 29 home runs coming into the game were tops in the nation, followed with a single. After a ground out, Plain — a finalist for national player of the year — threw a wild pitch that allowed Jennings to score. Oklahoma (50-2) ended the inning with a 1-0 lead.
Now, her stat line would suggest that Plain was far from her usual self, and that may be true. She gave up six earned runs in four innings while walking three (all in the second inning, including one with the bases loaded.) But as the analysts on ESPN noted, she wasn’t getting strike calls on her signature drop ball, so with the Huskies down 2-0 after two innings, Tarr put in Moore for an inning. There wasn’t much she could do, either.
After Nicole Mendez walked, Sooners senior Jana Johns socked a two-run homer. And despite Plain coming back into the game in the fourth, Oklahoma didn’t slow down. Alo hit a two-run homer in the fourth, tying her own Oklahoma record for home runs in a season (30). Kinzie Hansen followed with a homer two at-bats later. In the fifth, there were two doubles, two singles and two more runs for the Sooners, and it seemed all Plain could do was watch and smile.
How is an offense this productive, Coach Tarr?
“They’re a smart offense. They’ve done a really good job just developing that offense, whatever it is from the outside looking in. We don’t know what it is,” Tarr said. “They get on time. They look for one pitch … they’re really able to hit a pitch that they’re looking for. That doesn’t happen a lot in our game.”
It’s been a unique year for the Huskies (45-14), given everything that goes with a pandemic. They had their season cut short last year after reaching the WCWS in each of the previous three years. And though they might be upset about drawing a 16 seed despite their accomplishments, they can’t be ashamed.
That team in the other dugout was a force. Huskies fans have not enjoyed watching it, but all fans should going forward.