The Huskies are ranked seventh nationally in batting average as a team (.342) and eighth in home runs per game (1.40) and they’ll have to lean on that offensive firepower when they travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to take on No. 6 seed Alabama Friday.
If there was one take-away to be gleaned from the UW softball team’s two wins against Minnesota and the NCAA’s winningest pitcher, Sara Groenewegen, at NCAA regionals last weekend, it’s this: These Huskies are incredibly tough to stop on offense and boast one of the most daunting lineups in the country.
“I’ve never had a deep team like this. A deep, balanced team. It just speaks to what we’re about. Our team is built out of 18 hitters,” UW coach Heather Tarr said.
And that, mind you, is high praise coming from a coach whose 12-year tenure at UW includes one national championship and four appearances in the Women’s College World Series.
UW-Alabama Super Regional
What’s at stake: Winner of best-of-three series advances to Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Game 1: Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN2Game 2: Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPNGame 3, if necessary: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2
The Huskies are ranked seventh nationally in batting average as a team (.342) and eighth in home runs per game (1.40), and they’ll have to lean on that offensive firepower when they travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to take on No. 6 seed Alabama on Friday.
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The Crimson Tide is led by sophomore pitcher Alexis Osorio, who is fifth nationally averaging 10.3 strikeouts.
But until last week, Minnesota’s ace, Groenewegen, occupied that No. 5 spot in the national rankings for strikeouts per game, and was the No. 1 pitcher in the country in win/loss ratio.
As the Gophers found out, even Groenewegen couldn’t stop UW’s big hitters.
Groenewegen, who was 31-5 going into regional play, gave up a season-high 10 hits to the Huskies last Saturday, then allowed UW another six hits and five runs in the championship game.
“We were just getting more used to her the more times we got to face her, and just having a better plan at each at-bat,” said UW shortstop Ali Aguilar, who went 4 for 5 in the championship game, with a double and a home run, and currently holds the UW season record for runs scored (75).
UW’s ability to devise strategy and execute plans is part of why Tarr has such high praise.
“As a whole, the team buys into what our approach is and handles a lot of information in terms of study, in terms of application and in terms of constantly looking for information,” Tarr said. “And they can actually apply the information, and that’s why our team is one of the best offensive teams we’ve ever had here.”
These Huskies have proved to be an industrious, coachable group. They hold regular voluntary batting-practice sessions and are quick to adopt suggestions from their coaches.
Aguilar, for instance, came into her freshman season at UW thinking she was going to be a slap hitter. But Tarr identified untapped potential in the scrawny 5-foot-6 bunter, and she remolded Aguilar into a power hitter.
In the case of left fielder Casey Stangel, Tarr has helped her become a smarter, more patient hitter.
“I’ve always been someone who wants to muscle everything and just hit the crap out of the ball,” said Stangel, who’s batting .341 this season. “But the biggest thing that has made all the difference for me as a hitter that coach Tarr has taught me is knowing what pitches I want to hit.”
The Huskies’ next challenge is powerhouse Alabama, a team that outscored UW 20-1 in two games at last year’s NCAA regional.
Tarr is confident that UW will be more competitive against the Crimson Tide this year because the Huskies have played a more competitive schedule — UW’s schedule is eighth-toughest nationally, according to RPI.
“We build schedules for reasons,” Tarr said. “Every situation that we put ourselves in, whether going to LSU late in the season, or our travels around the country, (has been) to be able to harden us and allow us to play the best teams. It puts us in a situation where we are prepared for our super regional.”