It looked like a big hit from Texas sophomore Bella Dayton might end the Washington softball season Sunday afternoon.
Instead, it was her big hit Sunday evening that helped end it.
After Washington rallied late to beat Texas 2-1 in Sunday’s opener, Dayton hit a two-run, two-out double in the fifth inning that propelled the Longhorns to a 3-2 win in the deciding game of the NCAA Regional at Husky Softball Stadium.
The Huskies didn’t go down without a fight, scoring twice in the seventh inning and bringing the potential winning run to the plate before finally succumbing.
“We ended up playing from behind, but I am proud of our fight and what we did,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said.
It was the fifth inning that will bother UW fans for a long time.
Washington ace Gabbie Plain appeared to have retired the side when Janae Jefferson flew out.
But as UW players were starting to leave the field, the second-base umpire ruled the out came on an illegal pitch — apparently believing she had not kept her feet inside the 24-inch length of the pitcher’s plate (the umpires were not made available for comment).
Given a second chance, Jefferson reached base on an infield single. Jefferson then stole second, with the umpire ruling she avoided a tag even though the throw beat her to the bag. The Huskies challenged the call, but lost.
That ended up haunting the Huskies. Mia Scott then walked, and Dayton, who moved from No. 8 in the order to No. 3 for the first time this season after homering in the opening game, laced the two-run double to left-center field.
“It’s tough to [have to come back to the mound], especially when you think you just got out of the inning,” Plain said.
Said Tarr of the call, “It’s a tough angle for that responsibility of the umpire … but that’s not the reason we didn’t score runs.”
Jefferson added a solo homer off Plain in the seventh inning, and Hailey Dolcini, who pitched all 14 innings Sunday for Texas, was able to hold the lead this time — just barely.
So it will be unseeded Texas (41-18-1) who will be heading to No. 3 seed Arkansas for the Super Regional.
Washington (38-17), the No. 13 seed and ranked No. 11, lost a home regional for the first since Tarr became head coach in 2005.
The situation looked dire for Washington in the first game until Madison Huskey came up to hit with one out in the sixth inning.
The right fielder jumped on the first pitch from Dolcini, hitting a towering home run well over the left-field wall. The two-run homer ignited a standing-room-only crowd, which saw the Huskies go from trailing by one to leading by one.
Plain took it from there — with the help of some good defense from freshman shortstop Rylee Holtorf — and the Huskies held on for a for a 2-1 win over the Longhorns at Husky Softball Stadium.
It became clear early that any run in the opening would be a pretty big deal.
With Plain and Dolcini at the top of their games, everyone in the packed stands knew one big hit could decide the outcome.
Longhorn fans thought their team got that hit in the fifth inning.
It came from Dayton, with just three homers and a .267 batting average entering the game. The light-hitting Dayton turned on a 1-2 pitch from Plain leading off the fifth and hit it into the right-field stands.
It seemed like that run might be enough until Baylee Klinger hit a one-out single for UW in the top of the fifth inning, bringing up Huskey.
Huskey’s homer kept the season alive for UW, which lost to Texas on Saturday, putting the Huskies in the losers’ bracket and needing to win three straight games.
They beat Lehigh on Saturday night and then Texas in the first game Sunday to set up a deciding game.
Washington was in a similar predicament last season, and found a way to advance, beating Michigan twice after losing to the Wolverines the day before.
This time, the Huskies came up one win short.
Plain nearly pitched two complete games for Washington. But after allowing a pair of runners after Jefferson’s homer with two outs in the seventh inning, Tarr took out her fifth-year senior.
Plain, a two-time first-team All-American and one of the best pitchers in Husky history, received a standing ovation from the UW crowd.
“Knowing it could be my last game, I wanted to give everything I could for the girls,” Plain said.
Said Tarr, “It’s obviously sad to end Gabbie’s career and [fifth-year senior pitcher] Pat Moore’s career.”
The Huskies got more ovations with a rally in the bottom of the seventh, with Brooke Nelson and Jenn Cummings getting run-scoring hits before Dolcini ended the game by striking out Kinsey Fiedler.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win and I guess that’s all we can ask,” Tarr said.