The Washington Huskies have earned a national audience.
Which, following months of games played in near-empty stadiums, is noteworthy. Last weekend, Heather Tarr’s team — saddled disrespectfully with the No. 16 overall seed, after finishing the regular season ranked fifth in the nation — won its regional the hard way, avenging a 2-1 loss to Big Ten champion Michigan by taking the final three games inside Husky Stadium. On Sunday, the Huskies pulled off a dramatic doubleheader sweep of the Wolverines — erasing a 5-1 deficit in the nightcap to advance to the super regional with a 10-5 win.
In the process, they earned an opportunity against No. 1 Oklahoma (48-2), with a spot in the Women’s College World Series awarded to the winner. Moreover, the second game in the best-of-three series — slated for noon on Saturday — is the first super regional college softball game ever aired nationally on ABC. It is also believed to be the first college softball game to be broadcast on ABC, though a UW spokesperson was unable to confirm that fact.
Regardless, Washington welcomes the extra exposure … even if it deserved a less perilous path to Oklahoma City.
“I think it’s pretty epic and deserved,” Tarr said of the national spotlight. “Unfortunately, Oklahoma and Washington will not (both) be at the College World Series. That’s kind of a travesty. But if there’s a silver lining in it, these two teams and these two women (Tarr and Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso) and these two programs get that opportunity to be the first to go through that, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. I’m proud that our team gets to be shown on that stage.”
And, speaking of stages, the one Washington plays on this weekend won’t be anything like the last. After attendance was restricted to player guests inside Husky Stadium, Oklahoma announced this week it will be allowed to host a full capacity of 1,378 at Marita Hynes Field for the super regional round.
At noon on Friday (ESPN2), for the first time in more than a year, the Huskies will step into a legitimately hostile environment.
“I think our team needs to know it will not be like how it was last week,” Tarr said Wednesday. “However, last week was probably pretty equal in terms of energy from Michigan’s side to our side, just in terms of the player guest numbers. But it will not be the same environment. It will be definitely not pro-University of Washington. But I think these guys deserve to play in front of people, and what an opportunity for us to play in front of a crowd for once this year.”
Added Husky assistant coach J.T. D’Amico, with tongue placed firmly in cheek: “It’s going to be a packed house. There’s a little yellow ball. The dirt’s going to be red. That grass is going to be green, probably painted with a big OU logo in the middle. We’re looking forward to getting out there.”
And though it’s been a while, the national spotlight is nothing new. This marks UW’s fifth consecutive super regionals appearance and the 14th in Tarr’s 17 seasons as the Huskies’ head coach. They’ve reached the Women’s College World Series in three consecutive seasons as well, excluding the COVID-shortened 2019-20 campaign.
And yet, Oklahoma — which leads the nation in runs per game (11.52), batting average (.424), home runs per game (2.84), on-base percentage (.509) and slugging percentage (.814) — may present the greatest challenge (or opportunity?) yet.
“I just think it’s such a great opportunity for us to grow as a team,” said graduate student catcher Morganne Flores, who holds program records for postseason home runs (11) and RBI (27). “The more competitive it gets, the better we play. Those are my favorite moments, when we play the Oklahomas and the Michigans. There’s no other moment like that. I feel like it really brings us together for one common goal. I’m just super, super excited to be able to compete and play them.”
Graduate students Flores, Sis Bates and Kaija Gibson have all been here before.
But never again.
Still, the ultimate goal remains to end their decorated Washington careers on a win.
“I don’t think that I’ve even really thought about it being our last games at all,” Gibson said in a virtual news conference on Wednesday. “I haven’t even processed really that we played our last game in Husky Stadium. We’re really thinking about winning the last pitch played in Oklahoma City, and that’s all that’s on our mind.
“Eventually I’ll probably process it and it’s going to be sad and also happy at the same time. But for me at least, I just have one thing on my mind.”