May 29, 2010

By Jim Whiting
Special to NCAA.com

The big question before Friday's Washington-Oklahoma Super Regional was which Danielle Lawrie would take the mound - the reigning USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year or the pale imitation who had been rocked for five home runs the night before in a 6-1 Sooner slugfest that pushed the defending champion Huskies to the brink of elimination.

The answer: After a one-night hiatus, Lawrie was back in business. She carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, and her teammates had several clutch hits to give Washington a 3-0 victory and force a deciding Game 3 late Friday night. The winner will advance to next week's Women's College World Series.

Lawrie settled for a complete game two-hitter and struck out 10. She also walked four, hit two batters and threw 124 pitches.

The moment of truth came in the bottom of the first, when Lawrie faced Amber Flores, who had taken her deep three times the night before and raised her slugging percentage 60 points. Flores's first dinger visibly deflated the crowd in the top of the first. When she hit her second two innings later, the outcome was virtually assured.

Clearly on Friday, Lawrie didn't want to give her rival anything decent. Her first two offerings were high and tight, the third was well outside and the fourth so far inside that Flores had to lean back. Though Lawrie also walked cleanup batter Lindsey Vandever, she struck out the side to end a scoreless first inning.

Niki Williams led off the second by doing what no Husky had done the previous night-drive the ball out of the infield. Her sinking liner turned into a triple when right fielder Haley Nix missed a diving attempt and the ball rolled to the wall. An out later, Taylor Smith drove her in with a double into the left-center gap for the game's first run. That equaled the Huskies' entire hit total from the previous night.

The Lawrie-Flores rivalry continued in the third, with Lawrie throwing a low strike on her first pitch and then nicking Flores on the arm. A pop-out and strikeout stranded her.

With neither team threatening, Flores's next appearance in the fifth with two outs was much the same - three pitches just outside, and the fourth high and tight.

Jessica Shults followed with the Sooners' first hit, a ground single up the middle. But Lawrie induced an easy fly to right fielder Kimi Pohlman to end the threat.

The Husky bats came alive in the sixth. Pohlman beat out a grounder to short, and Lawrie and Shawna Wright followed with sharp singles to load the bases. With one out, Hooch Fagaly walked on a 3-2 pitch - the first and only base on balls given up by Sooner pitcher Keilani Ricketts - to score Pohlman. Smith hit into a fielder's choice to plate Maggie Wagner, pinch-running for Lawrie, and give the Husky hurler some breathing room.

Nix led off the home half of the sixth with a sharp single to right, but Lawrie fanned the next two hitters and induced a pop-up to finish the inning unscathed.

For the Huskies - and Lawrie - the game ended in the best possible symbolic manner - facing Flores with two outs and a three-run lead, Lawrie got two quick strikes before inducing a game-ending ground ball to third.