March 4, 2009

By Kyle Kensing
NCAA.com

Third-ranked Washington comes into March like a lion. The Huskies ran roughshod over the competition in their own weekend tournament to end February a perfect 16-0, and tacked on one more win to start this month for good measure.

With that unblemished mark in tow, UW heads to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for a weekend tilt fit for Oklahoma City.

“Our goal at this juncture in the season was to get better every game,” UW head coach Heather Tarr said. “I didn’t think we’d be undefeated.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised in our ability to execute.”

Execute the Huskies have. Washington has found ways to win against top flight competition week in and week out, whether it be from the pitching circle or at the plate.

“We have the perspective of the big picture: playing for the end of May,” Tarr said.

The Huskies already navigated through the Cathedral City Classic with wins over top 15 teams Ohio State, Tennessee and Florida, and in the coming days UW gets a chance to add another notch to its belt: No. 1 Alabama, on the Crimson Tide’s home field.

A key to Washington’s success has been the pitching of Danielle Lawrie. The junior from Langley, British Columbia has yielded just four earned runs in 13 appearances and had amassed a nearly 60-inning scoreless streak.

“For me it’s not about comparing myself to Jenny Finch or Katie Burkhart,” Lawrie said. “I don’t go out there thinking ‘How can I top what they did,’ I’m just doing whatever I can to beat the other team.”

So far Lawrie’s strategy has worked: she has seven shutouts to her credit and a 12-0 record. And while she isn’t actively pursuing the lofty marks set by Pac-10 predecessors like Arizona’s Finch and the catalyst of last year’s national champion Arizona State team Burkhart, her sub-1.00 ERA and better than 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio would most certainly etch her name into conference lore. 

“Both of them won championships and that’s what I’m looking to do,” she said.

Lawrie was a freshman on the 2007 Husky team that reached the College World Series. But the Huskies’ star hurler has also experienced postseason heartbreak before Oklahoma City – Washington dropped two games to Houston to be ousted from the Regional last year.

“We’re a better team now,” Tarr said of the ’09 version of Washington softball. “We have more experience and more confidence.

“The biggest thing that happens when you know you have the makings of a good team is experience,” Tarr said. “To have gone through a season and get there [the CWS] has shown [the upperclassmen] how to do it. A majority of the team has done it, and in turn can show the freshmen what it takes.”

Husky youngsters have responded. Felecia Harris hit two home runs last weekend and has three on the season.

Lawrie noted that the UW bats have been integral in her own pitching successes.

“If the team gets you run you’re going to do well,” she said.

That combination of offense and pitching is crucial for the Huskies’ trip to Alabama. In addition to the top ranked Crimson Tide, UW faces No. 12 Georgia and a tough Baylor team just out of the polls.
 
Tarr said she is less concerned about returning from Tuscaloosa undefeated than coming home better prepared for the remaining schedule.
 
“We play a tough pre-season to get ready for the Pac-10. It’s the toughest conference in the nation,” she said. “If we’re not battle-tested we won’t endure the conference.”

Rained Out

Washington was just one of many teams to have some of last weekend’s games rained out. While the downpour in Seattle that cut the Husky Classic one game short may not come as a surprise, the rain blanketing the Southeast might. Tournaments in Knoxville, Tenn. and Columbus, Ga. were hit hard, causing numerous rescheduling and cancellations.

A New Dog (and Aggie) in the Fight

An up-and-comer on the national scene is the Missouri Valley’s Southern Illinois. The Salukis are 11-1, with their lone defeat coming last week to top-ranked Alabama. SIU has jumped to 18 in the latest poll and hosts Southeastern Missouri this weekend with the chance to move up.
 
Another team on the rise is Texas A&M. The Aggies took two wins from Arizona over the weekend, and was rewarded climbing from 21 to 17 in the polls.