It’s an exciting time for sports fans in general, and in particular for sports fans in the Pacific Northwest. Tiger Woods is back and giving lots of fans reason to give the golf season added attention this year. The Seattle Mariners look like they might have something for the first time in forever. The Portland Trail Blazers have a legitimate shot to knock off the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, and they’ve already rolled out the spring balls for college football (hint: Oregon and Washington should both be very, very good this year).
But there’s a team from the Northwest heading into the home stretch of the regular season in exciting fashion: It’s the Washington softball team, who find themselves ranked third nationally this week, and not by accident.
The Huskies (35-6) are 12-3 in conference play and riding a 13-game winning streak. Their last loss came on St. Patrick’s Day against UCLA, who is ranked second in the country (and was in first place for several weeks, up until an upset loss against unranked Oregon; thanks, Ducks!). The Pac-12 standings are all knotted up at the top with Arizona, undefeated in conference play, in first place (7th nationally), UCLA in second and Washington in third.
The Huskies have a well-balanced team with a couple of stars, a lot of role players and the ability to score consistently while mostly shutting down opposing lineups. Sis Bates is by far the most household name on the team. She’s got a tidy .400 average overall, .500 in conference play (first place in that statistic) with 24 hits in 15 conference games. When it comes to power, the name to know is Morganne Flores, who has a .317 average and 15 home runs—leading the conference—on 38 hits with a slugging percentage of .725.
On the other side of the ball, the Huskies deliver the one-two pitching punch of Gabbie Plain and Taran Alvelo, who are first and second, respectively, in the Pac-12 for strikeouts. Plain has 72 strikeouts, Alvelo has 61, and there is only one other pitcher in the conference who has more than 50. Plain boasts an ERA of 1.1, a whip of .69 and a 15-1 win-loss record. When you look collectively at the Huskies top three pitchers—Plain, Alvelo and Pat Moore—they share an ERA of 1.58 (opponents’ ERA is 4.79) and a WHIP of .9 (opponents’ WHIP is 1.74).
The Huskies have an interesting remaining schedule. This week they travel to Utah to play five games in one week—one against BYU, three against Utah and one against Utah Valley. Not only does Washington do well on the road, but these are all bad teams and Washington should be in the right mindset to stay on track and win all of these games.
From there, the Huskies have two challenging conference series to close out the regular season. The first is in Tucson against Arizona, starting May 3rd, and the second is in Seattle against Stanford, starting May 9th. Not only is Arizona a vastly better team than the Cardinal, but Arizona will be looking to maintain their first place standing in the conference and to cement their prospects for post-season play. In Washington’s favor is the fact that they have won four consecutive conference series.
The NCAA Division 1 softball postseason operates very similarly to March Madness. There are 64 teams total, with 32 teams receiving automatic bids and a committee choosing the latter 32, which they will reveal in a selection show on May 12th. There will be sixteen regional, four-team, double-elimination tournaments played the weekend of May 17th. The winners will advance to a super-regional round the following weekend, May 23rd, held at eight sites, where two teams will play in a best of three tournament format. The eight winners will advance to the Women’s College World Series, held May 30th to June 5th at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium – OGE Energy Field in Oklahoma City, where they will play in a double-elimination bracket that leads to the two top teams playing in a best of three series.
It’s a terribly exciting format overall and one that sports fans should pay closer attention to. It seems a little pre-ordained that Oklahoma is currently ranked first nationally—I smell homefield advantage and possibly home cooking—but if the Huskies stick to the mission, they could find themselves in it right at the end.
I know how I’ll be watching, and how I’ll be celebrating if they win it all. There will definitely be chicken wings, and there might even be a beverage made from the fermentation of, among other things—you guessed it: hops.