SEATTLE — The Danielle Lawrie era isn’t over yet.
And the Shawna Wright era is just beginning.
Thanks in part to the heroics of Wright, a freshman catcher, the University of Washington softball team survived two loser-out games Friday night and advanced to the College World Series for the third time in four years. Wright hit a three-run home run in Game 3 of the three-game series, while Lawrie pitched a pair of shutouts Friday night to knock off Oklahoma for good.
“It’s exciting,” Lawrie said after bouncing back from a horrific performance on Thursday night. “I’m excited. I love the fact that we got better (Friday).
“I like our chances (at the CWS). I like where we’re going. I feel like we’re ready to roll.”
Lawrie assumed her typical role of unhittable All-American with a pair of shutout victories while throwing a total of 257 pitches and fanning 27 batters. She stayed up until 1 a.m. Friday morning watching game tape of the 6-1 loss to OU on Thursday night, then shut down the Sooners in back-to-back games.
Wright provided the biggest offensive blow with a three-run home run in the first inning Friday night’s late game, leading the way to the 4-0 win.
The defending champion Huskies will now face either Cal or Georgia in this week’s CWS in Oklahoma City. It marks the 10th time that UW has participated in the World Series.
It also marked the second time in less than a week that Wright delivered a crushing blow in a deciding game. The Central California native delivered a walk-off hit in UW’s regional-clinching win over North Carolina last Sunday, and she had the biggest offensive blow of Friday’s action to help finish off the Sooners.
“Shawna is probably the best freshman to come into our program,” Lawrie said. “It’s not easy. You’ve got to jump on board; there’s not time for training wheels.”
After hitting the home run in Game 3, Wright added a heads-up running play to set up the Huskies’ fourth run of that game. She reached first base on a fielder’s choice, then took off for second base while OU pitcher Keilani Ricketts wasn’t looking. A pinch runner then replaced Wright and scored on Niki Williams’s single to left for a 4-0 lead.
Much like last year’s run to Oklahoma City, Lawrie had to gut out a pair of elimination-game victories while throwing an unusually high number of pitches. She beat Massachusetts in back-to-back regional games last season, the second of which went 15 innings.
Friday’s action didn’t see nearly as many innings but carried the same do-or-die stress for Lawrie and the Huskies. OU tagged her for five home runs in Thursday night’s Game 1, a 6-1 Sooners victory, and yet Lawrie was able to bounce back with two impressive starts Friday.
Part of Lawrie’s success had to do with humility. Rather than take it to nemesis Amber Flores, who had three of the home runs in Thursday’s game, Lawrie swallowed her pride and avoided her. Flores was given a free pass _ four walks and a hit-by-pitch _ on five of her seven plate appearances Friday night.
The only two times Flores got a chance to swing the bat came in the final innings of both games, when the outcome had all but been decided. OU’s senior star ended the early game with a groundout to third base, then struck out with two runners on base for the second out of Game 3’s seventh inning. Lawrie also whiffed the next batter, cleanup hitter Lindsey Vandever, on a 3-2 pitch to finish off the Sooners.
Lawrie carried even more outward intensity than usual through Friday’s first game, serving as a sign that the disappointment of Thursday’s outing brought renewed focus. The first time her icy exterior cracked was after Wright’s home run in the first inning of Game 2.
From that moment on, Lawrie looked loose and pitched with the ease that has made her one of the top pitchers in the history of college softball.
But she began to tire around the fifth inning of the second game. She gave up two singles and an intentional walk to load the bases before getting OU’s Jessica Shults to look at a third strike on a 3-2 pitch down the middle. The next batter, Vandever, hit a long fly ball that initially baffled rightfielder Kimi Pohlman but eventually resulted in a falling, ice-cream cone catch to get out of the inning.
The Sooners (44-12) didn’t help themselves defensively in Game 3, with four errors in the loss.
Tarr shuffled the lineup before Friday’s first game, moving shortstop Jenn Salling into the leadoff spot and replacing third baseman Morgan Stuart with centerfielder Alyson McWherter in the batting order.
UW got enough offense in that game to force the pivotal Game 3. Taylor Smith doubled in Williams for a run in the second inning, then the Huskies added a pair of bases-loaded runs on a walk and fielder’s choice in the sixth for a 3-0 win in Friday’s opener. Lawrie allowed just two hits and struck out 10 in that game but threw 124 pitches.
In that game, Lawrie pitched around Flores three times and got her to ground out to third base for the final out of the seventh inning.
CORRECTION: Attendance for Thursday night’s UW softball game was incorrectly reported in Friday’s Herald. The correct attendance was 1,662.