By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — They needed a hero.
The Washington Huskies had spent most of their first home softball regional in 10 years riding the able shoulder — and bat — of pitcher Danielle Lawrie, and as Sunday’s final day wore on, they needed someone else to finish the deal.
Freshman catcher Shawna Wright fit the bill.
After North Carolina pitcher Danielle Spaulding intentionally walked Lawrie with one out and a runner on second in the bottom of the eighth inning, Wright came through with the game-ending RBI double down the left-field line.
“It’s great,” Wright said after her heroics in a 2-1, extra-inning win at the UW softball complex Sunday afternoon. “All I could think about when I was on deck was: just get me up to bat, Dani (Lawrie), get me up to bat. And she did, thank goodness.”
The defending national champion Huskies (48-6) went undefeated in the three-day Seattle Regional and earned the right to host Oklahoma (43-10) in an NCAA super regional later this week. The winner of that best-of-three series will move on to the College World Series in Oklahoma City.
UW, which was able to host the postseason games because lights were added to the school’s softball complex last summer, definitely benefited from the homefield advantage Sunday. The Pacific Northwest weather forced North Carolina’s play-in game to be moved from late Saturday night to Sunday at noon, and by the eighth inning of the afternoon game against UW, Spaulding had already thrown more than 200 pitches for the day.
Spaulding, who threw her second no-hitter in three games while beating Nebraska in eight innings earlier Sunday, admitted that her arm was pretty gassed by the eighth inning of the game against UW.
“Physically, I’m not feeling too good,” she said after striking out nine over 71/3 innings of work in the loss to the Huskies. “But that didn’t really cross my mind. I was just shaking it off and trying to be there for the team. My arm and whatever, it didn’t really matter to me.”
In pitching 291/3 innings, striking out 50, and allowing just nine hits over four games of the regional, Spaulding made quite an impression despite giving up the costly hit at the end.
“She’s by far one of the best pitchers I’ve ever faced,” Lawrie told reporters after stopping Spaulding near the media workroom to compliment her on the performance.
For most of Sunday’s game, it was a near replay of the previous day’s matchup between the Huskies and Tar Heels, which UW won 1-0 in a pitchers’ duel between Lawrie and Spaulding. Over the two games, the duo combined to throw 466 pitches, work 291/3 innings and strike out 47 batters while allowing just three earned runs off 14 hits.
The only mistake either pitcher made over the first six innings of Sunday’s game came on Spaulding’s first pitch of the second inning, which UW sophomore Niki Williams slugged over the left-field fence for a 1-0 lead.
The two teams combined for just four hits over four scoreless innings before the Tar Heels finally scored a run off Lawrie in the top of the seventh.
Brittany McKinney led off the seventh with a single up the middle, then courtesy runner Tisha Mahon moved to second on a wild pitch that Wright was unable to corral. Two batters later, UNC’s Ally Blake smacked a liner to leftfield. UW’s Williams initially took a step forward, then tried to retreat as the ball sailed over her head for a double that scored Mahon and tied the score at 1.
“I probably got a bad read,” Williams said after the Tar Heels were the first team to score a run on Lawrie through three regional games. “I took a step in, and it was over my head.”
Wright felt more guilty about the wild pitch that got by her, and she was relieved to get a chance to atone at the plate one inning later.
“I could tell (Lawrie) was getting a little frustrated in the seventh there with the (wild pitch),” Wright said, “so I was just happy that the game ended and I was able to help her out a little bit.”
After Kimi Pohlman struck out to lead off the bottom of the eighth, shortstop Jenn Salling waved off a signal from coach Heather Tarr and opted to bunt. She slid head-first into first base, and Spaulding’s throw bounced off Kelsey Green’s mitt and into foul territory, allowing Salling to get to second.
Spaulding intentionally walked Lawrie on the next at-bat, setting up a potential force play and clearing the way for Wright to be the hero.
The freshman from Lancaster, Calif., appeared to win the game on the first pitch she saw, drilling a drop ball toward the left-field corner before watching it drift and land in foul territory near the wall. Two pitches later, on a low rise ball, Wright hit a grounder down the same third-base line, allowing Salling to score from second with ease.
“I believe that if I had gotten the opportunity, I could’ve made something happen,” Lawrie said. “But I love it that Shawna did it.”
Wright said that she took it personally when Spaulding intentionally walked Lawrie in front of her.
“Definitely,” she said. “But I mean, I’m 0-for-all-day, so I have to expect that they’re going to do that, and I have to be ready.”
The Huskies will have more chances to find a hero this week.
Third seed UW will host No. 14 Oklahoma in a best-of-three series that begins Thursday.