Sami Reynolds readily admits she’s an emotional person. Therefore, as she stood at second base with the entire Husky Softball Stadium erupting in a euphoric frenzy, it’s not surprising that tears began streaming down her face.
In one moment, Reynolds had saved the University of Washington softball team’s season and prevented her collegiate career from ending prematurely.
Reynolds’ season-saving double against McNeese during the NCAA regionals in May highlighted an All-American season for the Snohomish High School graduate, and it wrapped a fitting bow around her outstanding five-year career with the Huskies. For her accomplishments, Reynolds is The Herald’s 2022-23 Woman of the Year in Sports.
In the spring, Reynolds played the last of her five seasons at Washington, and it was yet another stellar campaign. Playing left field and batting second for the Huskies, Reynolds batted .352 with eight home runs and 34 RBI in 59 games as she led Washington to a 44-15 record and a trip to the Women’s College World Series. She was named second-team All-Pac-12 for the third consecutive season and honored as a third-team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
“One word I would use to describe her is consistent,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said about Reynolds’ Huskies career. “Honestly, she was the same at the end as she was at the beginning. Just better.”
Before her fifth-year senior season, Reynolds decided she would not pursue a playing career beyond college. She had endured a challenging offseason, which included dealing with the effects of a concussion and struggling to prove her worth as a member of the U.S. national team. So her decision that 2023 would be last gave Reynolds a sense of freedom.
“I knew this was going to be it for me,” Reynolds said. “But not in a negative way. I did it in a positive way where I knew this was going to be the closing of a chapter. My mindset going into the season was that I was ready to give everything I had back to the program, and I could leave it all on the table because I had nothing to lose.”
Therefore, Reynolds was hyperaware of what was at stake when she stepped to the plate with two out in the top of the seventh inning of the winner-takes-all regional game against upstart McNeese, with Washington trailing 6-3. Reynolds wasn’t just staring down McNeese pitcher Ashley Vallejo. She was staring down the end of roughly 18 years playing competitive softball.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling the pressure,” Reynolds said. “I kind of had to put it in the back of my head that this was potentially my last opportunity at Husky Softball Stadium, let alone playing softball the last 18 years. Everything was on the table in that moment. So I really had to ground myself, get present again and find myself and my breath.
“The first pitch I either took for a strike on the outside corner or fouled it off for a strike, I’m not sure which,” Reynolds continued. “The second pitch was another one outside and I fouled that one off, but I felt more on time, so I knew I’d made a better adjustment. Then the third pitch was a borderline ball. I remember taking that pitch because I knew if I swung I would have missed it, and all the nerves in my body were tense waiting to hear whether the umpire called it a ball or a strike. I knew (Vallejo) was going to keep throwing me outside because she hadn’t thrown any lefties inside, and the next pitch I got I was like, ‘I am not missing this one. Sami, you are not missing this. You’re going to get on top of it and square it up.’ I picked my swing, and the ball found some grass to my favor.”
The line drive rolled all the way to the fence in left-center. Three runs came around to score to tie it at 6-6, completing a comeback from a 6-0 deficit entering the inning. The stadium erupted, and Reynolds couldn’t hold her emotions in.
“I remember looking up into the stands and everyone was on their feet. I saw my teammates coming out of the dugout, and it felt so surreal,” Reynolds said about the tears that followed. “But I also think that was so on-brand for me. I’m a very emotional person in general, and I think a lot of my emotions and my vulnerability helped me in so many battles mentally and physically, both on and off the field. I think that’s just a part of me, so I wasn’t surprised by the tears.”
“That is one of the most epic moments (in UW softball history),” said Tarr, who’s been involved in most of the storied program’s biggest moments as either a player or a coach. “It’s a top-five epic moment.”
Reynolds’ tears didn’t prevent her from finishing off the fairy-tale comeback. She came around to score the go-ahead run on Madison Huskey’s ensuing single to center, then made a sliding catch of Corine Poncho’s liner with one on and one out in the bottom half of the inning to help preserve the 7-6 victory.
Washington won the game, advanced through super regionals and reached the Women’s College World Series. It served as appropriate bookends to Reynolds’ career, as she started with a trip to the World Series in 2019 when she was named to the all-tournament team.
“I’m really happy we made it back,” Reynolds said. “It just felt so good being back there. It was a different perspective. As a freshman I was so naive, I literally had no idea. I remember getting there and being so awestruck that I didn’t really pay attention to the details. Going back four years later, I was able to see everything, and the stage didn’t feel as big. After we won super regionals I knew one way or another my career was ending in Oklahoma City, and that was freaking awesome.”
While Reynolds’ playing career may be over, her time in the Husky program isn’t. Reynolds, who is finishing off a master’s degree in leadership in higher education, joined the staff as a student assistant coach. It’s a plan that was hatched before last season, and now Reynolds is tasked with helping the coaching staff with practice, projects or whatever else is needed. Reynolds doesn’t know if coaching is part of her long-term future, but that door has now been cracked open.
But whether she continues down the coaching path or not, Reynolds will always have her place in Washington softball lore.