Huskies boast heavy hitters
Some things never change in Seattle, where the rain familiar to all seasons save summer washed out Sunday's finale of the Husky Softball Classic. That Mother Nature is just about the first opponent to shut down Washington's lineup this season suggests that other supposed Emerald City identifiers are more malleable.
Before the rain, Washington scored 36 runs in three games in the tournament it hosted, wins against South Carolina-Upstate (twice) and Seattle University that pushed its record to 19-0 this season. It wasn't the kind of competition the Huskies will face next weekend at the Judi Garman Classic in California, but it hasn't much mattered who coach Heather Tarr's team has faced this season. From Northwestern and San Diego State to Massachusetts and Texas A&M, postseason potential hasn't been enough for opponents to avoid a serious ERA hit against Washington. Only Fordham held the Huskies to fewer than five runs.
Washington scored 216 runs through its first 19 games. It reached double figures on 11 occasions, including two games of more than 20 runs.
Two seasons ago, the Huskies scored 115 runs in their first 19 games and didn't reach 216 runs until April 19, game No. 41. To refresh memories, that team won a national title a little more than a month later.
"It's early in the season, but I like what we're doing," Tarr said recently. "I like just kind of the collection of our offense, the mindset of it."
Some of that -- perhaps much of that -- may stem from the effects of the lineup losing its most productive power hitter of a season ago, a player who led the team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. That player, of course, was Danielle Lawrie, who happened to also be one of the best big-game pitchers in the long annals of college softball.
If the Huskies got Lawrie two or three runs of support, they knew they had a good chance to come out with the win. But at just over five runs per game for the 2010 season, they didn't always get her much more than that. Why fill the tank when you can buy just enough gas to get you where you're going?
"When you play behind somebody who you know is going to guarantee a great game, like Danielle, somehow, someway, I don't know why, but teams sometimes that have that don't have an explosive offensive mindset," Tarr said. "I think we were very good offensively, but we weren't crazy, off-the-charts over the last few years. So I think it just gives you a different sense of urgency, maybe not knowing that you have that kind of pitcher."
The newfound run production starts, as these things often do, at the top of the order. Kimi Pohlman hit .750 (9-of-12) over the weekend to raise her average to a healthy .507 through 19 games this season. She also added two doubles among that haul and has eight extra-base hits this season, compared to 14 in 59 games last season. A good speed-and-singles hitter on both the championship team and last season, she's adding the depth of production to make her into a potential All-American. Jenn Salling had just one hit on the weekend but walked five times, drove in four runs and scored three of her own. Taylor Smith hit her ninth home run. Niki Williams drove in four runs. The common denominator? All were a part of back-to-back trips to the Women's College World Series.
So all know exactly what will be required to have the last laugh when it comes to reports of Washington's demise without its ace.
"One thing that our team has done different this year than in years past is just developed as leaders," Tarr said. "I think, naturally, we've done a good job of having good natural leaders and good things have happened in our program. But I think our seniors, specifically, and then obviously the juniors that have been there and kind of done that, they've been great leaders so far this year."
The pitching remains a work in progress. Five players have started a game for Washington thus far and only freshman Kaitlin Inglesby has the kind of line that would engender confidence against the kind of lineups on deck at the Garman and soon thereafter in Pac-10 play. Inglesby struck out 10 in 5.2 innings of work over the weekend and lowered her ERA to 2.15 in 45.2 innings overall this season.
But nobody is asking the pitchers to be perfect. That's no longer the way things work in Seattle.
• Nebraska improved to 4-1 this season against ranked teams in impressive fashion, shutting out Florida 1-0 in that team's home state, albeit on a neutral field at the Under Armour Showcase in Clearwater, Fla. Ashley Hagemann struck out eight and allowed just two hits against the Gators. Freshman Taylor Edwards (6-of-14, two home runs, eight RBIs) and Nikki Haget (10-of-17, nine runs, four stolen bases) led the way at the plate for the Cornhuskers in a perfect 5-0 weekend. The 19-2 start this season is the best in Nebraska's not-unaccomplished history.
• Brittney Griner and the Baylor women's basketball team were supposed to be the ones making a splash in March, but they have some catching up to do. A week after beating UCLA, Fresno State and San Diego State in a tournament in San Diego, Whitney Canion and Baylor's softball team went to Tucson, Ariz., and took two of three from Arizona. Canion struck out 15 and allowed five hits and two earned runs in 14 innings in the two wins (she also took the loss in relief in the middle game).
• Kentucky wasted little time moving conference play to the top of the headlines, taking two of three against Tennessee in the first semi-full weekend of SEC play. It's the first time the Wildcats have taken a series from the Lady Vols since 2000 (Kentucky was just 3-6 against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee last season). Kentucky's Megan Yocke tied Sunday's rubber game with a three-run home run in the seventh inning, and Kara Dill delivered the walk-off single in the 10th inning.
• Alabama spotted the ACC a team in the Easton ACC/SEC Challenge and still came out with two wins each against Florida State and North Carolina. The Crimson Tide run-ruled both the Tar Heels and Seminoles during the event, giving the Tide 13 run-rule wins this season -- just one fewer than all of last season en route to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Cassie Reilly-Boccia made use of what time Alabama had on the field, driving in 12 runs in the four wins.
• No SEC team used the same pitcher for all three games of the first weekend under the league's new Friday-Saturday-Sunday format (three teams didn't play), but on the other side of the country, California's Jolene Henderson offered a glimpse of a different era by winning four games in two days at a tournament in Fresno, Calif. Henderson allowed just three earned runs and struck out 28 in 28 innings.
• While it may not be time to start printing the postseason media guides just yet, South Carolina tripled its SEC win total from last season with a three-game sweep against Mississippi. Under the watch of new coach Beverly Smith, the Gamecocks improved to 16-7 on the season. Junior Kaitlin Westfall totaled three hits, including a double and a home run, four walks and four RBIs in the wins.
• Speaking of run-producing Pac-10 juggernauts, Arizona State piled up 59 runs in sweeping five games at its own Diamond Devil Invitational. The schedule would make Jim Boeheim blush (Campbell, Howard, Florida Gulf Coast, Weber State and Virginia Tech this time), but the Sun Devils have reached double-digit runs in 14 of their past 18 games.
• Georgia Tech coach Sharon Perkins is barely a month into her fifth season in Atlanta, but she's already at 200 wins with the Yellow Jackets after sweeping through a tournament at home with wins against Bowling Green, Penn State, Belmont and Georgia State.Graham Hays covers women's college softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.