Huskies fly under radar at WCWS

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comMay 30, 2013 

Washington second baseman Kelli Suguro catches a pop-up during the Huskies’ 2-1 win over Portland State in an NCAA first-round game. UW plays in the Women’s College World Series on Thursday.

SCOTT EKLUND /RED BOX PICTURES, COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

Three years ago, Washington powered into the Women’s College World Series as the known predator.

The Huskies were ranked No. 1 during much of the 2010 season. Pitcher Danielle Lawrie was a force. Washington was the defending national champion.

This year, the Huskies head to dusty middle America as an upstart. Eleventh-seeded Washington faces the only team seeded lower among the final eight, 14th-seeded Nebraska, at 9 a.m. Thursday in Oklahoma City to start the double-elimination tournament.

Washington’s upset of No. 6 seed Missouri in the Super Regional to advance to this year’s WCWS brought memories of Lawrie, too.

When the Huskies advanced to the WCWS in 2007, they were led by pitchers Lawrie and Caitlin Noble during most of the season. Washington was a bit of an underdog then.

This year, Washington has again used two pitchers – Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryana Walker – as

opposed to the monarchal approach used by most teams. The Huskies also have been talked about less than other teams in the bracket because their season was supposed to end in Missouri.

That also provides them and Nebraska with a commonality. Washington beat Missouri’s Chelsea Thomas, the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year, on the road to advance. Nebraska beat Oregon’s Jessica Moore, the Pacific-12 Conference pitcher of the year, in Eugene, Ore., to move on.

The upsets leave each as underdogs in Oklahoma, where the home-state Sooners are the heavy favorite.

“It’s definitely different being here a little bit unexpectedly,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said.

The most unexpected traveler on the trip is Washington second baseman Kelli Suguro from Kentridge High School. Suguro, a News Tribune All-Area player and an all-state selection in 2010, had offers from other schools but turned them down to attend UW. After trying to walk-on as a freshman, Suguro was cut. She spent the eight months away embarrassing the unsuspecting in intramural softball.

Injuries and happenstance brought Suguro another shot to be on the team. She made it, has become the starting second baseman because of her defense and is now heading to the World Series as a junior.

“I’d say it’s quite the transition,” Suguro said. “Going from where I started to where I ended up. I just tried to be optimistic from the beginning.”

During the Super Regional, Suguro made a diving stop to her left and threw a worm-burner from her belly to first base for the out. The play made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the night on ESPN and produced some screaming on the ride back to the team hotel as some team members watched the highlight on a phone.

Suguro’s defense is the main reason she’s at second base for the Huskies. Tarr said the diving stop wasn’t even Suguro’s best play of the season. It is, however, at the core of what Washington does. The Huskies are tied for first in the country in fielding percentage.

“I think it’s one of the best defensive teams we’ve ever had,” Tarr said.

Who the defense will stand behind Thursday morning was still in question as of Wednesday. Tarr said Washington had not decided which pitcher to start when it attempts to continue this run.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas

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