OKLAHOMA CITY — The big moment doesn’t scare the University of Washington’s softball team. As the Huskies proved over and over this season, they can find a way to win in the bleakest of situations.
In Game 1 of the Women’s College World Series, UW was down to its last two outs against Nebraska but rallied for an 4-3 victory in eight innings at Hall of Fame Stadium.
The winning blow was struck by Kimberlee Souza, who hit a walk-off home run that landed in the left-field stands, bringing the happy Huskies (44-15) pouring out of the dugout to celebrate at home plate.
“For her to do it was just big for our team,” said UW’s Victoria Hayward, who had her own moment in the previous inning. “It builds momentum and says that we’re here and we’re going to compete.”
UW will play at 4 p.m. Friday against Tennessee. Volunteers co-coach Ralph Weekly led Pacific Lutheran to national championships in 1988 and ’92.
The Huskies trailed Nebraska, 3-2, with one out heading in the bottom of seventh when Hayward laced a one-out triple into right field that went under the glove of a diving Brooke Thomason. Hooch Fagaly, who has 10 homers on the season, then popped a sacrifice bunt that fell between pitcher Emily Lockman and first baseman Mattie Fowler. Hayward scored and Fagaly reach first safely to force extra innings.
“You just live for moments like that,” Hayward said. “You always want to be that person that comes through for your team and be in that clutch situation. It’s happened before. It’s happened a couple of times this season. I was seeing the ball well and looking for a good pitch to hit. And I finally got one I could send into a gap.”
UW improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games this season. It was also the Huskies’ first win at the WCWS since winning the national championship in 2009.
Washington’s Kaitlin Inglesby shut down the Huskers in the top of the eighth, which set them up for Souza’s late game heroics on the first pitch she saw.
“Being at the World Series is a dream I’ve always had,” Souza said. “Before that at-bat, Coach (Heather Tarr) talked to me, calming me down. Just told me to get a good pitch and get up and hit it. That’s what I did.”
Inglesby picked up the win as she pitched five innings in relief. She allowed four hits and struck out two. She also hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Tatum Edwards.
The Huskies were held to three hits but took advantage of eight walks.
“I was a little bit nervous today because we really didn’t look that great offensively,” Tarr said. “But the team has become really good at going to the last out.”
Hayward said the Huskies had plenty of time to get down on themselves. But UW – which twice loaded the bases but wasn’t able to capitalize – didn’t allow those thoughts to stay around long or affect their play.
“When that starts to come into your mind, then you just have to block it out,” Hayward said. “We are a team that will always fight until the last out. It’s really not over for our team until that last inning.”