Renewed UW Primed For `Completely Different Season'
May 18, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - It's a measure of the national respect for Heather Tarr's Husky softball program that Washington is hosting an NCAA tournament regional this weekend despite a 7-16 record inside the ultra-competitive Pac-12 Conference.
It's also a measure of the mammoth expectations Tarr have instilled in her Huskies since they won the national championship three years ago that a 16 seed in the NCAAs -- which begin for UW (36-17) Friday at 6 p.m. against Ivy League-champion Harvard (33-13) with streaming live video here on GoHuskies.com -- is in no way indicative of what UW believes it can do in this national tournament.
"Going into the season we saw our preseason ranking and saw it in the upper teens, 16th or something. And I think we did what we needed to do for our reputation -- not only as a program but as a conference - to maintain itself," Tarr said Thursday of a season that has included wins over then-No. 1 Florida, No. 16 Texas A&M, No. 13 Georgia and No. 22 Nebraska in February.
That is the apex of Washington's up-and-down season.
"How we played in the conference was less than we expected and less than desired," said Tarr, the former UW walk-on who became a three-time all-conference player and is now 37-16 in the postseason as the Huskies' coach. "But I think overall our mission in this season is to make sure our reputation is higher than it was going into this season."
That means advancing past the round of 16, past next weekend's super regionals. UW is in the same super-regional bracket as Pac-12-champion California (50-4), the NCAA tournament's top seed that is hosting its own regional this weekend.
A win over Harvard in the teams' first-ever meeting Friday would send Washington to a Saturday 1 p.m. game at Husky Softball Field against the winner of Friday's earlier meeting of Maryland (34-20) and Texas Tech (40-15). The finals of the double-elimination Seattle regional are Sunday beginning at 1 p.m.
All Huskies games will be streamed live at http://www.gohuskies.com/sports/w-softbl/mtt/12regional.html.
Washington has advanced through six of its last seven NCAA regional rounds. That includes last spring when it also hosted. Kaitlin Inglesby was that region's MVP with her outstanding pitching and hitting as a freshman.
"It feels like a completely different season," Tarr said of this NCAA tournament. "Regardless of how we played in the conference season I think it's important to keep separation and what's going to happen next."
The Huskies peaked at No. 3 in the country at 32-1 following this pre-conference season. Then they lost consistency on offense and endured Inglesby's bouts with arm soreness and a lack of confidence.
But having the last week off between the regular season and the postseason have both the Huskies and their ace feeling rejuvenated - and ready to fulfill their huge potential.
Inglesby sums up her team's tournament prospects best: "We're capable of anything."
And she and her teammates intend to be in this tournament for a while.
And Inglesby said: "This is a whole new season. It's about who can play the best over the next three weeks."
The two keys to Washington getting to play past this weekend are: Inglesby re-proving herself inside the pitching circle; and the offense getting back some of the consistency it had earlier this season.
Inglesby, 18-10 with a 2.33 ERA in 36 games and 28 starts, was like her team earlier this season: rolling into conference play. Then Pac-12 teams that had an entire offseason to study her pitches and motion from a multitude of angles and sources began figuring her out. The sophomore didn't immediately have a counter to the new book opponents had on her.
Then her arm began bothering her last month, causing her to miss some starts.
"It's more mental," said the resilient Inglesby, who has overcome being 80-percent deaf, getting the autoimmune Graves disease (hyperthyroidism) as a teen, then having bones in her face shattered in 47 places by a teammate's line drive in her third practice at UW last summer.
"I'm tougher than this. I understand it now. I'm way past it."
How valuable is Inglesby? She is UW's leading hitter with a .406 average, 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. And when she wasn't available to be the starting pitcher in the series opener April 27 against third-ranked Arizona State because of that sore arm, the Huskies lost 18-1.
Yes, Inglesby's readiness and frame of mind for this NCAA tournament will mostly determine how far Washington advances.
"I get it a little bit more. I know the pace I need to go it," she said. "It's taken me all year to learn it, but I understand it.
"I'm ready to prove it."
As for the offense, it didn't score in the final three regular-season games at No. 19 Stanford. Washington has scored more than five runs once in its last dozen games.
But again, that was inside the brutal Pac-12. The conference has produced 23 of the 30 NCAA tournament champions all time, including the last six.
This weekend the Huskies are facing teams and pitchers they have never faced. And vice versa.
"Hitting is contagious," Tarr said. "When this team gets on a roll we are going to be in a good spot."
The responsibility for getting the Huskies rolling starts with Pohlman. The leadoff batter leads the team with 60 hits, has a .375 average, and is perfect in 21 stolen-base attempts. As she goes, so goes UW's offense.
Or so it seems.
"Absolutely. It's always been my goal as a leadoff hitter to set the pace of the game. I feel like personally I kind of got away from that a little bit (late in the regular season)," said Pohlman, who with classmate Nikia Williams are leading these Huskies with postseason experience first earned during that `09 run to the school's first national title.
"But having a week off, I feel like our team offensively is back on track."