Gabbie Plain didn’t get hit much in the first inning on Friday.
Instead, she did the hitting … though the batter’s box may be to blame.
After surrendering a leadoff double to Oklahoma second baseman Tiare Jennings in the opening frame of an eventual 4-2 loss, Plain — Washington’s unquestioned ace, who entered the super regionals with a 32-3 record and a 1.23 ERA — hit three separate Sooners, the last of which forced in the first run of the game. With the bases loaded and two outs, an inside pitch clattered off the protective elbow guard of shortstop Grace Lyons — who made little attempt to dodge the 0-2 offering. Husky head coach Heather Tarr made a beeline for home plate umpire Cam Ellison, evidently unhappy with the proximity of the batter’s box to the plate.
Beyond the aesthetics of Plain hitting just 10 total batters in 227.1 innings this season, Tarr had a compelling case. After all, ESPN2 provided side-by-side photos of the Oklahoma batter’s boxes both in last weekend’s regional series as well as on Friday — with the latter chalk positioned noticeably closer than the required six inches off the plate.
“At the umpire meeting that we do as head coaches (before the game), I did ask the home plate umpire if he thought it was too close,” Tarr said. “I said, ‘I think the batter’s box is drawn too close. Can you take a look?’ He’s like, ‘No, no, it’s fine.’ I should have, in hindsight, just said, ‘Can you please redraw the lines?’ I did question how close it was. I didn’t get the answer of, ‘Yes, we’ll redraw it for you, since you do think it’s too close.’ It was kind of like, ‘Move it along.’
“So for me personally, I don’t usually cause a stink about those things. But (I did) when I knew it was probably resulting in Gabbie’s reference points possibly being a little bit skewed, which is what I believe. I didn’t know those stats (about 10 hit batters in 227.1 innings) for sure, but we know her enough to know that she doesn’t hit batters a lot. She’s got very good command. So I just went out and I told the umpire, ‘See? That’s the result of those lines being drawn too close.’
“But at that point you can’t really do anything about it, so it’s neither here nor there. It’s not the reason we lost. We had every chance to win that game.”
They had chances, but the Huskies didn’t do enough hitting of their own. Junior left fielder Sami Reynolds did get UW on the board to lead off the second inning, sending a solo shot over the center field wall. The Snohomish native said she “tried to get rid of some pitches that I didn’t really like and I got one that I wanted, so I took my best swing.”
Sophomore first baseman Kelley Lynch did the same with one out in the seventh inning, adding a solo homer to narrow the UW deficit to 4-2.
And following Lynch’s liner over the left field wall, the Huskies had an opportunity to take a late lead. Taryn Atlee reached on an error, and a Sarah Willis single put runners on first and second base with still one out. But sophomore center fielder Jadelyn Allchin proceeded to shoot a hard grounder to second, and after Willis was forced out, the Sooners failed to get Allchin at first to complete the double play.
Rather than stopping at third to extend the inning, Atlee sprinted for home, and an accurate throw from OU first baseman Taylon Snow to catcher Kinzie Hansen cut her down at the plate to dramatically end the game — leaving leadoff hitter Sis Bates stranded in the on-deck circle.
“I wasn’t sending her (home),” said Tarr, who also operates as the third-base coach. “I just didn’t stop her, if that makes sense. So it’s kind of one of those weird plays where if I could say, ‘Whoops, reverse,’ like a video game, we would have done it.
“In hindsight I should have been more conscious of the fact that Jadelyn was likely to be safe on the trail, and of course it would have set it up perfectly to have Sis come up with first and third and only two outs there.”
Bates, by the way, went 2-3 with a pair of singles on Friday — passing Sara Pickering to claim UW’s all-time hits crown with 319 career hits in the process.
Of course, Washington had other opportunities as well. After Allchin and Bates both singled in the third, a Baylee Klingler pop out and Morganne Flores fly out to the warning track stranded both runners and squashed a significant threat.
In a surprise start for the Sooners, freshman pitcher Nicole May held the Huskies to seven hits and two runs, while striking out four, in seven strong innings.
And though Oklahoma’s mighty offense did its part, the Huskies also helped. Sooners All-American Jocelyn Alo, who entered the game with a nation’s best 28 homers, took Plain out to left field with a solo shot in the third inning. And after Alo walked in the fifth, Kinzie Hansen’s single snuck under the glove of center fielder Allchin — who struggled through a forgettable Friday — and dribbled to the wall, allowing both Alo and Hansen to come around to score.
In all, Plain limited an unprecedented Oklahoma offense — which averaged an astronomical 11.52 runs and 2.84 home runs this season — to a total of five hits and three earned runs. The Sooners’ four runs tied their lowest mark this season (excluding a 2-1 win over the Mexican national team). But an admirable effort from the ace wasn’t quite enough.
UW will attempt to extend its season in the second of a best-of-three series at noon on Saturday, in the first super regional ever broadcast nationally on ABC.
“We don’t say games are continuations of other games, because each game is its own thing,” Tarr said. “But we know what we can do. We know what we need to do, and we’ll look at some film and see anything that we can do differently.
“But it’s just another game. It’s one point. It’s the first team to win two games that wins these super regionals.”
It’s also a game of inches.
Six inches … or likely less.