Huskies claim first NCAA softball title

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Home-field advantage. Who needs that?

For Washington's softball team, the road led to a national championship.

After three weeks away from home, the Huskies are heading back to the Pacific Northwest with a trophy.

"We went through the toughest road anybody had to hoe to get here, and I think ultimately that's what caused this to happen," Washington coach Heather Tarr said.

Kimi Pohlman raced home on a squibber back to the circle that Florida ace Stacey Nelson couldn't handle, giving Washington the decisive run in a 3-2 victory for its first NCAA softball championship Tuesday night.

With the bases loaded in the third inning, Morgan Stuart tapped the ball a few feet in front of home plate, but Nelson (41-5) was unable to scoop it cleanly. That allowed the go-ahead run to score.

National player of the year Danielle Lawrie (42-8) shut out the top-seeded Gators (63-5) the rest of the way to clinch the title with a two-game sweep. She pitched every inning of the Huskies' six games at the World Series.

"I just can't say enough about Danielle and her ability to carry a team on her back -- from September until now," Tarr said.

Washington (51-12) kept the championship in the Pac-10 by keeping Florida from bringing the Southeastern Conference its first title. The Pac-10 has won 21 of the 27 Women's College World Series titles, with Arizona State and Washington joining powerhouses UCLA (11 championships) and Arizona (eight) the past two years.

Huskies players tossed their gloves into the air and gathered in a huddle near home plate after Lawrie struck out Ali Gardiner to end the game. The huddle of players soon fell over onto the ground after being handed the NCAA championship trophy.

"It's a pretty good feeling. Words can't really describe it," senior second baseman Ashley Charters said. "We've had a very tough road to get here ... but we wouldn't have been here if it was easy. It's not meant to be."

The team caught a flight out of Seattle on May 13 after being sent to Massachusetts for the opening weekend of NCAA tournament play. The Huskies stayed on the East Coast for a super regional against Georgia Tech in Atlanta before coming to Oklahoma City for the World Series.

When they end their 6,899-mile trek and arrive back in Seattle, it will be with the school's sixth NCAA title overall and second this school year after taking a women's cross country crown in November.

With Lawrie and Canadian Olympic teammate Jenn Salling leading the way, the Huskies were right at home in Oklahoma City.

Lawrie settled down after some shaky defense put the third-seeded Huskies in a 2-0 hle. She finished with a pair of strikeouts after Christina Enea narrowly missed a tying home run with a line drive off the left field wall in the seventh inning.

"I thought for a second it might have been out but once it hit the fence and they had the runner on second, I was just thinking, 'No, no, no. You've worked too hard for this to happen right now.'"

Megan Bush, the only Florida player with two homers in the Series, and Gardiner, whose game-winning grand slam put the Gators into the championship round, both went down swinging.

"There's a reason she's the most outstanding player in the tournament, probably the best pitcher in the country and one of the best pitchers in the world," Gators coach Tim Walton said. "You've got to take advantage of opportunities that you get.

"I don't know if it was just me or my imagination or it was getting dark out there, but it seemed like every time we had somebody on base, she revved it up another gear. And the last two innings, she revved it up probably two more gears."

Florida's Aja Paculba led off the game with a triple to right-center field past a diving Aly McWherter and scored on a passed ball. Kristina Hilbreth reached on an error, moved to second on Enea's infield single and was able to sneak into third on a steal when Stuart was too far from the base to tag her. She scored on Bush's sacrifice fly.

Washington answered immediately against Nelson, who led the nation in ERA but was coming off two of her worst outings of the season. Lawrie's RBI single and a wild pitch that brought in Pohlman evened the score at 2.

"There is a lot of pain that comes with this loss," Nelson said. "But I'm going to remember my time at Florida as being the best time of my life."