Lawrie, Washington shut down Florida
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two months ago, Jenn Salling was a woman without a team.
One month ago, she was mired in a slump that left her with a .100 batting average.
Now, she and an Olympic teammate are on the brink of leading Washington to its first NCAA softball title.
Salling hit a two-run single that turned into a whole lot more in the third inning as the Huskies routed top-seeded Florida 8-0 Monday night in Game 1 of the Women's College World Series finals. Florida's 29-game winning streak was snapped.
Salling's single brought in four runs when catcher Kristina Hilbreth tried to catch a runner at second. Her throw sailed into center field.
"We'll take it," Salling said.
Washington loaded the bases with a walk and two infield grounders before Salling lined a single through the infield that Kim Waleszonia fielded in shallow center. She fired home too late to get Ashley Charters, and Hilberth then zipped a throw back toward second that sailed over even Waleszonia as she made a leaping attempt to catch it.
Two more runs scored as the ball rolled into deep center field, giving Washington a 4-0 edge.
A member of the Canadian Olympic team, Salling joined the Huskies late in the season before playing a key role in their postseason push. After transferring from Oregon, she wasn't allowed to play until April because of NCAA rules and started her abbreviated season 0-for-13. Over her first month with Washington, she was hitting .100.
But in the final two weeks of the season, Salling turned it around she's hitting at a .413 clip (19-for-46) since May 7.
"My teammates have helped me immensely. It was tough at the beginning, and they've helped me through everything with that struggle from the beginning," Salling said. "Picked me up when I felt down, picked me up when the confidence was down, picked me up when I didn't know if I was the one who could do that job at that time."
Now, she and national player of the year Danielle Lawrie, her teammate from the Olympics, have the third-seeded Huskies (50-12) within one win the national championship.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Tuesday night.
Lawrie (41-8) threw a two-hitter to set a Washington record with her 41st career shutout. Jennifer Spediacci, who pitched the Huskies to their last championship appearance in 1999, held the old record with 40.
Ashley Charters added a two-run home run off reliever Stephanie Brombacher in the sixth inning, setting a school record with her 95th hit of the season in the process.
There was an awkward moment after Kelsey Bruder struck out to end the sixth inning as both teams lined up for postgame handshakes, thinking the game was over because of the mercy rule. However, the rule is not in effect during the championship series and the teams were told to resume play.
The grounds crew had already begun removing the bases from the field and the umpires had already left, too.
"It should have been a run rule," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "Overall, we've got to figure out a better way to approach the game tomorrow. Obviously, this game is of highs and lows. I haven't seen this team be this low before."
Morgan Stuart added a two-run double in the fifth inning as the Huskies scored six runs off Stacey Nelson, the nation's stingiest pitcher with an 0.48 ERA. Nelson (41-4) had consecutive shutouts to open the World Series and had given up more than two runs in a game only three times all season.
"There's just something that's not clicking," Nelson said. "I'm not hitting the spots that I want to."
Washington loaded the bases with a walk and two infield grounders before Salling's single that led to Hilberth's errant throw. It was only her third error of the season, and Florida had carried the nation's second-best fielding mark at 97.8 percent.
"That's tough because if you're not used to doing that and that happens to you in that kind of a game, it's tough to bounce back," Huskies coach Heather Tarr said. "I'm sure all great teams have been there before, and they just obviously haven't had that many losses to deal with."