The Washington Huskies are thankful Nikia Williams is infinitely better at hitting home runs than measuring them.
“I thought it was a pop-up,” Williams said after blasting a towering three-run homer well beyond the left-center field wall to carry Washington to a 4-0 victory over Harvard in the championship game of the NCAA Seattle regional in softball.
The 18th-ranked Huskies, a perennial national power that fell on relatively hard times this season, snapped a seven-game losing streak by posting shutouts in all three of their regional games.
Sophomore Bryana Walker (10-5) threw a four-hitter in the rain before 940 fans Sunday at Husky Softball Field.
“I’m just really proud of this group for staying tough, staying tight (close) and staying within themselves,” coach Heather Tarr said.
Washington (39-17) advances to a best-of-three Super Regional against top-ranked California (53-5) from May 24-27 in Berkeley, Calif., at times to be announced.
The Huskies, who were eighth in the nine-team Pacific-12 Conference, were nursing a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Williams unloaded on a rise ball from two-time Ivy League pitcher of the year Rachel Brown.
“During the Pac-12, we lost a lot of games by one run,” Williams said, “and I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Pinch runner Marki Creger-Zier, a freshman from Steilacoom High, scored on Williams’ home run.
Brown (21-7), a four-time, first-team all-Ivy League pick, was the only pitcher the Crimson used in splitting four games at regionals. Brown lost to Washington on Friday, and she admitted to wearing down while throwing 437 pitches in three days.
“She’s awesome,” Tarr said.
“Rachel threw incredible this week,” Harvard coach Jenny Allard said.
The Huskies had just six hits, but they hit the ball hard off Brown, who relies on location and changing speeds.
Walker wasn’t overpowering, but she struck out seven, including the final three, in her third shutout this season.
Walker learned she was starting barely an hour before the game. The sophomore right-hander said she was nervous, but added that her confidence grew when Kaitlin Inglesby singled home Victoria Haywood in the first.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ve got this,’ ” Walker said.
Harvard (35-14) played in its first regional title game.
“It’s quite amazing, these young women,” Allard said.
Kimi Pohlman and Shawna Wright each had two hits for the Huskies.
“It’s a neat feeling to see these seniors come through today, specifically to see some of the older players play with a lot of emotion, like it matters,” she said. “A lot of these guys came into this program when we were way up here (the Huskies, led by pitcher Danielle Lawrie, were NCAA champions in 2009), not understanding what it’s going to take to get us to where we want to go. It’s not given.”
Cal, the top seed in its regional, defeated Arkansas, 7-0, in Berkeley, Calif., to advance to the Super Regionals.
Britt Vonk hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the second inning for the Golden Bears.
Junior right-hander Jolene Henderson allowed five hits and struck out five in the complete-game shutout for Cal.McClatchy news services contributed to this report.