NORMAN — OKLAHOMA CITY - Before she made her first start at Washington, before she won back-to-back player of the year awards and before she played for Team Canada at the Beijing Olympics, Danielle Lawrie stood in the circle at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium as a freshman just out of high school.
Her strong arm and big bat had her starting for the Canadians in the 2005 World Cup of Softball, and after she helped down Team USA, which seemed unbeatable back then, all talk was about Lawrie and what could be expected once she hit the field for the Huskies.
She never disappointed, not Washington fans or just softball fans who loved to watch her play.
Saturday, Lawrie made her final college start as the defending-champion Huskies were ousted by Pac 10 rival Arizona in a Women’s College World Series elimination game. She struck out 12 Wildcats in the 4-3 loss, allowing just one earned run thanks to Washington’s uncharacteristic three errors.
But after the questions in the press conference were over, and her teammates and coach stood to walk out, Lawrie paused, brow furrowed with determination, just like it is in the circle, a half-smile playing across her face.
“I just wanted to thank you guys for having us here,” she said. “It was a great three years.”
Lawrie first led the Huskies to the WCWS in 2007. It was the first time the program had been to Oklahoma City since 2004, though the Huskies were regulars at the WCWS in the late 1990s.
While Washington never struggled to rebuild, Lawrie’s arrival in Seattle in 2006 signaled a resurgence for the program.
In 2008, she took a year off to play with Team Canada. Then, last year, she led Washington back to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium and took home the national title.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what this class came here, started with and left with,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said of her seniors, including Lawrie. “They literally put this program back on the map ... They’ve left a legacy that’s going to live forever.”
Lawrie finished her career with team records in almost every pitching category, and she’s in the top 10 in most important pitching categories nationally. She won 40 games two years in a row (2009 and 2010) and was named the best player in the country each of those years.
May 27, in the Seattle Super Regional, Oklahoma hit five home runs off Lawrie and the Huskies had their backs against the wall at their own stadium. But, as OU coach Patty Gasso said following Washington’s two wins the next night, Lawrie “just put it into another gear.” Lawrie’s super regional culminated in a 17 strikeout performance that sent Washington back to Oklahoma City for the third time in her four college seasons.
“She’s one of the best to ever play the game,” Gasso said.
Lawrie went into the WCWS at 40-3 with a 1.00 earned run average. In a game that has turned more and more offensive every season, she seemed to be the most reliable and confounding pitcher in the country. Not only could she throw the ball by hitters with her fastball, but she could use off-speed stuff to buckle knees and hit each corner of the plate with amazing accuracy.
And boy, could she hit, too.
This year she hit over .300 with 15 home runs.
“I’ve had her here pretty much every year I’ve been here, she was the first person I went out and recruited when I got hired,” Tarr said. “It’s awesome to know that with her, we were able to do what we did and bring the program back up.”
Even after Saturday’s loss, Lawrie showed no tears, just her bright smile.
“I’ve had an amazing time here,” she said. “I’m surrounded by girls I love so much, and when you win it’s amazing on top of that ... I can’t say ‘I’m so mad we didn’t win.’ We didn’t do enough to win. When you come to the World Series, it’s anybody’s game. You have to go out and battle your butt off. Not that we didn’t do that, it just wasn’t our time.”
Lawrie’s future could still be in the softball world. She’s studied to be a sports broadcaster, and she was already giving her information to ESPN right after the press conference.
Though the Huskies are out of the tournament, Lawrie’s presence is likely to be felt for a long time.
Jeff Johncox 366-3535 firstname.lastname@example.org