After years of pursuing College World Series berth, Washington finally ready to take on Omaha
When Lindsay Meggs arrived at Washington nine years ago, he proclaimed that he wanted the Huskies to become an "Omaha program" worthy of being in the College World Series mix on a regular basis.
It's finally happened, and maybe in the most unlikely of seasons.
"I don't think we mapped it out exactly this way," Meggs said.
At one point this season, Washington was 18-18 overall after losing at home to Texas-Rio Grande Valley in a non-conference game in late April. On Saturday, they'll face Mississippi State in the first round of the College World Series. It's the first trip to Omaha in Washington's history, finally fulfilling the promise of a program that at times has featured great players and great teams, but has never put together a good enough postseason run.
Washington won 12 of its final 17 games to close the regular season and nearly won the Pac-12 title. In the postseason, the Huskies are 5-1, their only loss in the second game of the Super Regional against Cal State Fullerton. They are far from a perfect team, but have found a way to achieve success unlike any other Washington program.
Washington is the last baseball-playing member of the Pac-12 to reach the College World Series.
"I'm a huge believer in a John Wooden quote saying the worst thing you can do for kids is the things they can do for themselves," Meggs said. "Our kids have learned to prepare for a weekend series. We may not have the most talented team. We may not have the most pitching depth but I think right now we're good at winning and this is the time you need to be good at winning. And I think that's because our kids are tough. I think their biggest skill is their toughness."
Washington has been overlooked in its region partly because of the rise of Oregon State. Baseball in the Pacific Northwest has always been a dicey proposition because of the winter and spring time climate. But the Beavers found a way to become a powerhouse, winning two national titles in the past decade and becoming regular visitors to Omaha. That kind of success raised the stakes for the programs around them, including Washington.
The Huskies had never gotten past the regional round since the two-tiered system to get to Omaha was implemented in 1999. Washington had just two NCAA tournament appearances under Meggs before this year. But the Huskies got hot at the right time, winning the regional hosted by Costal Carolina with relative ease before outlasting Cal State Fullerton last weekend with a wild Game 3 victory.
"That was one of the craziest games I've been a part of," said Washington pitcher Joe DeMers, who allowed one run in the first eight innings of Game 3, only to see Fullerton rally for three runs in the ninth and take a 4-3 lead.
Washington scored once in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and after Fullerton took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th, the Huskies scored twice in the bottom of the inning to win.
"But to have teammates that will pick you up in a time like that is incredible. It just shows our heart and determination," DeMers said.
The impact of that victory on the Huskies faithful was perhaps best personified by Arizona Diamondbacks star and Washington alum Jake Lamb, whose screaming, emotional reaction went viral on social media. Lamb's younger brother, Dylan, is a pitcher for the Huskies.
Meggs said he received a text of congratulations from Lamb about the victory, but it was his daughter who showed him the video.
"I don't think anybody can understand how much this means to people until you see something like that," Meggs said. "You can talk about it. You can share an email with someone, you can talk in detail about a text but I think that is worth a thousand words as they say. That's a big leaguer who, his life is not going to change because we're going to Omaha, but it's so important to him. It's not just because he has a brother in the program, but because he knows how hard we worked and what this means to people. I thought that was fantastic. I think that's maybe the best moment for our program in terms of what this means to people and how excited they really are."