By Dan Arritt     2/27/2019

The freak accident couldn’t have happened at a worst time. 

Morganne Flores ruptured a knee ligament during softball practice early last year, a month before the start of her third season as the starting catcher for the University of Washington. 

It was a devastating injury for Flores, a former Mater Dei star who led the Pac-12 Conference with 74 RBIs as a sophomore in 2017, and a major blow for the Huskies, who had their sights set on a long postseason run with their deep and talented roster. 

Washington forged on thanks to a strong senior group and contributions from several underclassmen, including Orange Lutheran graduate Noelle Hee, won its first 28 games, moved to No. 1 in the rankings, and reached the finals of the Women’s College World Series. 

Flores, meanwhile, underwent major knee surgery and a grueling rehabilitation regimen, all the while cheering the Huskies every step of the way and serving as an inspiration for her teammates. 

The reset button was officially pushed on Feb. 8, when Flores and the Huskies opened the season at the weeklong Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. 

“I feel really good,’’ Flores told the Seattle Times shortly before leaving for Mexico. “My trainer and I have been working every single day on getting my knee back to where it was.” 

Not only is Flores back this season, but the Huskies remain one of the top teams in the nation. They’re expected to make another push for the Pac-12 title and their second national championship in school history. 

Even though Flores is fully healed, she’s expected to split time at catcher with sophomore Emma Helm and play first base the rest of the time. Having her bat in the lineup is the biggest bonus. 

Flores hit 303 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs as a freshman, and then bumped her numbers up to .344 as a sophomore with 13 home runs and the third-most RBIs in school history. 

Her sophomore season was highlighted by her performance against Utah in the Game 1 of the best-of-three Super Regionals. She clubbed two home runs and drove in seven runs in the 10-4 victory, which would set the stage for Washington’s first WCWS appearance since 2013. 

After the injury to Flores, Washington coach Heather Tarr handed the catching duties to Helm and she filled in capably as Washington built momentum throughout the season. 

“I can’t believe we did what we did last year without (Flores),’’ Tarr told the Seattle Times. “It would have been awesome, obviously at the very end, to have one more big piece to our offense, but it’s very exciting to have her back and to know we have another veteran in the mix.” 

The Huskies not only have Flores back this season, but shortstop Sis Bates and pitchers Gabbie Plain and Taran Alvelo return, making Washington the only team with four players on the USA Collegiate Softball Preseason Player of the Year watch list. 

The Huskies won’t play any Pac-12 games in Southern California this season, but they’re entered in two nearby tournaments. 

Washington is scheduled to play in the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City from Feb. 22-24, and the Judi Garman Classic at Cal State Fullerton from March 1-3.