Cathedral City brings in solid talent

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. -- The Friday of the Women's College World Series is one of the most enjoyable days in college softball. None of the eight teams in Oklahoma City has been eliminated and Bricktown remains awash in strolling team colors. But with only the four winners from the opening day in action, the championship picture begins to emerge from the mists of speculation.

So it's saying something that it's not much of a stretch to suggest Friday night in Cathedral City felt a lot like Oklahoma City, from abundant grumbling about a shortage of parking to the buzz in the air when Washington Husky Danielle Lawrie's first warm-up pitch smacked into her catcher's mitt. It didn't hurt that after an afternoon appetizer of Arizona State rallying past Northwestern, darkness brought a trio of marquee games between top-10 teams at the Cathedral City Classic.

No. 3 Washington 1, No. 2 Florida 0

The showcase game didn't disappoint, with Lawrie and Florida ace Stacey Nelson matching scoreless frames and frustrated batters for eight innings. With the international tiebreaker rule in effect and Amanda Fleischman on second base, Washington freshman Kimi Pohlman drove home the game's first and only run with a single to lead off the top of the ninth inning.

For her part, Lawrie tamed a Florida offense that scored 26 runs in its other four games at the tournament, including 8-2 and 8-0 routs of No. 7 Arizona State and No. 14 Fresno State, respectively. Despite a tight strike zone and a patient Gators lineup that combined to produce five walks -- equaling Lawrie's total in 40.1 innings entering the tournament -- Washington's ace allowed just two bunt singles and struck out 12.

But after striking out Corrie Brooks on three consecutive changeups to end the game, the pitcher passed on credit to catcher Alicia Blake, who called the game. Like Katie Burkhart and Kristen Miller in the World Series last season, Lawrie and Blake seem to have a special chemistry working through opposing lineups.

"Props go all to Alicia," Lawrie said. "She called the whole game, and I shook off maybe one. She did an outstanding job, kept me in rhythm. So I owe big thanks to her."

After pulling out an extra-inning win against Ohio State to finish the weekend unbeaten, the Huskies are the likely new No. 1.

No. 6 UCLA 4 , No. 1 Alabama

There's plenty of time remaining in the season to get analytical about it, but a visceral reaction from watching UCLA play is that there isn't a more dangerous lineup. Maybe it's simply that after watching the line drives that come off the bat of 5-foot-2 leadoff hitter Amanda Kamekona, it's disconcerting to see 5-foot-10 Katie Schroeder, 5-foot-9 GiOnna DiSalvatore and other imposing figures stroll to the plate after her.

That played out early in Friday's nightcap against Alabama. A leadoff home run from Kamekona followed by line-drive shots from Schroeder (single), DiSalvatore (double) and Kaila Shull (single) staked the Bruins to a 3-0 lead against Charlotte Morgan and had Crimson Tide coach Pat Murphy requesting a check for illegal bats (they weren't, although after seeing Shull's liner register a direct hit on Morgan, Murphy's concern was understandable).

But if the Bruins are destined to hit the ball well all season, the pitching performance Donna Kerr provided was a sign of what the Westwood faithful surely hope is yet to come.

Kerr's numbers entering the weekend were distorted by an odd line against Northwestern last week (10 earned runs, 15 strikeouts), but that notwithstanding, a pitcher with major expectations on her shoulders hadn't been especially crisp. That wasn't the case Friday, as she kept Alabama off balance throughout the game with a screw and a rise she said were particularly sharp and finished with seven strikeouts and a three-hitter for the win.

"Everybody scouts everybody around here, so we try and pick up on what girls' strengths and weaknesses are," Kerr said of confronting an imposing lineup of her own. "But when it comes down to it, you really need to just go with your pitch and what your strength is, I think. So it was a combination of both, definitely."

And for those Pac-10 fans who will point to Friday's results, even Kerr was willing to admit a little regional pride in besting the SEC power.

"You're Pac-10," Kerr conceded of her mindset. "You want Pac-10 to do well and you want to beat the other conferences, so definitely [there is pride]. But they're also just another team in the other dugout, so you have to go at them with what you have every day."

No. 4 Oklahoma 8, No. 7 Arizona State 6

Played simultaneously with the UCLA-Alabama game, this matchup was one I didn't get a chance to take in. But Rayburn Hesse made his way over there.

• It's tough enough to keep track of everything going on around the five fields at the Big League Dreams complex; I can't imagine what it will be like next season, when the field expands to more than 30 teams. But I'm curious to see how poll voters interpreted No. 15 Massachusetts' 1-0 win against Arizona State on Sunday.

That win, backed by a two-hitter from Brandice Balschmiter and a key double from Davina Hernandez, moved the Minutewomen to 2-3 on the weekend. Taken out of context, will the losing record cost the team? Or will the upset against the Sun Devils and quality games against UCLA and Oklahoma outweigh the record? (Massachusetts also beat NC State 14-0 and lost to Tennessee 6-1.)

I'm still sold on the Minutewomen as a super regional-quality team with the potential to get to Oklahoma City with the right breaks. Senior Samantha Salato crushed two home runs on the weekend, and if she's dialed in for her final season, it only extends a lineup that -- from Whitney Williams through Carly Normandin, Whitney Mollica, Sarah Reeves and Jessica Serio -- has a number of proven hitters with gap power and more.

I'm out of space, but much more to come on Cathedral City.