Category archive: Long Beach State 49ers
Winthrop at Radford -- Sunday on ESPNU, 2 p.m. ET
It's a big weekend in the Big South, and it's also a test run for the conference tournament at Radford in three weeks. Both teams have pulled clear of the pack in conference play, with Radford a half-game ahead of Winthrop at 8-1. Considering the teams had combined for 77 home runs in 69 games entering their nonleague games Wednesday, offense should rule.
UC Santa Barbara at Long Beach State -- Saturday on ESPNU, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET
No conference tournament, so no second chances in the Big West. That means must-win time at least for Santa Barbara, which doesn't have the RPI to bank on for at-large consideration in the NCAA tournament and is already two and a half games behind Fullerton and Cal Poly at the top of the standings. The Gauchos have proven they can be a pest, beating UCLA, Nevada, Oregon, Kansas, NC State already, in addition to a nonleague win against Long Beach State in which both sides tried not to tip their hands for later in the season. Can they be predators?
Texas A&M at Oklahoma -- Sunday on ESPNU, 10 p.m. ET
It's not quite the titanic clash these two typically stage in the Big 12, but it's a chance for both sides to stay afloat. The Aggies are 13-7 since taking two of three from Arizona at the end of February, but after three run-rule losses in their past six games, this series and Wednesday's game against Baylor are chances to show they can still be a factor in May.
Michigan at Illinois
Northwestern's first conference loss last week opened the door a crack for Michigan, which also trails one-loss Ohio State in the standings but still has a doubleheader in Ann Arbor left against the Buckeyes. Before worrying about that, the Wolverines face their toughest remaining road trip. Entering Wednesday's doubleheader at home against Indiana, the Illini were averaging 8.7 runs per game in seven home games.
Sacramento State at Portland State
You get your money's worth with the weekly PCSC double doubleheaders, and the time investment is worth it in Portland. Sacramento State hosts Loyola Marymount next weekend in the series many expected to settle the title. But despite losing last season's ace, Mandy Hill, the Vikings are in the mix under first-year coach Tobin Echo-Hawk. Senior Jamee Rauch is 13-for-27 with three walks in eight conference games.
Southern Illinois at Creighton
Wednesday's doubleheader against third-place Drake will determine the margin, but Creighton will hold a Missouri Valley Conference lead of some sort when the second-place Salukis visit Omaha this weekend. Creighton swept all three games last season in Carbondale, and revenge won't be easy if it means going through Bluejays ace Tara Oltman.
Arkansas at Alabama
The SEC regular-season title is done and dusted for Florida, and the prospect of playing a super regional on the road is suddenly at least a possibility, albeit remote, for former co-favorite Alabama. That it faces a team this weekend with more home runs and a better slugging percentage in league play -- and that team isn't Florida -- underscores part of the reason why. A lot of teams would be content with Alabama's .426 slugging percentage in the SEC (.488 overall), but a lot of teams didn't return almost the entire lineup this season from a team that hit 43 home runs and slugged .598 in the SEC last season.
Florida at LSU
One thing Alabama has that no other SEC team has since 2007 is a win against Florida. And if that's to change before this year's conference tournament, the Gators' final road trip of the regular season would seem a likely time. LSU is coming off one of its most prolific three-game stretches of the season, but Cody Trahan's pitching will be equally important. When the Tigers came close against the Gators last season, Trahan didn't walk anyone in six innings, losing 2-0 on a pair of unearned runs.
California at Arizona
The Bay Area schools will also swap places in Arizona for single games Friday. No team had a more important weekend last time out than Cal, which took both home games in a three-game home-and-home series with Stanford. That came on the heels of seven losses in 12 games. With their next six league games at home, there's time, but at least one win in Tucson would be a big boost toward securing an NCAA tournament seed.
Stanford at Arizona State
They played only the standard three games last season, but that was still enough to produce 30 innings of softball. It was also a span that saw the Cardinal produce just two runs. Freshman Hillary Bach is Arizona State's ace now, and Megan Elliott hasn't pitched since allowing five earned runs on three hits, three walks and three wild pitches in less than two innings against UNLV on April 7. But Elliott was part of that pitching domination last season, going 9 1/3 scoreless innings in one of the wins against Stanford.
"In Canada, they're polite," cracked an assistant coach from the Washington dugout.
Lawrie is back in uniform for the Huskies after a year away on Olympic duty, and while the unfailingly polite and polished British Columbia native is about as menacing off the field as one of fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan's songs, her return ought to scare every coach south of the 49th parallel.
Lawrie pitched the Huskies to within a game of the final series in the 2007 Women's College World Series, including a no-hitter in her first World Series start, and yet she looked like a distinctly improved product in San Diego. Lawrie picked up three wins on the weekend and allowed just five hits and no runs in 19.1 innings.
"I think she recognizes what she can do with a game," Washington coach Heather Tarr said. "I think , her sophomore year, taught her maybe how good she could be in this game. And I think taking a year off and spending it with older players and with the national team and international softball, it helped her just be more mature, mentally stronger. Physically, I think she's pretty much what she is; she's going to be what Danielle is going to be. But I think mentally, it kind of helped her take a step back and recognize what does she really want to do in the game?"
Lawrie struck out 26 during her time in the circle against Utah State, San Diego State and UCSB, and has 36 strikeouts in 22 innings this season. But we already knew she was a dominant strikeout pitcher. What caught my attention was that Lawrie walked just one batter and didn't hit anyone in three appearances over the weekend. Two years ago, she struck out 457 batters in 258 innings, but she gave teams what they couldn't come up with on their own in the form of 104 walks and 32 hit batters.
This season, she has just four walks and two hit batters.
"I definitely have a year of experience playing against the best athletes in the world by far," Lawrie said of her improvements since college fans' last extended look at her. "I think [I have] that confidence, definitely, as well as being able to kind of control the tempo of the game. There's times when I would play before and I would kind of let, at times, the game kind of control how I play, instead of me controlling the pace, getting out there and just taking a breath, like 'OK, I have everything under control.' I know we have a good defense, so we can just go. It's not just all me here."
With last season's shortstop, Morgan Stuart, playing extensively at third base and Ashley Charters back at shortstop, the Huskies have the makings of a tremendous infield defense.
Ashlyn Watson was a player to whom a lot of signs pointed as a potential breakthrough player. She hit just .248 overall last season, her first of more than 100 at-bats, but she did it with a solid .238 gross production average and .235 secondary average, numbers indicative of a player with good plate discipline and good power. And with two home runs and a double this season, that breakthrough could well be under way.
"We don't know what Ashlyn's ceiling is yet," Tarr said. "And I don't know if she really knows. I know what she wants to do this year, and I'm excited to see her be able to do it. I think she's always had the tools to do it physically, but she's maybe never had the amount of experience to allow her full capabilities to shine."
Surviving those moments was sophomore Brooke Turner, who picked up the win and showed off the movement and location that made her such a success as a freshman. Turner has 31 strikeouts against just eight walks in 29.1 innings so far this season, but her 3.82 ERA and 3-2 record offer a glimpse into the challenge the team as a whole is facing.
"We weren't really on the map, and Long Beach, as a whole, just wasn't where it is today," Turner said of the team's resurgence last season. "I think a lot of people, this year, look at us as the team to beat. And that's huge when you're playing, so I think we definitely have a target on our backs. And we want to play the big teams."
Thursday: Florida vs. Arizona State
Friday: Florida vs. Washington
Friday: Alabama vs. UCLA
Friday: Arizona State vs. Northwestern
Saturday: Alabama vs. Oklahoma