Cathedral City wrapup

February, 24, 2009
More notes from the Cathedral City Classic, which featured eight of last week's top 10 teams and 13 of the top 20.

• The more time passes, the more Florida's Tiffany DeFelice's 23-pitch at-bat at the Women's College World Series last spring seems like one of the most impressive athletic feats I've been fortunate enough to see in person. But at the same time, the more you watch the Gators, the more it seems almost par for the course.

No single Gator quite reached 20 pitches in an at-bat in Cathedral City, but they collectively made the most of their stay in the batter's box in the desert. Whether pushing Fresno State's Morgan Melloh to about 50 pitches in an inning at one point or drawing five walks against Washington's Danielle Lawrie, coach Tim Walton's team showed off a remarkable ability to work counts and wait for mistake pitches.

"We strike out a little bit too much, but we walk a lot," Walton said. "We make pitchers pitch. We make pitchers make mistakes and we punish them when they do make mistakes. I think we're just very selective. I think we have a lot of kids with a high visual recognition. … They're patient. They're not going to go up there and chase a whole lot of bad pitches."

And it's not as if opposing pitchers can hope to wait until the soft part of the Florida order rolls around. Sophomore shortstop Megan Bush had a fantastic weekend in the span of an inning against Arizona State, leading off the bottom of the fifth with a home run and coming around again to hit a grand slam. And Bush was the No. 8 hitter in that game, one spot higher than she had been when she hit a home run against Fresno State earlier in the day.

Hard to believe this was a team for which run production was a question mark entering last season.

"It's just a phenomenal thing to have the ability to hit one through nine, like the Arizonas, the Arizona States, the UCLAs," Walton said. "I think that just says a lot for where we're at as a program and having the ability -- I look at our bench, and there are just so many great players sitting there waiting for their turn. It was nice to see Megan jump up there and get after it."

• There was fantastic defense played all weekend at the Big League Dreams complex, none better than by both teams in Friday's Washington-Florida classic. Florida second baseman Aja Paculba had a couple of dazzling plays, and Washington's win had almost as much to do with the defense behind Lawrie as the pitcher's dominance in the circle. After playing Ashley Charters at shortstop and Morgan Stuart at third base for much of Campbell-Cartier Classic the previous weekend, the Huskies shifted Charters to second base and Stuart to shortstop in Cathedral City. Both came up with key plays with runners on base late, including an over-the-shoulder diving catch in short center by Stuart.

But for my money, no single play topped Hawaii center fielder Alexandra Aguirre going through the temporary fence in center field to rob Alabama's Kelley Montalvo of a game-winning home run Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Rainbow Wahine, the Tide eventually pulled out a 1-0 win in extra innings, in no small part because of their own continually overlooked defensive prowess.

With the bases loaded and one out for Hawaii in the top of the fourth, Alabama catcher Ashley Holcombe snapped a throw to second to pick off the runner straying too far from the bag. Charlotte Morgan then coaxed a popup and the scoreless draw continued.

What Katie Cochran is to hitting, and what Lawrie is to pitching, Holcombe is to defense behind the plate. In fact, if you happen to find yourself at an Alabama game, don't run to the concession stand when the Tide are warming up in the field between innings; it's worth the price of admission just to watch Holcombe snap off a throw from her knees. She led the SEC in pickoffs last season, throwing out nearly half of the runners unwise enough to try to steal on her, and remains a masked weapon.

"That just keeps the momentum on our side," Montalvo said of Holcombe's pickoff attempts. "Every time she does it, it's kind of like a big buzz kill for them. … It kind of loses their momentum and brings it back on our side. So whenever we can have that, we're begging her to do it."

Holcombe didn't get official credit for a win, or the game-winning RBI, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn she received a "skillet" on the team's unofficial stat sheet when the team made its way back to Tuscaloosa. Alabama coach Pat Murphy is one of college softball's more receptive minds in terms of his use of statistical analysis for the offensive side of the game, but the math he favors on the defensive side is simple arithmetic.

"We always say there are nine on defense and one, two, three or four on offense. The nine should always win. It's just like an attitude, a feeling, whatever you want to call it, that we try to bring to the team on the defensive part of it."

Hence the skillet, an award handed out regularly for outstanding defensive plays -- not just brilliant reaction stops, but heady plays like a shortstop faking a throw on a ground ball deep in the hole to entice a runner on second to stray too far off the base.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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