Softball owns latest siblings story

March, 15, 2009
Having been holed up contemplating brackets and bubbles for much of the past week, please pardon the basketball on the brain. Hopefully it's not contagious.

• Forget Courtney and Ashley Paris; Oklahoma's basketball sister act is old hat (well, except for the whole scholarship repayment brouhaha). The new sibling story is the battle of the Akamine sisters on the softball diamond. All right, maybe it's not quite a headlining act yet, but Arizona junior Sarah Akamine and Penn State freshman Lisa Akamine did stage a family reunion of sorts at the Judi Garman Classic. The two weren't actually in the game at the same time, but they were the pitchers of record in Penn State's surprising 9-6 win, which stood as perhaps the tournament's biggest upset until Fullerton handed Washington a getaway day loss Sunday.

Even in defeat against Penn State, Arizona's Stacie Chambers hit two home runs, giving her a mind-boggling 17 home runs through 31 games. Then she went out and hit two more home runs later in the day, pacing the Wildcats to a 10-1 win against Notre Dame. Arizona State's Katie Cochran is typically the hitter that comes to mind when talking about record-setting performances coming out of the state of Arizona these days, but Chambers is more than half way to breaking the NCAA single-season record of 37 home runs, set by former Arizona slugger Laura Espinoza in 1995.

Chambers is a little off record pace and, typically, Pac-10 play would put a break on her pace, but the league doesn't seem to have its standard array of aces. After this weekend's display, at least it's a discussion.

• Missouri's men's basketball team had a good weekend, but the softball team made its own statement as it prepares to pursue its first conference championship since 1997. Wrapping up the last full weekend of nonconference play (Mizzou hosts Western Illinois in a doubleheader Wednesday and plays a midweek, two-game series at Houston later this month), the Tigers swept all four games at a tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina. That sweep included a pair of wins against North Carolina, the first wins against a ranked team this season for coach Ehren Earleywine's squad.

Senior Stacy Delaney capped off the trip with a five-inning no-hitter in Sunday's 8-0 run-rule win against the Tar Heels, but offense was the weekend's story. The Tigers scored 36 runs and have scored five or more runs 19 times this season. Missouri struggled two weeks ago to put runs on the board against UCLA No. 2 starter Whitney Baker (despite drawing seven walks) and San Diego State's outstanding duo of Samantha Beasley and Bailey Micetich. But getting to UNC's Lisa Norris and Constance Orr (Danielle Spaulding didn't play in any of her team's four games in the event after taking a pitch off the wrist against Florida State last week) lends some credibility to a lineup that has an .897 OPS, 56 extra-base hits and 76 stolen bases through 26 games.

With Oklahoma looking at least vulnerable, Missouri is at the front of a class of challengers in what suddenly looks like it could be an intriguing Big 12 race.

• If ever a team's bubble was going to burst, it should be after a weekend spent facing Danielle Lawrie, Morgan Melloh and Donna Bourgeois, in addition to Arizona and Arizona State's batting orders. Well, Michigan stared down that obstacle course and came out with four wins in the span of about 72 hours. Point taken, Wolverines.

Thanks in part to a typically rigorous schedule that included tests well before the weekend in Fullerton, Calif., Michigan didn't have impressive offensive totals entering the Garman. The bottom line on the stat sheet might still pale in comparison to some of the championship competition, but even after Lawrie shut the Wolverines out, scoring 23 runs against Arizona, Arizona State, Fresno State and Louisiana-Lafayette is impressive.

A pair of freshmen, Amanda Chidester and Stephanie Kirkpatrick, were particularly productive over the weekend. Kirkpatrick finished with five hits and four RBIs after collecting just eight hits in her first 22 games. Chidester entered the weekend with the team's best batting average and didn't hurt her cause with six more hits and four RBIs.

As good as Jordan Taylor and Nikki Nemitz are at minimizing mistakes -- they just don't walk hitters -- this team can win with an average offense. It appears it has more than that.

• No Mackin? No problem. At least, that seemed to be the case for Nebraska at the Garman without Robin Mackin. The Cornhuskers closed out the weekend with a 10-1 run-rule win against Penn State on Sunday, then capped on a 4-1 record in Fullerton that included a 2-0 win against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday (the Huskers also upset a ranked Lafayette team last season). The team is now 8-1 since Mackin's brief comeback ended with the talented Canadian pitcher opting for season-ending shoulder surgery and hopes for a healthy 2010 season.

Credit senior ace Molly Hill's return to form (10-3, 1.38 ERA) in the circle for some the team's success in Mackin's absence, as well as quality inning from promising freshman pitcher Ashley Hagemann (60 strikeouts in 39.2 innings).

But for the first time in a few years, give the offense equal credit. The Huskers have already hit 17 home runs in 20 games this season, two more than they hit in 53 games last season and three more than they hit in 57 games in 2006. Just as importantly, there are people on base when the Huskers put the ball in the gap or over the fence -- they're well over half way to last season's walk total and have a .406 on-base percentage.

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



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