UCLA powers through the weekend

April, 26, 2009
Thoughts on five key results from the weekend.

UCLA 10, Arizona State 4
Gathering the Pac-10's top four teams in the desert for six games seemed like a great way to create anticipation but an even better way to produce mixed results. The former was there in abundance, but the latter was decidedly absent after UCLA's loud statement.

The Bruins swept all three of their games, winning once at Arizona and twice at Arizona State, by holding the two most prolific offenses in the country to six runs. Megan Langenfeld earned all three wins, and there's more to come on her unique roles with this team later this week.

UCLA piled up 21 runs (including a pair of home runs from Langenfeld when she wasn't busy pitching). Compare that to the first time the Bruins played the Arizona schools, when they managed 21 hits and five runs in losing two of three games at home.

Now, 21 hits in three games is far from anemic, but the onslaught that produced 31 hits away from home this weekend may corroborate something both Langenfeld and coach Kelly Inouye-Perez talked about Thursday before heading out on the road. The Bruins are loaded with pure talent, but the focus this season is on the mental approach, making adjustments and knowing what to expect from the opposing pitcher ahead of time.

"There's no question on whether this group can hit," Inouye-Perez said Thursday. "They could hit before they got here, and they're even better, I believe, for working with [UCLA assistant] Lisa Fernandez. But when you talk about attention to detail, it gives you an edge as a hitter. So if there's something you can take, if there's a tendency you can notice, if there's a placement in the box that can help give you an advantage, then those are the things that can only help your game.

"So early in a ballgame, that's one of our goals. One of our goals is to be able to expose the weakness of our opponent so that we can score early and often."

With only one road game remaining, at Washington this Wednesday, and a series still to come at home against seventh-place Oregon State and last-place Oregon, the conference title -- and likely the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament -- is UCLA's to lose.

Hawaii 11, New Mexico State 3
This isn't shaping up as a year of major drama on the NCAA tournament bubble, but there is one glaring exception looming out in the Pacific Ocean. With an RPI buried in triple digits entering the weekend, Hawaii is fighting an uphill battle. But it shouldn't be.

Consider what the Rainbow Wahine have working in their favor.

Quality neutral-site wins out of conference against Oklahoma, Ohio State and fellow potential bubble candidate Oregon State (if the Beavers get to .500).

A 3-3 record against the top two teams in conference, Nevada and Fresno State, including a pair of road wins at Fresno State.

A strong closing kick that stands at 11-2 in the past 13 games, with only a home series against Boise State, in its first season of softball, remaining before the WAC tournament.

Quality losses are the evidence that the jury is instructed to ignore -- they don't count but there's no use pretending they don't exist. And if you're trying to do the eyeball test on Hawaii, one-run losses against Alabama and Tennessee help establish a team's pedigree.

If Hawaii takes care of its business against Boise State and avoids going two-and-out at the conference tournament, it deserves to be in the NCAA tournament. And if RPI is the best argument someone has to counter that, they need to find a better argument.

Georgia Tech 3, North Carolina 2
Jen Yee's walk-off blast against North Carolina on Sunday gave Georgia Tech a sweep of the weekend's three-game series (and they had the broom to prove it in the postgame celebration). From an ACC perspective, the sweep gives the Yellow Jackets control of the regular-season race; they need just two wins next weekend at Maryland.

But perhaps of equal importance in the long run, the wins represented an impressive turnaround for a team that took a beating in two midweek home games against Alabama.

Given that reality of the losses against Alabama, it's impressive that Sharon Perkins' team maintained its focus and not only swept a North Carolina team riding a 23-game winning streak but did it by overcoming a late game-tying home run by the Tar Heels in Sunday's finale.

UNLV 7, Colorado State 6
Will Ashli Holland's grand slam go down as the blast that saved UNLV's season?

Losers of eight of their past 10 entering a weekend trip to Colorado State and New Mexico, the Rebels found themselves trailing 6-1 entering the sixth inning of the opener against the Rams. A loss would have dropped them to 2-7 in the Mountain West, and even with a strong RPI and early wins against Cal Poly, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Long Beach State, that would have been a pretty glaring demerit against postseason play.

Holland's blast and two more wins against New Mexico eased those concerns.

Alabama 6, Auburn 0
And surprisingly enough, that score is not because of the no-hit, 14-strikeout gem thrown by Alabama's Kelsi Dunne. (Although, is there a better advertisement for the upcoming SEC tournament than Dunne and Florida's Stacey Nelson throwing no-hitters on the same afternoon?)

With three games left for each, Auburn has a one-game lead on Mississippi for eighth place in the SEC. Only the top eight teams go to Knoxville for the conference tournament. So would Auburn, with an RPI of 29 entering the Alabama series, receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, even if it misses the SEC tournament?

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



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