Florida, ULL make regional statements

May, 23, 2010

The NCAA tournament's regional round wrapped Sunday. A review of the weekend's action:

Biggest Regional Statement
Florida: There was plenty of chatter leading up to the start of play that centered on the tournament's top three seeds -- Alabama, Michigan and Washington -- and what seeding best reflected their respective bodies of work. Florida wasn't necessarily slighted in its omission from that debate, but in sweeping through the Gainesville Regional, the fourth-seeded Gators offered an emphatic reminder that the championship race is much more open.

Gainesville was among the weakest regional fields, but Florida did what was called for in outscoring Bethune Cookman, Central Florida and Florida International 25-3. Perhaps most importantly, other than a blip in the final game (and with a 5-0 lead), Stephanie Brombacher cruised in the circle. The junior allowed eight hits and three earned runs in 19 innings and accumulated 26 strikeouts against three walks.

There were some questions entering the weekend about whether or not Brombacher was hitting a wall after a slight dip in her numbers during SEC play. Arizona State will be a different kind of test, but in both dominating the regional and doing it with limited innings, she put herself and her team front and center in any conversation about what's ahead.

Biggest Regional Surprise
Louisiana-Lafayette: In truth, a year after Jacksonville State and North Dakota State shook up the first weekend of the tournament, the biggest surprise of the regional round was the noticeable lack of major surprises -- or even any "if necessary" games Sunday. But the relative ease with which Louisiana-Lafayette moved through perhaps the toughest regional ranks as a mild disruption of conventional wisdom.

The Ragin' Cajuns played a typically challenging nonconference schedule, but they also compiled an 0-5 record against teams which eventually earned NCAA tournament seeds and were outscored 39-8 in those games. Pitchers Brittany Cuevas and Donna Bourgeois ensured the former number wouldn't be an issue, limiting Texas A&M and No. 12 LSU to one earned run in three games.

Best Individual Regional Performances
Danielle Lawrie, P, Washington
She was the best pitcher in the game during the regular season, but you don't get to see Danielle Lawrie at her best until the postseason rolls around. Lawrie was spectacular at home, striking out 39 batters and walking just one while allowing nine hits and one earned run in 22 innings against North Dakota State and North Carolina. She had only one hit, but she even made that count, hitting a two-run home run to stake herself to a lead in a 3-0 win against North Dakota State.

J.C. Clayton, SS, BYU
It's fitting that a freshman makes this list this year. BYU's shortstop went 8-for-10 at the plate as the Cougars won three win a row in the Austin Regional to advance to the program's first super regional. Clayton also finished the weekend with 12 assists and no errors in the field.

Kristin Nottelmann, P, Missouri
No Chelsea Thomas? No problem. As she was down the stretch in the regular season, Kristin Nottelmann gave the Tigers a firm anchor in the circle en route to a perfect run through a competitive Columbia Regional. She earned all three of her team's wins (the first in relief) and allowed a total of 11 hits and two earned runs in 17 innings. If you exclude a pair of rough outings in the Big 12 tournament, the sophomore has a 1.91 ERA in 110 innings since Thomas last pitched (and a 0.88 ERA in the last 79.2 innings, excluding the Big 12 tournament).

Maggie Viefhaus, 3B, Michigan
She's overlooked in the player-of-the-year debate, but Maggie Viefhaus is tough to miss when you look at Michigan's lineup. The Wolverines' leader in RBIs entering the postseason kept rolling with three home runs and seven RBIs in her team's perfect run through the Ann Arbor Regional.

Caylyn Carlson, OF, Arizona State
Carlson dominated the battle between willing mind and reluctant body. A key part of the lineup for the first two-thirds of the season (her 1.061 OPS is still second to Katelyn Boyd among Sun Devils with at least 100 at-bats), she has been essentially a pinch hitter and part-time player for the last few weeks because of a stress fracture and facet joint syndrome in her lumbar vertebrae. She drove in two runs with a pinch-hit single in Arizona State's 3-2 win against Long Island on Saturday, her first appearance of the weekend, and hit a three-run home run Sunday in just her third start in the last three weeks.

"She's been struggling because of a bad back and so that's unfortunate for her because she's a heck of a player," coach Clint Myers said. "It's almost a day-to-day thing. She practices some days because she feels good and some days she can't. She's just hoping for two more weeks of softball and then she can retire and not have to worry about her back."

Best Super Regional
Oklahoma at Washington: The more time that passes, the more baffling Oklahoma's treatment at the hands of the selection committee becomes. Seeded behind Big 12 peers Missouri and Texas, the Sooners bore the additional burden of a trip to Maryland for a regional. That mission accomplished, they now reverse course and travel to the opposite coast to face Washington.

Nevertheless, the super regional on tap in Seattle looks like it could be well worthy of a place on the schedule in Oklahoma City. Washington's credentials are obvious, but in winning three consecutive shutouts in Maryland -- twice against Fordham and once against Syracuse -- the Sooners continued a heck of a run. Since allowing 14 runs in a two-game set against Texas Tech, Oklahoma has allowed five runs in its last 14 games.

Four years ago, a talented freshman took on one of the game's all-time legends in Seattle with a spot in Oklahoma City on the line. And now, all those years after succumbing to Cat Osterman and Texas, Lawrie will try to make Oklahoma freshman standout Keilani Ricketts wait her turn.

Best Sleeper
Oregon: The super regional between Oregon and No. 9 Missouri might not appear as glamorous as some of the other series on the schedule, but it's nonetheless a fascinating matchup. Both coaches, Oregon's Mike White and Missouri's Ehren Earleywine, are innovative minds who push the game in interesting directions, whether through things like Earleywine's use of video technology in developing swings or White's utilization of relievers.

And as many assets as Oregon has at the plate, it's that pitching depth behind ace Jessica Moore that makes the Ducks such an intriguing option to keep winning on the road and reach Oklahoma City, just as Missouri did behind a freshman ace last season.

Graham Hays covers women's college softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.

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


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