Sooners falter, still first

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts was on the wrong end of the box score for the first time this season when she gave up five earned runs in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

1. Oklahoma (28-2)

The Sooners' first loss came after 17 consecutive wins. The second loss came after only 10 consecutive wins. It doesn't seem as if the sky is falling. A weekend split against Louisville (a scheduled third game was canceled due to weather) is meaningful. The 5-1 loss was the first for the Sooners with Keilani Ricketts in the circle and the first defeat in which an opponent scored multiple runs. All of that counts. But so does the 9-1 run-rule answer in the second game against the Cardinals. The Sooners aren't guaranteed this spot forever. Their grip weakened last weekend, but it remains in their possession for now.

2. Arizona State (31-1)

It wasn't a sweep, but you can't ask much more of Arizona State than to take two out of three games at UCLA. It was the first true road test of the season, coming a week after four neutral-site games in the Judi Garman Classic and a game against host Cal State Fullerton in that event. Of note against the Bruins, junior Mackenzie Popescue earned the first win of the series in the circle and added a save with two innings of no-hit pitching in the finale, just her third relief appearance. She's the No. 2 pitcher behind Dallas Escobedo, but it appears she'll keep busy in conference play.

3. Florida (31-1)

The SEC schedule looks very kind for Florida from here on out, with road trips to Kentucky and a home series against Georgia the only real headliners. But the Gators will get some in-state midweek tests, beginning with a visit from Florida State on Wednesday. (UCF and South Florida follow in later weeks.) The Gators continue to have a wider disparity between batting average and on-base percentage than just about any team in the upper echelon.

4. Tennessee (27-6)

Sure, the wins came at home without either Ellen or Ivy Renfroe keeping close to clean sheets in the circle, but a three-game sweep against Texas A&M is cause for a jump. The Aggies got to the Lady Vols' sister act for 16 runs in three games, but the bigger story was the way the home team responded with 21 runs of its own. A rugged stretch of conference series against Alabama, Florida and A&M completed, Tennessee added a one-game trip to Kentucky on Friday, a game that will not count toward the SEC standings but will help the RPI; the Lady Vols were ninth in the initial RPI release, one spot behind the Wildcats.

5. California (26-3)

With apologies to Utah, Cal did what it was supposed to do when it swept three games against the program handed one of the rawest deals in college sports when it was dropped in the middle of a legendary softball conference a season ago. Ace Jolene Henderson won all three games and moved past Michele Granger as Cal's career leader in wins. Strange as it sounds, the upcoming series at Arizona (played next Tuesday and Wednesday) may be Cal's best bet to win a conference series on the road. Trips to Arizona State, UCLA and Washington follow. A game against Sacramento State awaits this weekend.

6. Texas (29-4)

The first game in a home-and-home series against Baylor was everything fans could have hoped for. Texas' Blaire Luna and Baylor's Whitney Canion each struck out 14 batters in a game that went nine innings, with Luna and the Longhorns eventually pulling out the win when Canion couldn't get an out in the ninth. Luna came back with 11 strikeouts in a two-hitter the following day in Austin (the first game was played in Waco). That done, Texas can't look past this weekend and a Kansas team that has put up some runs.

7. Alabama (29-4)

The Crimson Tide last lost to Auburn in Tuscaloosa when freshman outfielder Haylie McCleney was in fifth grade, but let's not make too much of Saturday's upset in the rivalry. Alabama won both games started by its ace, Jackie Traina, in run-rule fashion and remains in the thick of the SEC race. If there was a long-term worry to take from the loss, it was defense. Four errors undid the Tide, who have more errors than all but two SEC teams (Auburn and Kentucky). Some of that is because they get to more balls than a lot of teams -- but only some of it.

8. Oregon (26-4)

Oregon drew one of the short straws with its road schedule in the Pac-12, so it was imperative to get off to a good start at home against Stanford. Job well done. The Ducks swept three games from the Cardinal, following back-to-back one-run wins with a more comfortable 10-3 victory in Monday's series finale. The combination of freshman Cheridan Hawkins (1.35 ERA) and senior Jessica Moore (1.38 ERA) continues to give Oregon a different look than the past few seasons, when it relied so heavily on Moore in the moments that mattered.

9. Louisville (26-5)

Louisville coach Sandy Pearsall gets as much out of a roster as anyone out there, which is why the Cardinals debut in the rankings after spitting a weekend trip to Oklahoma. Junior pitcher Caralisa Connell (127 strikeouts in 116 innings this season) got the best of Ricketts in the Oklahoma win and also beat Michigan two weeks ago. Junior second baseman Katie Keller continued her push to go from second-team all-conference to first-team All-American. She had two hits and an RBI against Ricketts and has a 1.392 OPS through 31 games. DePaul and South Florida aren't on the schedule, so this weekend's series against Syracuse shapes up as one of the few tests in Big East play.

10. Texas A&M (26-5)

Flip a coin between Texas A&M and Missouri, which split two games earlier this season and sit right next to each other in SEC offense with nearly identical batting averages, slugging percentages and on-base percentages. While the Tigers twice routed Georgia Tech last week, they continue to see their schedule shrink because of weather. So on volume alone, the tiebreaker goes to the Aggies, who have played 12 more games. The wrong end of a sweep at Tennessee was unpleasant for Texas A&M, but it did put up more runs in Knoxville than most visiting teams manage. It goes almost without saying that this weekend's home series against Alabama is huge.

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