Chat with Graham Hays
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursdayy, ESPN.com college sports writer Graham Hays will be here to chat about the Women's College World Series.
Hays contributes to ESPN.com's women's basketball, softball and soccer coverage. He began with ESPN in 1999 and has covered the Women's College World Series, Women's Final Four, Women's College Cup. WNBA Finals and the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Send your questions now and join Hays Thursday at noon ET!
Graham Hays (12:01 PM)
Greetings from Oklahoma City, big storm last night but a lot of blue in the sky right now. Should be a great day of softball. Hawaii-Missouri about an hour from first pitch. What's on your mind?
TJ (Pensacola, Florida)
When Stephanie Brombacher is on her game, she is (in my opinion) one of the best pitchers in the country. So far in the tournament shes been hot... If she continues to pitch the way she is (fingers crossed for no illegal pitches) and the offense keeps the consistency, do you see the Gators in the championship series and perhaps winning the title?
Graham Hays (12:05 PM)
Sorry, delayed, hang on
Graham Hays (12:11 PM)
All right, where were we. I'm in full agreement with you T.J. Brombacher is as much of an X-factor as anyone here. Given the questions about Fowler's arm, I think she's maybe the one pitcher other than Lawrie who could really put a team on her back for at least a couple of games (not that she'll likely need to with Florida's lineup). Beyond her actual numbers and pitches, the most impressive thing about her might be how she's seemed entirely unencumbered by following Stacey Nelson. That's not an easy role to fill, but she's just gone out and done her own thing.
What are Arizona's odds of winning the title? I assume a lot better than Florida.
Graham Hays (12:13 PM)
Don't necessarily think the odds are a lot better than Florida. Arizona has the more favorable opening game, so that obviously helps, but if Washington is the favorite, if only because of Lawrie and the experience of winning it last year, I think Florida Arizona, UCLA and Georgia are all right there together in that next group.
Trevon (Little Rock)
What team most needs to win today?
Graham Hays (12:16 PM)
Well, history shows it's a next-to-impossible route to the title if you lose Thursday, so everyone? But I'd say Arizona closely followed by Washington. Both are teams that lean very heavily on one pitcher, and in Kenzie Fowler's case, a pitcher who has battled arm problems in the last few weeks. And Lawrie has obviously shown she can pitch twice in a day on numerous occasions, but doing it on back-to-back days over the weekend and having enough left for the championship series would be a lot to ask.
John (Saint Louis)
Who would you consider the best program of the last 20 years?
Graham Hays (12:21 PM)
Flip a coin on that one. I'll let the Arizona and UCLA fans battle it out over who has bragging rights.
One of things that hasn't been talked about a lot is that Washington's offensive struggles in the tournament have occured against two of the best left handed pitchers in the game. Do you think the offense bounces back against Georgia?
Graham Hays (12:24 PM)
That's a fair point. The ACC has been a bit of a disappointment, but Danielle Spaulding was a tremendous pitcher for UNC, and Keilani Ricketts is going to be something special at Oklahoma -- already is, for that matter. I don't think Washington is on quite the same offensive level as some of the teams here, but they aren't a bad offensive team, if there's a distinction there. With Niki Williams, Jenn Salling, Shawna Wright, Kimi Pohlman and Lawrie, they have bats that can score runs. It's just a question of will they?
Pat (Haleiwa Hawaii)
How lightly will teams be taking U.H. NOW!
Graham Hays (12:26 PM)
Ha, nobody is taking Hawaii lightly here. But I can also assure you, Alabama wasn't taking the Rainbow Wahine lightly either. There's a difference between being unknown and being disrespected. I think with Hawaii all season, it's been much more of the former than the latter.
Softball has always been pitcher-dominated, however, this season it seems to be moving more towards offense. Do you think the WCWS will come down to the woman in the circle or the women with the bats? Also, as part of that thought, what do you think of the moving back of the fences at for the WCWS?
Graham Hays (12:29 PM)
I think it will come down to which pitchers (and the defenses behind them) can come up biggest, but that might be in a 5-3 or 6-5 game, if that makes sense. You've got one great pitcher and 7-10 (depending on how the other teams mix up their pitching) pitchers who are good, but not great. To me, those odds suggest at least a couple of those pitchers are going to get hot and pitch better than their numbers. ... On the fences, I like it. It's not like they're changing the game from what these teams have seen most of the year, they're just bringing the setting her in line with what's "normal" in college softball.
Could you see Arizona passing UCLA for the most titles all time in the next decade?
Graham Hays (12:31 PM)
I think a lot of it depends on what Mike Candrea chooses to do. At some point, whether it's in two or three years or a decade from now, he's going to step away. And as we've seen at UCLA, with the way the softball landscape is changing, it's not easy to keep a program at such an incredibly high level of excellence when you change regimes. That's not an indictment of Kelly Inouye-Perez at all -- look at any dynasty program in just about any college sports. It's hard to keep things rolling seamlessly across multiple coaches.
Dylan (Tacoma, WA)
How come people aren't making a bigger deal bout Lawrie winning softball mvp for second year in a row?
Graham Hays (12:34 PM)
It's an amazing accomplishment, so you're right, it probably does deserve as much attention as it can possibly get. It's probably a combination of A) fair or not, winning it a second time was what we expected out of Lawrie. That's an incredibly high bar to set, and she cleared it easily. And B) the news comes right on the eve of her going for a second consecutive title. So it may be that we're sort of waiting to see how this plays out to put together the final chapter of her story.
Aloha from Maui Graham. Only 6:30 here but looking like another beautiful day in paradise. Hope you an find a cool spot at the WCWS
Graham Hays (12:36 PM)
Aloha. Who needs "Breakfast at Wimbledon" when you've got breakfast at the World Series? Perhaps it's a good thing that Hawaii gets the early start time if it means a few more Rainbow Wahine fans can tune in for a few innings before work or school. And I've got some shade here, so I can't really complain. Although, of course, I still will.
Kevin (Hanford Nuclear Reservation)
Who wins in an arm wrestling contest: Danielle Lawrie or Graham Hays?
Graham Hays (12:37 PM)
Are you kidding? She could use her off arm and beat me.
Brad (Washington, D.C.)
Hey Graham - love your work, long time fan. My question: nobody seems to be talking about UCLA. After seeing them in the Super Regional, they looked, to me, the most complete and stout team heading to Oklahoma City. They've got an insane offense and three star-quality pitchers. Are they the "sleeper" this year? What will keep from them winning the National Championship?
Graham Hays (12:41 PM)
Thanks, Brad. I think it's good for UCLA to come in with moderate buzz. Modest expectations, lots of potential. My doubts about UCLA had to do with the pitching - there just seem to be a lot of moving parts and uncertainty with Macon, Kerr and Langenfeld. But if Langenfeld is, as she says, as close to 100 percent as she's been in a long time and can come on in relief, that pitching starts to become more intriguing than worrisome. The biggest problem for both Florida and UCLA, the two teams I'd be most inclined to think would come out of that side of the bracket, is they play each other today.
How likely do think it is that we will see a northeast team in the WCWS next year (UMass, Fordham, and Hofstra)?
Graham Hays (12:43 PM)
As likely as any season I can remember, even if that's still a long way from a guarantee. With Sara Plourde, Jen Mineau and Olivia Galati, all three of those programs are set for at least two more seasons with really special pitchers. All three need to do everything they can to schedule up in nonconference next season -- it would do them no end of good to have the kind of RPI to make a run at a national seed.
Why didn't Kelsey Bruder get a spot in your position players who could alter the balance of POWER?
Graham Hays (12:46 PM)
Well, partly I was trying to make sure every team was covered in the piece, and Brombacher seemed like the most intriguing Florida player, with how well she's pitched so far in the NCAA tournament. But given unlimited space, Bruder definitely would have been a strong candidate. Bruder, Georgia's Megan Wiggins, UCLA's GiOnna DiSalvatore, all great hitters who sometimes yield the spotlight to high-profile All-American teammates but who could me big keys here.
Paul (Albany, OR)
I know you are talking WCWS, but would you answer a coaching question please? Oregon State has fallen back recently, and there is some buzz that since Kirk Walker's contract is up that he will not be renewed. Is that the right decision, and is there a "hot" candidate out there that O State might be able to hire? Thanks.
Graham Hays (12:49 PM)
I don't have any info on the particulars there, but my opinion is that would be the wrong move. I know there's some pressure with Oregon coming back to prominence with Mike White, but that's not an easy place to build a program that's going to be able to consistently contend in the Pac-10, and Walker has done about as good a job as I think anyone could in Corvallis. He got them to the WCWS in 2006 and his teams always appear well-coached to me.
Have you ever seen a blown game in womens baseball like happened yesterday in Detroit with the umpires
Graham Hays (12:50 PM)
Unfortunately, yes, although none that I can recall off the top of my head that came on the final play like that. Here's hoping we never have to mention the umpires here.
How does Lawrie rank in terms of all time greats of college softball?
Graham Hays (12:52 PM)
A lot will depend on the next few days. Not that what happens here will actually change much of anything she's accomplished, but if she wins a pair of championships, it probably lifts her to a different level. I think there have been pitchers who had a better pure stuff (not many, but a few), but she's as dominant mentally as anyone I've seen.
It would be nice if the only thing we had to say about umpires was good stuff anywhere
Missouri only had one All American and she was on the third team are you surprised ? I expect more .
Graham Hays (12:54 PM)
Not really. Ehren Earleywine said it yesterday. It's a team that doesn't necessarily do any one thing great, but it does a lot of things well. It's a sum-greater-than-parts kind of team.
How do they decide to put UCLA-Florida in the middle of the day? Probably the best game of the day and most people are at work.
Graham Hays (12:57 PM)
Not privy to those decisions, but they do keep the two groups together (so Hawaii-Missouri has to be in the same session as UCLA-Florida, etc.). I guess the cumulative value of the other session was deemed a better bet for primetime.
I know it's too early to talk about next season, oh wait, no it isn't. Is there a sleeper team out there for next season that may not have done much this year but that you think could be a HUGE player in next year's NCAA Tournament? Maybe that team had injuries or a run of bad luck?
Graham Hays (12:59 PM)
Is this a leading question from Waco? :) Baylor will be interesting next season assuming Whitney Canion is healthy. I'll be surprised if Northwestern stays down two years in a row. Arkansas I think is headed in the right direction. Haven't had too much time to think about it yet, but those are three off the top of my head.
The WCWS officially starts in about 10 minutes. What are your first round picks?
Graham Hays (1:02 PM)
Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? I think me trying to correctly predict games falls under that heading. Not just hedging my bets, but there really isn't a game today that I feel strongly about. I honestly don't know what's going to happen, and I'll admit it.
Graham Hays (1:03 PM)
All right, it's time to play some softball in Oklahoma City. Tune in on ESPN for Missouri-Hawaii and UCLA-Florida this afternoon and Arizona-Tennessee and Washington-Georgia on ESPN2 tonight!