Chat with Graham Hays
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, ESPN.com women's college sports writer Graham Hays will be here to chat about the NCAA softball tournament. Pac-10 champion Arizona State was awarded the No. 1 overall seed and will look to continue the conference's run of dominance in the Women's College World Series. Regional play begins this weekend, including live coverage from the Tucson and Ann Arbor regionals on the ESPN family of networks.
Hays contributes to ESPN.com's women's basketball, softball and soccer coverage. He began with ESPN in 1999.
Send your questions now and join Hays Monday at 4 p.m. ET!
Graham Hays (4:01 PM)
Let's talk NCAA tournament. Thanks for stopping in.
How can Tennessee have Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech in their regional if they won the SEC Tournament and was ranked 8th in the Country?
Graham Hays (4:06 PM)
I'd say about half of the questions already submitted are some variation of this, which is a problem. Selection committee are like umpires, in that they don't get credit when they do a good job and only hear about it when, well, they don't. The Knoxville regional is an absolute mystery on so many levels. First off, while there are a lot of faults with polls, if all three of the most widely viewed polls (USA Softball/NFCA/Ultimate College Softball) generally agreed all season about Tennessee, shouldn't that carry some weight? But even if you accept seeding Tennessee based solely on its RPI, and even if you accept that geographic realities necessitate bringing in a Georgia Tech team that had to be on the bubble for a national seed ... how does shipping Oklahoma State in make any sense at all? I don't have a good answer because, honestly, I don't think there is one.
Brita James (New York City)
The selections seemed fairly questionable in some regionals...Do you agree with Michigan's 10 seed? In your opinion seed has the hardest road to the WCWS??
Graham Hays (4:12 PM)
Ann Arbor would be the other regional drawing the most questions. In this case, at least the regional makes geographic sense, even if it's laughable from a competitive balance standpoint to have Michigan, Notre Dame and Kentucky in the same place. I think the bigger gripe for the Wolverines is the seed. The Big Ten was not particularly good this season, at least relative to its standards, and Michigan did play a relatively soft early schedule, all of which contributed to an RPI considerably worse than the team's place in the polls. But to me, 6-0 against the RPI top 25 teams they did play at least suggests the record isn't a fluke. So no, at worst I thought Michigan would get the final potential super-regional host seed at No. 8. And in terms of what they deserved, I would have bumped them up at least a spot of two from that.
sftball fan (town)
Who's more upset that the #4 seed will host the defending national champions in the second round of regional play, UCLA, Florida, or ESPN?
Graham Hays (4:17 PM)
My legal counsel advises me not to answer the last part of that. I imagine Florida isn't exactly thrilled to see UCLA coming to town after playing all season to earn something like the No. 4 seed. Actually, with all the Californians on the roster in Gainesville, the players might like the chance to play the Bruins on home turf, but it's a tough draw. UCLA may be unseeded, but it can still hit the heck out of the ball (60-plus home runs, .900-plus team OPS). Florida can do exactly the same thing, of course, but that's not a game either wants to play on the first Saturday of the tournament.
Last year Kenzie Fowler had big problems with lifting her leg when picthing. It was a rule the officials enphasized last year. Is this rule still being enphasized thiis year also. It literally cost Arizona the National Championship last year.
Graham Hays (4:19 PM)
She wasn't the only one on the illegal pitches, but yeah, anyone who watched the World Series will remember it. It's still being called, and I've seen a couple of games go off the rails with pitchers being called for it again and again. But at least anecdotally, and feel free to chime in if you're out there and think differently, I've seen fewer of them called this season. But count on it creeping up at some point during the postseason.
Ron (Pollock Pines)
Fresno State has the winningest coach in softball history, They own the record book win it comes to attendance. They have played int the national Championship game 5 times. Won it all in 1998. They have played in all 30 Championship tournaments, no one else in the country can say that. They had the first real softball stadium in the country. Now people look past them becuase they are not in the so called power conferences. Why?
Graham Hays (4:24 PM)
That's an issue in a lot of women's sports, certainly in basketball with traditional power programs like Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion. It's an unfortunate side effect of the sport's overall growth. When the big conferences beyond the Pac-10 start putting more money and resources toward the sport, it's going to drain attention away from people. You're right that we shouldn't forget Fresno State's history or overlook it's present, which remains pretty darn good on the field and in the stands. But the only way a program like that is going to get the spotlight on a consistent basis is to get to super regionals and get to the World Series. I'm not saying that's fair or right; it's just the way of the world. I'd love to see the Bulldogs make it back to Oklahoma City. There would be some great stories there.
Do you believe Missouri has all the tools to make it the WCWS and win? Thomas is a rockstar, but my concern is with the offense. Though Rhea Taylor has started turning her season around, is there enough firepower there beyond Nicole Hudson and Ashley Fleming to get after Morgan Melloh and survive Kaitlin Inglesby and Washington?
Graham Hays (4:28 PM)
I'd just nod my head to everything you said, but I guess that doesn't translate so well on a computer screen. I think this could be Missouri's year to win it all. They've got, in my mind, the best pitcher in the draw and an offense and defense to back her up. But as you suggest, the key is Taylor. Nicole Hudson is a fantastic player, Ashley Fleming is a fantastic player, but if Taylor is on top of her game, it takes that entire offense to another level. Melloh ought to give fans in Columbia pause. Missouri should go a long, long way in this draw, but big-time strikeout pitchers can make for nervous regionals.
Longwood SWEEPS Penn State, SPLITS with no.7 GA BEATS no. 14 HAWAII, goes 3-1 against the SEC, 3-2 against the ACC SWEEPS Liberty goes 37-12... are you kidding me?!?! but yet penn state and 25-28 Western Mich. makes it are you serious. no respect not to mention they beat ND too. why arent we in it.... is it because we are not in a confrence??
I know a lot of us saw that YouTube video the Longwood team created where they asked to be let in the NCAA field. At the time, my gut told me that it would backfire. It seemed to be kind of desperate pandering, which would hurt their case. Do you think that's true? Or do you think the committee didn't even pay attention to it?
Graham Hays (4:32 PM)
I don't think the YouTube video hurt them. It seemed sort of charming to me, but I lean very much to Devon's last point, that the committee probably didn't even see it. As for the resume, I thought Longwood should have been in, but I also don't think it was the biggest slight of all time. If they were in, it was as probably one of the two or three last at-large teams. It just feels worse because in addition the numbers seeming to show they deserved to be in, it would have been a great story. The former part of that is more important, but the latter makes it feel like a bigger slight. I'm sure the committee would say it didn't come down to Penn State vs. Longwood, but good luck convincing just about anyone of that. If there is a silver lining it's that at least more softball fans now know there is a Longwood and it has a pretty good program, but going the independent route is always going to make life difficult.
Tommy Deas (Parts unknown)
Your top three best BBQ regionals, in order
Graham Hays (4:34 PM)
Tuscaloosa, College Station (although I've never been to Austin, so I could be convinced otherwise) and whatever Memphis brings with it from home.
A10softballblog (Atlantic 10)
What are Fordham's chances of making it out of Regionals?
Graham Hays (4:37 PM)
As unseeded teams go, not bad. Oregon is used to traveling in the postseason after last year, so there's no bonus points there for getting the Ducks in State College, Pa. But it seems like Fordham is peaking at the right time, by which I mean, Jen Mineau is peaking at the right time. The offense needs to come back around behind her for Fordham to advance, but the A-10 champs have postseason experience from last season and a lot of experience against seed-quality teams from early this season. Oregon is obviously the favorite, but Fordham has a chance.
David (Tempe, AZ)
Graham ... 1) Most surprising regionals? 2) Your upset picks?Thanks --- appreciate your articles and insights
Graham Hays (4:42 PM)
Thanks, David. If we put aside the Knoxville, Ann Arbor and Gainesville regionals already discussed, I'd throw College Station and Austin out there. Maybe not as surprising, necessarily, but certainly intriguing. That Syracuse-LSU game could quietly be one of the better ones of the opening day, with the potential for a good pitching duel. The one thing that worries me about Syracuse is that the forecast looked hot for the weekend down there. LSU and Texas A&M are going to be more familiar with that stuff, and Syracuse isn't going anywhere if Caira isn't in the circle the whole time. In Austin, Houston and ULL make for a tougher crowd than might be expected for a No. 3 seed like Texas. If Amanda Crabtree is good to go for the Cougars, that could be fun to watch.
On the illegal pitch question, the umps are still calling it and will not let up during postseason because it is illegal. However, Fowler seems to have worked on correcting the problem over the offseason because she didn't pitch illegally against UCLA or Cal. But you can expect it to be called, especially on the midwest and east coast schools that don't have it called on them all year long. California umpires have called it and will continue doing so.
Even though the bubble seemed soft this year. What case can you make for Penn State being included in the field over the likes of Illinois, Longwood, North Carolina
Graham Hays (4:46 PM)
I actually liked their case relative to Illinois and UNC. I know the Tar Heels beat them once, but UNC didn't have any top-25 wins and was basically relying on that Penn State win and having Maryland's number. Penn State isn't a team without merit. They played just about their entire schedule against top-100 teams, played really well on the road and had some top-tier wins (Oklahoma, Fresno State).
Why aren't more people respecting Oregon? The Ducks won their last 5 series and finished tied for 3rd in the PAC-10, ahead of several teams seeded ahead of the Ducks.
Graham Hays (4:51 PM)
Who isn't respecting the Ducks? Seems like they got pretty fair treatment. Traveling for a regional is unfortunate, but that's a matter of logistics more than respect. They were seeded ahead of UCLA and Stanford, two of those series they won at the end of the year. They're a really good team. Good ace, depth behind her, power and speed.
Bryan (Gainesville, Fla.)
What are the exact rules behind schools like Oregon and Cal not being allowed to host their own regionals?
Graham Hays (4:54 PM)
Lights is generally the biggest issue for teams in not being allowed, while geography is the biggest issue for teams in not getting a chance. The requirements, I believe, are lights, a tarp, access to the the field the day before the start of play and a suitable warm-up area in close proximity to the field. The lights don't have to be permanent (UMass has trucked in temporary lights in recent years). But a school like Washington, while not the case this year because Portland State got in, is also at a disadvantage because there simply aren't many D-I programs within driving distance.
Carla (Walnut Creek, CA)
Do you think we'll see a day in the near future when we can view more than just 2 regionals on the ESPN family of networks? We want more TV games... because there are a lot of great matchups this weekend not televised. And also... thanks for your coverage all season. You do a really nice job, Graham.
Graham Hays (4:57 PM)
I hope so, Carla, and thanks. I will stick up for my employer here in the sense that if you look back even a few years, there is a ton of softball on now by comparison. But yes, as a fan like everyone else, I'd love to be able to get a look at a few more regional sites. I don't have any inside info on that front. The best way to guarantee it is to watch the ones that are on. And make anyone you know with a ratings box watch, too.
Jason Gray (Birmingham, AL)
Is this Alabama's best chance to make it to a CWS final?
Graham Hays (5:01 PM)
That's tough because they've had some pretty good teams that were a break or two away from getting to the winner's bracket in Oklahoma City. But it's safe to say it's a really good chance, especially given how up in the air the whole national picture seems, outside of perhaps Arizona State (helpfully on the other side of the bracket in OKC, if both get there). This Alabama team is set in the circle with Dunne pitching brilliantly all season and a very viable option in Traina if needed. It may come down to the bats. It's a team that has been really good at the plate but has the talent to be great. If Kayla Braud, Cassie Reilly-Boccia, Jen Fenton, Jaz Lunceford, Amanda Locke, etc. all get hot at the right time, they can beat any team out there.
What do you think of New Mexico State's chances of winning the Tucson Regional, it seems like they they got a good even matchup drawing Texas Tech and the Aggies gave Arizona all they could handle earlier in the year. They can hit with anyone and their pitching is finally stable this year and they threw 16 consecutive scoreless innings to end win the WAC tourney.
Graham Hays (5:04 PM)
That's one of those double-edged sword situations. Is it better to try and catch Arizona by surprise, or is it better to know you can play with them after going extra innings in Las Cruces earlier this season? The Hawaii comparison is easy, given the offense and the conference, and it's possible, but even with the performances you mention in the WAC tourney, the pitching is a question mark to me when you're talking about facing the Wildcats.
What do you think Cal's chances are to reach WCWS? Fastest offense in the nation in my opinion!
Graham Hays (5:07 PM)
I can't quite shake visions of a Cal vs. Missouri final from my head, so I like their chances of getting to OKC, even if Cal-Michigan would be a heck of a super regional if it happens. In this day and age, teams that rely so much on one pitcher worry me a bit (with exceptions when the pitcher is named Danielle Lawrie), but Henderson kept proving she was up to the workload.
What do you think ha been the biggest thing holding the SEC back from getting its breakthrough title, and do you think this could be the year where an Alabama or Florida takes it all?
Graham Hays (5:10 PM)
Honestly? Bad luck. That could get spun a hundred different ways by fans with rooting interests in other conferences, but you're not asking about conference superiority or broad themes. Strictly in terms of the SEC winning a (as in one) championship, it has had too many teams in the World Series in recent seasons for the lack of a (again, one) title to be due to much more than breaks. It will happen. It could be this year, it could be next year.
From the bracket, what 8 teams do you predict to make it to the wcws?
Graham Hays (5:12 PM)
I'm trying to avoid picking all chalk (i.e., my go-to move in basketball). I reserve the right to flip-flop at some point before first pitch, but I'll go: Arizona State, Oklahoma, Missouri, UCLA, Tennessee, Baylor, Cal, Alabama.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Are there any Professional Softball Leagues?
Graham Hays (5:14 PM)
There is indeed, National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). Check out profastpitch.com
Karen ( Stillville)
With Oklahoma State's recent struggles, do you think that they even have a chance in the Knoxville regional?
Graham Hays (5:19 PM)
I do. The late fade included three road games at teams that ended up getting seeded. It would have been nice to get a win or two in that stretch, especially in the final weekend at Nebraska, but I don't write them off because they didn't. As the clear second-best team in a regional, as they probably deserved, they'd be a good sleeper pick. Alongside Georgia Tech and behind Tennessee, it's tougher, obviously. I know they've been pitching by committee a lot recently, but if Kat Espinosa could come out in that first game and pitch like she did against Georgia earlier this season, momentum comes right back to their side.
If you could pick, say, 4 upsets in the opening round that no one can see coming at this point, what would they be?
Graham Hays (5:23 PM)
Wouldn't "no one" include me? If I can throw out four things that wouldn't leave me completely speechless if they happened but probably should: Harvard giving Arizona a scare on the first day in Tucson, Tulsa knocking out Oklahoma, Auburn knocking out Washington and Houston knocking out Texas.
Not tournament related directly...but of the final 10, who is your pick for player of the year?
Graham Hays (5:28 PM)
I would vote for Katelyn Boyd, with Chelsea Thomas a close second. The best player on the best team isn't my favorite way to decide those things, but in Boyd's case it's not the defining trait. She really is an amazing all-around player, hitting for power, speed and playing a great shortstop. Even when the freshman is as good as Dallas Escobedo, you need someone else to give a team an identity with a kid in the circle, and Boyd's swagger is palpable.
David (Tempe, AZ)
Why do you think Jolene Henderson was left off of the Collegiate Player of the Year Top 10 Finalists list?
Graham Hays (5:29 PM)
An excellent question for which I don't have an answer, I'm afraid.
Graham Hays (5:29 PM)
All right, I guess we went a little overtime, but come on, it's tournament time. I get a little giddy. Thanks for all the questions; we'll do this again soon. Enjoy the games this weekend!