Category archive: Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State senior Kaylyn Castillo talks about her team's 14-4 win against Florida in Game 1 of the Women's College World Series final, as well as freshman pitcher Dallas Esobedo and matching up with Florida's offense.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- As what could reasonably be described as the 2011 Women's College World Series' first classic game unfolded, it came down to Arizona State's ability to wait.
Patience, opportunism and discipline are not words people often write songs about or affix as mottos on super heroes. Those honors go to action, the glory to the bold. On Friday night, the glory went to Arizona State's Annie Lockwood, the junior cleanup hitter for the Sun Devils who drove home the winning run in a 6-5 victory with a walk-off single, after having tied the score four innings earlier with a momentum-shifting home run.
"Once the count got to 2-2, I knew she was probably going to move the ball around and make me swing at something she wanted me to hit," Lockwood said of the final at-bat against Florida pitcher Hannah Rogers. "But I think the team realized the umpire wasn't calling those outside pitches, and I realized she was probably going to try to go in. My philosophy al year has been staying inside the ball, and I got an inside pitch and I tried my best to stay inside it."
If the first two days of the Women's College World Series showed anything, it's that this remains a good time of year to be the best at something. Alabama pitched better than anyone in winning its first two games. But against a Florida lineup that made a strong case for top offensive honors in both its first game and at times during Friday's game, Arizona State showed both a depth and patience at the plate that will be tough to match this weekend.
It's not that the Sun Devils wow you to quite the same degree as the Gators, who even after retooling their offense after losing their preferred bats during the season, remain capable of waiting out very good pitchers and hitting the ball a very long way. It's just that, with a lineup that is balanced with hitter who aren't going to strike out, the Sun Devils never let up.
Arizona State entered the World Series with just 187 strikeouts in 61 games. One of the nation's best hitting teams under the tutelage of one of its best offensive minds, Florida entered with 330 strikeouts, by way of comparison.
"Our philosophy is 21 tough outs and every at-bat is a quality at-bat," Arizona State coach Clint Myers said after Friday's win. "Quality at-bats don't mean that you're going to be successful. It just means you've got quality at-bats -- and the more quality at-bats you have, the more chance you have of being successful.
"Patience and good swing paths and squaring balls up clearly are part of that quality at-bat."
After replacing an ineffective Stephanie Brombacher in the second inning, Rogers held up well against her freshman counterpart, Arizona State's Dallas Escobedo. The Sun Devils had jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but Rogers kept her team in the game and gave the Gators the opportunity they seized in taking a 5-4 lead in the fourth inning. Yet time and again, the Sun Devils worked deep into counts and gave themselves scoring opportunities, collecting five hits and eight walks while striking out just three times in 5.2 innings against Rogers.
"For me to look down here and see eight walks says a lot," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "I think they obviously did a good job. But [Rogers] throws strikes. That's got to be a season high; she went probably 25 games in a row without giving up eight walks. So that's tough. It's tough to give a team like that that many extra opportunities. But they did a good job working the count. They're tough to strike out for sure."
Quick to give credit to Arizona State's hitters in that respect, Walton also appeared vocal during the game in his displeasure with the strike zone and noted after the game that it's his job to stick up for his pitcher when she feels she's throwing strikes. To his point, Rogers walked five against Auburn on April 16, the only time in 34 outings totaling 242.2 innings prior to Friday night that she walked more than three.
But the relative merits of the strike zone aside, the point is the Sun Devils, as they always do, figured it out quickly and used it to their advantage, as Lockwood noted in talking about her final at-bat.
Don't mistake the Sun Devils for automatons. They like to hit. They just don't force it. In the at-bat between her home run and her walk-off single, Lockwood drew an intentional walk.
"I was bummed on the walk; I was excited to hit again," Lockwood said. "But I was on base, and that's all we really work on is working at-bats. And given, it was kind of handed to me, but that's what we look for is getting base runners on."
Like the rest of her lineup, Lockwood waited her turn. And with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh (after a two-out walk from Kaylyn Castillo), she acted.
Fresh off scoring the game-winning goal in Notre Dame's 2-1 win against Marquette, senior Amanda Clark held the hardware signifying her place on the all-tournament team. Forced out of the game after a first-half injury, teammate Rose Augustin stood nearby with her arm in a sling, protecting a possible shoulder separation.
Conference tournament title No. 11 didn't come easily for a team that lost numerous key seniors from last season's national finalist, lost the first of many current players to injury before its first game this season and lost the first game in its new stadium by six goals.
"This team's made huge strides since that point," Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said of a 6-0 loss at home to North Carolina in September. "We've really, really turned the corner. And I feel like we're finally playing the way Notre Dame can play, so I'm real confident about the way we're going into the postseason tournament. It's been difficult because we've done this with a lot of injuries."
It's also done it with a pair of forwards as good as any in the nation, Melissa Henderson and Lauren Fowlkes, who combined for the first goal Sunday. But as the season progressed, it also did it with players such as Clark, a stalwart defensive midfielder for much of her career, filling whatever role the flow of a game required.
"It seems like they've all found a way to do it at the right time," Waldrum said. "It was Amanda today with the big goal to get the winner. It was a defender [Jessica Schuveiller] Friday night to do it against St. John's, and it just seems like we've kind of had that."
And so, as is Notre Dame's way, November rolls on with the promise of more soccer.
Notre Dame can rest easy. For many more teams, the remaining hours until Monday's NCAA tournament selection (ESPNews, 8 p.m. ET) will be a time of tension, apprehension and occasionally hopeful anticipation. Here's one prediction for how things unfold. The numbers included for bubble teams are far from the only factors the selection committee considers, but they annually prove a good cheat sheet.
Automatic: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Boise State, Boston University, Central Michigan, Colgate, Davidson, Dayton, Denver, Harvard, High Point, Illinois State, IUPUI, Kennesaw State, Loyola (Md.), Memphis, Monmouth, Murray State, North Carolina, Northern Arizona, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Portland, San Diego State, South Carolina, Southeastern Louisiana, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, UNC-Wilmington, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Projected first 30 at-large teams: Auburn, Boston College, BYU, California, Central Florida, Connecticut, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Marquette, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio State, Oregon State, Purdue, Rutgers, Santa Clara, St. John's, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Washington, Washington State, West Virginia, Wisconsin
Last Four In:
Record: 12-6-2 (5-2-0 in WCC)
No. 43 RPI
5-5-1 vs. RPI top 100
2-3-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat Rutgers, Santa Clara; tied UCLA
Momentum: 6-3-1 in past 10 games
Record: 12-5-3 (5-3-2 in Big Ten)
No. 42 RPI
5-5-3 vs. RPI top 100
3-4-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana; tied Illinois
Momentum: 5-3-2 in past 10 games
Record: 8-8-4 (4-4-2 in ACC)
No. 38 RPI
5-8-3 vs. RPI top 100
3-7-3 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat Auburn, Miami, Virginia Tech; tied Florida State, Wake Forest, LSU
Momentum: 4-4-2 in past 10 games
Record: 11-4-4 (4-4-2 in Big Ten)
No. 56 RPI
4-4-3 vs. RPI top 100
3-3-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota; tied Purdue
Momentum: 4-4-2 in past 10 games
First four out:
Record: 12-6-2 (8-2-1 in Conference USA)
No. 32 RPI
5-6-1 vs. RPI top 100
1-3-0 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat Washington State; tied Kansas
Momentum: 6-3-1 in past 10 games
Record: 12-8-2 (4-6-0 in Big 12)
No. 52 RPI
4-6-1 vs. RPI top 100
3-2-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat San Diego, Arizona State, Pepperdine, Missouri; tied Colorado College
Momentum: 4-5-1 in past 10 games
Record: 10-7-2 (2-6-2 in Big Ten)
No. 36 RPI
4-7-2 vs. RPI top 100
1-6-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat Florida, Michigan State; tied Illinois
Momentum: 2-6-2 in past 10 games
Record: 16-3-2 (9-0-2 in Atlantic 10)
No. 53 RPI
2-3-1 vs. RPI top 100
0-1-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat William & Mary, NC State; tied Dayton
Momentum: 7-1-2 in past 10 games
Record: 9-7-3 (2-6-1 in Pac-10)
No. 37 RPI
5-6-3 vs. RPI top 100
3-6-1 vs. RPI top 50
Key results: Beat San Diego State, Oregon, Oregon State; tied Virginia
Momentum: 3-6-1 in past 10 games
9:30 p.m. ET | ESPN
Alabama couldn't escape the ghosts of past first-day failures in Thursday's loss against Michigan -- it has never won an opening game in six World Series trips. But after putting up a Women's College World Series record 14 runs in an afternoon elimination game against Arizona, the Crimson Tide get an opportunity to exorcise another boogeyman in a rematch of last season's controversial epic.
Alabama and Arizona State met twice in last year's event, but it's the first game people in Tuscaloosa still see in their nightmares. In that game, with two outs in the top of the seventh, an apparent foul ball was ruled to have nicked third baseman Kelley Montalvo's glove, giving Arizona State a two-run double and eventually the 3-1 win.
In a somewhat unusual twist for Saturday night at the World Series, this rematch will come in a game between two teams with rested aces. Alabama got a shutout from No. 2 starter Charlotte Morgan against Alabama, allowing it to hold back sophomore Kelsi Dunne for the team's second game of the day.
Just about all the Crimson Tide got in on the action against Arizona, but the top of the lineup was the most productive. Seniors Brittany Rogers, Lauren Parker and Montalvo, along with junior All-American Morgan, combined for 10 hits and seven RBIs. Given the team's uncharacteristic flat performance against Michigan two days earlier, that production was a positive sign, to put it mildly, that internal leadership took hold in the wake of Thursday's loss.
Player to Watch: Lesley Rogers
The Arizona State outfielder hasn't been a constant in the lineup this season -- few players are constants in Arizona State coach Clint Myers' rotation of regulars -- but she had three of her team's six hits in the two games between the teams last season.
For now, the team's stay in the World Series may be primarily remembered for coach Ehren Earleywine's displeasure. After the team's opening loss against Arizona State, he voiced his displeasure about an infield he felt was unduly hard, to the detriment of his fielders against the Sun Devils' slap hitters. After Saturday's 5-2 loss against Georgia in an elimination game, illegal pitches were the focus of the discussion (although in this instance, Earleywine was more witness than prosecutor in answering postgame questions about his conversations early in the game with umpire Sally Walker).
But at some point in the next few weeks, the story will shift to how Missouri reached the World Series and whether or not it is positioned to make the trip a regular occurrence.
Many tackle the question; few come up with an answer.
For perennial participants along the lines of Alabama, Arizona or UCLA, an early World Series exit need not be a program-defining moment. But for many more programs, it does often represent a quiet end to the high-water mark for at least a few cycles of recruiting classes.
Many of those are teams that ride the momentum of a senior ace. Think Virginia Tech with Angela Tincher last year, Baylor with Lisa Ferguson in 2007 or Oregon State with Brianne McGowan in 2006. No matter how many other players return the next season for those programs, getting back to the World Series comes down to an ability to reload in the circle.
Oregon State is still searching for another ace in that mold, and Virginia Tech struggled this season without one. After an initial dip last season, Baylor took a step toward solidifying its place in the upper class when it landed freshman pitcher Whitney Canion and returned to a super regional this season.
But with Chelsea Thomas back for three more seasons, Missouri is in a different situation. No matter what befell her in Oklahoma City, Thomas has a chance to be the kind of pitcher who makes a team a contender every season.
"As long as she'll stay to the plan and be open-minded, she could end up being one of the best to have ever thrown because she does throw so hard," Earleywine said earlier this week.
And in paying tribute after Saturday's loss to the seniors he inherited three years ago, Earleywine simultaneously hinted at a confidence that he will surround Thomas with more and more pieces.
"We're playing with a lot of girls that weren't recruited by too many schools," Earleywine said. "I'm proud of the job that they have done. No one would really expect a group of kids that weren't recruited like they weren't to be able to make it this far. We had a great season. We recorded the most wins in Missouri softball history and made it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years."
That sounded a lot like Arizona State coach Clint Myers, who after his team lost its first two games in Oklahoma City in 2007 made clear that the returning players would need to learn from that feeling -- because there were new players coming in to push them. New and old celebrated a title last season.
Whether or not Earleywine's returning players -- and seven players who started against Georgia will be back next season -- make the same progress that Sun Devils such as Kristen Miller, Mindy Cowles and Rhiannon Baca made will go a long way to determining if Missouri's two-and-done this week is a one-and-done for the program as a championship contender.
And if Earleywine gets a chance for a slightly less combative trip to the big stage.
Florida's 3-0 win against Arizona on Thursday night capped an opening day at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium that was long on blue skies and short on both the drama and the threat of thunderstorms that tend to accompany the start of play. It wasn't a bad day of softball -- it would take more than some perfunctory late innings to change that -- but it also wasn't anything that's likely to linger in the memories of those unassociated with the four winning teams.
Georgia couldn't quite stay even long enough, or get a lead of its own, to put Washington and Danielle Lawrie under pressure.
Arizona State sucked the life out of Missouri's momentum with a barrage of singles and small-ball runs in the first two innings.
Alabama's listless play turned a potential clash of titans against Michigan into a one-sided romp for the Wolverines.
And despite five innings of shutout relief from Sarah Akamine, Arizona couldn't get nearly enough going against a dominant Stacey Nelson to overcome an early 3-0 deficit.
"I really felt throughout the game that we were just a couple of baserunners from getting something going," Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. "But this is what the College World Series is all about, you know. You get games like this. Florida, definitely, we knew was a very good team, and Nelson did a good job, and I tip my hat to them."
And so it's on to Friday's games.
No. 10 Arizona State vs. No. 3 Washington, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
It doesn't get any easier for Lawrie. Georgia couldn't seize control Thursday, but it made life more difficult than its one run against the Washington ace might indicate. Extending at-bats and making good contact, including one drive to within inches of a home run, the Bulldogs looked like a team that knew what to expect -- as you might expect from one of the only teams to beat Lawrie this season.
Another of those teams awaits Friday night. Arizona State beat Washington 9-2 in late April in Tempe, chasing Lawrie after the ace allowed a season-high six earned runs on eight hits in four innings. The Huskies pitched to Arizona State's Kaitlin Cochran, and in this instance, Cochran got the best of her fellow USA Softball Player of the Year finalist with a home run. And beyond that game, the Sun Devils were able to push Lawrie in all three games between the teams this season. In its two defeats at the hands of Washington, Arizona State still managed to collect 20 hits and five earned runs against Lawrie.
The bad news for fans of the Sun Devils is that despite putting up the day's high score with seven runs against Missouri, Arizona State's power game isn't in top form. And stringing together singles against Lawrie is a tough road to success.
"I am getting used to singles right now," Myers said. "For some reason, we haven't been hitting long balls lately. But with the mentality of what we are trying to do at the plate, we are trying to stay on top. We hit nine pop-ups, eight with runners in scoring position [against Missouri], and great teams don't do that."
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 1 Florida, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Wolverines coach Carol Hutchins has long insisted her teams don't worry all that much about an opponent's strengths and weaknesses, instead choosing to expend their energy on making sure Michigan does what it does well.
Simply for the sake of sanity, that's not a bad idea for anyone scheduled to play Florida these days.
The Gators put together a win against Michigan earlier this season that looked remarkably like their win against Arizona on Thursday. Nelson shut down a good lineup, striking out nine and allowing just three hits, while her offense chased starter Nikki Nemitz with four quick runs and then failed to do much more against Jordan Taylor.
That last part is one reason Hutchins' pitching decision is so intriguing. She's a long-term advocate of a two-pitcher system, and followed through on that by starting Taylor in the second game of last week's super regional against Baylor. Against Alabama, Nemitz looked like the kind of pitcher a team could ride for a lot of games in Oklahoma City, but Taylor offers a much different style, bringing movement from a variety of looks.
If Hutchins and her staff saw something in the first game that convinced them that Taylor's success and Nemitz's lack thereof was more than coincidence, the former could get the call.
It's a perfect day in Oklahoma City, wedged between the surprisingly cool temperatures yesterday and the impending return to normalcy -- i.e., heat and insufferable humidity.
The line already forming outside the main gates an hour and a half before first pitch between Washington and Georgia looked promising. The first session is usually a good barometer of how attendance will go for the rest of the event. It's a weekday afternoon, so it's not likely to be standing room only, but when the main stands around the field filled up last year and people started trickling into the large temporary bleachers in the outfield, it was pretty clear a record-breaking total attendance was in the works.
But like anything these days, it'll be interesting to see if the economy takes a bite out of ticket sales.
The marquee games may be in the evening session, with self-proclaimed underdog No. 1 Florida taking on actual underdog No. 9 Arizona in an SEC-versus-Pac-10 showdown and a battle of top-five seeds between No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Michigan. But it's also a good afternoon to take a long lunch (or at least surreptitiously bring up ESPN360.com at work).
Washington vs. Georgia, 1 p.m. ET: No USA Softball Player of the Year has ever won a title in the same season in which she won the award. If Washington's Danielle Lawrie wants to end that streak, she and the Huskies can't afford to let this game slip away. More than any other team here, Washington relies on one pitcher. Lawrie certainly has shown an ability to throw a lot of innings in a short period of time (most recently logging 22 innings against Massachusetts on the final day of the regional in Amherst), but slipping into the loser's bracket here would make for a long road just to get to the championship series. (Watch this game: ESPN360.com)
Arizona State vs. Missouri, 3 p.m ET: Assuming Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine doesn't throw a curve and start Stacey Delaney, which isn't beyond the realm of possibility, a freshman pitcher will win a game at the World Series when Hillary Bach and Chelsea Thomas tangle. The Sun Devils are less likely to go to the bullpen, so it'll be interesting to see if the Tigers are able to make better adjustments as the game moves along. (Watch this game: ESPN360.com)
If not turned upside down, the NCAA tournament bracket was at least shaken like the proverbial Polaroid picture.
Bradley entered with a losing record and left with a win against No. 15 DePaul.
Texas State showed no mercy in run-ruling No. 12 Northwestern in five innings.
No. 7 Oklahoma remains locked in a 0-0 tie with North Dakota State in a game that will resume Saturday in the 10th inning -- and with the Sooners looking for just their second hit.
Oklahoma State got its third shutout in four games -- but just its fifth in the past 28 games -- to knock off No. 16 Florida State.
Hey ya, indeed.
• Bradley's stunner against DePaul may go down in the history books as a bigger upset than it was on the day, if that makes any sense.
It took Friday's win just to get Bradley to .500 on the season. After finishing sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference during the regular season, Bradley secured the league's automatic bid by beating the first-, second- and third-place finishers in the span of about 48 hours in the conference tournament. But senior pitcher Ashley Birdsong pitched all 21 innings in those games, and she's the reason the game was a bigger upset in the big picture than perhaps it was on the field at Missouri.
If those two played 10 times, DePaul would likely win nine against a team that hit just .222 on the season. But with a pitcher like Birdsong, who beat Northwestern with 14 strikeouts last season and quietly put together four stellar years, the odds on any given day probably feel a lot closer to 50-50.
Now the Braves get another break, playing either Illinois or Missouri in a winner's-bracket game Saturday, minutes after those teams play out a postponed game from Friday.
• Full credit to Texas State, which in its demolition of Northwestern exacted a sweet measure of revenge for being left out of the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Bobcats were far and away the most patient team in the Southland Conference this season, drawing better than three walks per game and leading the league in on-base percentage despite hitting a modest .263, good for just fourth in the league.
That was a profile that spelled ready-made disaster for Northwestern and struggling ace Lauren Delaney.
Delaney has thrown a lot of innings with a lot of grit in her first three seasons in Evanston, the past two as essentially the team's only option in the circle because of injuries and inexperience elsewhere. But something clearly isn't working right now. She walked 11 in five innings against Texas State and is on the verge of a 200-walk season with another 50-plus hit batters.
I didn't see the game, so I have no idea whether the Wildcats were ripping line drives into gloves and launching shots to the warning track. But since a 7-6 loss in the opener of a pivotal two-game set against Ohio State in late April, they've scored just six runs in four games (and even that's mostly because of five runs in two games against Wisconsin). At a time when Delaney needs all the run support she can get, everything just seems to be going wrong.
You can't really say Saturday's elimination game against Louisiana-Lafayette is a gut-check game -- because a team could play a great game against Lafayette's pitching and still come away with a loss -- but a two-and-out stay in regionals would be a shocking end to a season that seemed to hold championship possibilities.
• Putting aside upsets for a minute, here are four folks who shone particularly brightly Friday.
Christie Hamilton, Georgia: Hamilton moved the Bulldogs to within a game of a super regional by shutting out a North Carolina team that scored 21 runs in its opening game.
Hillary Bach, Arizona State: It wasn't quite a page out of Katie Burkhart's book with just two strikeouts, but Bach's five-hit shutout probably looked plenty sparkling to the Sun Devils. Whatever Bach's ceiling is, her ability to handle a full load in the Pac-10 as a freshman -- especially with this year's hit-happy league -- says a lot about her toughness.
Sanoe Kekahuna, California: Arizona's Stacie Chambers launched another home run in her team's win, but on this day, Cal's Kekahuna was the power champ with two blasts in a win against Mississippi State.
Kristen Adkins, Georgia Tech: Presumably Georgia Tech's ace, Adkins instead played third while freshman Jessica Coan tossed up 11 strikeouts against Boston University, But it was Adkins' three-run home run that ensured the Yellow Jackets weren't in the upset mix.
Thanks to Georgia Tech for passing along more info on its lineup: With freshman shortstop Kelsi Weseman out of action after surgery earlier in the week to repair a broken arm, the Yellow Jackets had to shift regular third baseman Tiffany Johnson to shortstop. If Adkins pitches today, look for further shifts involving Jen Yee and Christy Jones.
• Forget Courtney and Ashley Paris; Oklahoma's basketball sister act is old hat (well, except for the whole scholarship repayment brouhaha). The new sibling story is the battle of the Akamine sisters on the softball diamond. All right, maybe it's not quite a headlining act yet, but Arizona junior Sarah Akamine and Penn State freshman Lisa Akamine did stage a family reunion of sorts at the Judi Garman Classic. The two weren't actually in the game at the same time, but they were the pitchers of record in Penn State's surprising 9-6 win, which stood as perhaps the tournament's biggest upset until Fullerton handed Washington a getaway day loss Sunday.
Even in defeat against Penn State, Arizona's Stacie Chambers hit two home runs, giving her a mind-boggling 17 home runs through 31 games. Then she went out and hit two more home runs later in the day, pacing the Wildcats to a 10-1 win against Notre Dame. Arizona State's Katie Cochran is typically the hitter that comes to mind when talking about record-setting performances coming out of the state of Arizona these days, but Chambers is more than half way to breaking the NCAA single-season record of 37 home runs, set by former Arizona slugger Laura Espinoza in 1995.
Chambers is a little off record pace and, typically, Pac-10 play would put a break on her pace, but the league doesn't seem to have its standard array of aces. After this weekend's display, at least it's a discussion.
• Missouri's men's basketball team had a good weekend, but the softball team made its own statement as it prepares to pursue its first conference championship since 1997. Wrapping up the last full weekend of nonconference play (Mizzou hosts Western Illinois in a doubleheader Wednesday and plays a midweek, two-game series at Houston later this month), the Tigers swept all four games at a tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina. That sweep included a pair of wins against North Carolina, the first wins against a ranked team this season for coach Ehren Earleywine's squad.
Senior Stacy Delaney capped off the trip with a five-inning no-hitter in Sunday's 8-0 run-rule win against the Tar Heels, but offense was the weekend's story. The Tigers scored 36 runs and have scored five or more runs 19 times this season. Missouri struggled two weeks ago to put runs on the board against UCLA No. 2 starter Whitney Baker (despite drawing seven walks) and San Diego State's outstanding duo of Samantha Beasley and Bailey Micetich. But getting to UNC's Lisa Norris and Constance Orr (Danielle Spaulding didn't play in any of her team's four games in the event after taking a pitch off the wrist against Florida State last week) lends some credibility to a lineup that has an .897 OPS, 56 extra-base hits and 76 stolen bases through 26 games.
With Oklahoma looking at least vulnerable, Missouri is at the front of a class of challengers in what suddenly looks like it could be an intriguing Big 12 race.
• If ever a team's bubble was going to burst, it should be after a weekend spent facing Danielle Lawrie, Morgan Melloh and Donna Bourgeois, in addition to Arizona and Arizona State's batting orders. Well, Michigan stared down that obstacle course and came out with four wins in the span of about 72 hours. Point taken, Wolverines.
Thanks in part to a typically rigorous schedule that included tests well before the weekend in Fullerton, Calif., Michigan didn't have impressive offensive totals entering the Garman. The bottom line on the stat sheet might still pale in comparison to some of the championship competition, but even after Lawrie shut the Wolverines out, scoring 23 runs against Arizona, Arizona State, Fresno State and Louisiana-Lafayette is impressive.
A pair of freshmen, Amanda Chidester and Stephanie Kirkpatrick, were particularly productive over the weekend. Kirkpatrick finished with five hits and four RBIs after collecting just eight hits in her first 22 games. Chidester entered the weekend with the team's best batting average and didn't hurt her cause with six more hits and four RBIs.
As good as Jordan Taylor and Nikki Nemitz are at minimizing mistakes -- they just don't walk hitters -- this team can win with an average offense. It appears it has more than that.
• No Mackin? No problem. At least, that seemed to be the case for Nebraska at the Garman without Robin Mackin. The Cornhuskers closed out the weekend with a 10-1 run-rule win against Penn State on Sunday, then capped on a 4-1 record in Fullerton that included a 2-0 win against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday (the Huskers also upset a ranked Lafayette team last season). The team is now 8-1 since Mackin's brief comeback ended with the talented Canadian pitcher opting for season-ending shoulder surgery and hopes for a healthy 2010 season.
Credit senior ace Molly Hill's return to form (10-3, 1.38 ERA) in the circle for some the team's success in Mackin's absence, as well as quality inning from promising freshman pitcher Ashley Hagemann (60 strikeouts in 39.2 innings).
But for the first time in a few years, give the offense equal credit. The Huskers have already hit 17 home runs in 20 games this season, two more than they hit in 53 games last season and three more than they hit in 57 games in 2006. Just as importantly, there are people on base when the Huskers put the ball in the gap or over the fence -- they're well over half way to last season's walk total and have a .406 on-base percentage.