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Sunday, July 01, 2018

Oregon's Mike White Named New Texas Coach; Oklahoma Assistant Melyssa Lombardi to Coach Ducks

Mike White, who coached Oregon to five appearances in the Women's College World Series, is the new coach at Texas, replacing Connie Clark.

The void White left with the Ducks will be filled by Melyssa Lombardi, who for the past 21 years has been an assistant coach at Oklahoma, focusing on pitchers.

Friday, June 08, 2018

End of Connie Clark Era at the University of Texas

Lost perhaps to some softball observers amidst the excitement of the Women's College World Series was the news that University of Texas coach Connie Clark would not be returning to the Longhorns' dugout next season. Although the situation was portrayed as Clark choosing to resign, it was reported that the university had already decided not to renew her contract.

Clark is the only head coach Longhorn softball has ever known. A former WCWS-champion pitcher at Cal State Fullerton and assistant coach at Florida State, Clark was hired to lead the newly created UT softball program that debuted on the field in 1997.

Clark enjoyed great early success in Austin, as her Longhorn teams made the WCWS four times in the program's first 10 years (including in 1998, the team's second year of existence). Three of those appearances, in 2003, 2005, and 2006, occurred with pitching phenom Cat Osterman wearing the burnt orange.

Clark's overall record at UT would be judged as very good by most standards, I would think. However, in the ultracompetitive world of Longhorn athletics, in which former national-championship coaches Mack Brown (football) and Augie Garrido (baseball), and Final Four men's basketball coach Rick Barnes, were all either fired or eased out in recent years, I had wondered over the last few seasons how much longer Clark would last.

So, what do the hard, cold numbers say about Clark's 22-year stint at Texas? Drawing mainly from this past season's UT softball media guide, I plotted the team's annual winning percentage in Big-12 conference play. Conference slates would seem to be more consistent year-to-year than overall ones -- and thus a better barometer of a team's success -- as a team might schedule more difficult non-conference games in some years than in other years. (You can click on the following graphic to enlarge it.) 


Notice first that there was a lot of year-to-year variation in the Longhorns' performance (plotted in burnt orange). For example, the bottom dropped out of the team's record in 2004, the year in which Osterman redshirted to concentrate on the Olympics. The program also hit major valleys in 2001 and '07. 

To glean the larger trends, free from year-to-year volatility, I plotted a smoothed curve (in black).* Looking at the black curve, there's an initial rise from 1997-2001, followed by a flattening then slight decline in 2006. An even larger rise then takes place from 2007-2012. Both the unsmoothed (orange) and smoothed (black) curves then show a clear downward trend from 2013-2018, seemingly sending a message to Clark's bosses that the program was in decline. Interestingly, the Longhorns' decline in the past several years came as the Big 12 almost certainly became an easier league, due to conference realignment. Two of the teams the Big 12 lost (both to the SEC) were Texas A&M and Missouri, both strong softball schools.

It would be unfair to say the Texas program achieved little after Cat Osterman's final season. However, it is true that, in the dozen years of the post-Osterman era (2007-2018), the Longhorns made only one more appearance in the WCWS (2013) and got beyond the first round (regionals) of the NCAA tournament in only one other year (a super-regional appearance in 2012).

When "the eyes of Texas are upon you," a downturn such as Clark's Longhorns have endured in recent years is hard to survive.

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*For you statistical nerds out there, I used a technique called loess regression, which can be implemented in Excel.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

2018 WCWS Championship Round -- Game 2

Washington scored three in the top of the first, but it's been all Florida State since then. The Seminoles lead 8-3 after four innings. FSU scored two in the bottom of the first and three each in the bottom of the second and fourth innings. Anna Shelnutt (video), Elizabeth Mason (video), and Jessie Warren (video) have all homered so far for Florida State...

No further scoring, as Florida State wins 8-3 to capture the WCWS, the first team from the ACC to do so!

The Seminoles' power-hitting is well-documented. Meghan King's performance in the circle must also be noted. According to this article from the FSU athletics website, she allowed "only one earned run in an astonishing 34 1/3 innings" during the WCWS.

The NCAA gametracker for Game 2 is available here.

Monday, June 04, 2018

2018 WCWS Championship Round -- Game 1

In what had been a perfectly chalky postseason -- all 16 national seeds winning their regionals and all top-eight seeds winning their super-regionals -- our WCWS championship round features the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, Washington and Florida State, respectively. Go figure!

Huskies batting in the bottom of the third, looking to score the game's first run(s) with the bases loaded and one out... K for second out... and K to end the threat... Still 0-0 heading into top of fourth... One-out walk and stolen-base give FSU a runner in scoring position... Another walk gives Seminoles runners on first and second... Fly-out for second out... Walk loads the bases... Grounder to SS who tags out runner in transit from second to third ends the half-inning. Still scoreless... Bottom 4: One-out walk gives Huskies a runner... Foul-out to left for second out... K ends inning... Top 5: FSU's Jessie Warren barely gets her bat on pitch at her shoestrings, but drives ball on one hop to the wall for a one-out double... Husky SS snares high-hopper and gets runner at first; Warren advances to third... Foul-out near left-field line ends half-inning... Bottom 5: Leadoff single for U-Dub, followed by fly-out... Stolen base, followed by sac-bunt puts runner on third with two out... Easy grounder to 2B ends inning... FSU's Anna Shelnutt leads off top of sixth by blasting a homer to center for 1-0 lead... With one out, nice grab by U-Dub SS Sis Bates of flare into shallow left, also doubling runner off second, ends half-inning and prevents any further damage... Huskies go quietly in bottom of sixth... Warren with a two-out double in the top of the seventh, her second two-bagger of the night... K ends half-inning... Last chance for Huskies... Sharp single to center to lead off... U-Dub pops-up bunt in front of home, Warren comes all the way from third to catch ball, and double runner off first... Huskies down to last out... Batter beats throw to first on grounder to short, but narrowly averts baserunning disaster. Apparently thinking throw headed into dugout, runner rounds bag and heads to second; nearly picked-off back at first... Star hitter Taylor Van Zee up for Washington... Ground-out to pitcher ends the game. Florida State wins 1-0... 

Link to NCAA Game-1 gametracker.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

2018 Women's College World Series -- Day 4

Washington becomes the first team to advance to the WCWS championship round, with a 3-0 victory over Oklahoma. The loss eliminates the Sooners and ends their streak of two straight national championships. Both of Oklahoma's losses in this year's World Series were shutouts at the hands of the Huskies. In the first Husky-Sooner match-up on Thursday, Gabbie Plain pitched 5 2/3 innings for Washington and Taran Alvelo 1 1/3. Today, Alvelo went the distance.

UCLA (needing one win to advance) and Florida State (needing two) are now underway. The Bruins are the visitors in this first game... UCLA takes a 1-0 lead in the top of the third... Bruins batting in top of fifth... Unusual play, as liner off FSU pitcher's foot deflects up into the air and caught by third-baseperson for first out. Not totally clear if ball hit the ground before pitcher's foot, but there is no replay review... Sharp single to right gives Seminoles runner on first with none out, bottom of fifth... K for first out... Weak pop-up for second out... Fly-out to left ends the inning... Leadoff single for UCLA in top of sixth... K for first out... Double-play on grounder to second-baseperson ends the half-inning... Bottom 6: UCLA CF Bubba Nickles reaches a foot above fence to rob FSU's Dani Morgan of home-run (video)... FSU gets one-out single... HBP on batter's hand puts Seminoles on first and second... ESPN graphic notes that FSU 1-for-11 with runners on base, 0-for 6 with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP)... Ground-out to 1B for second out, runners advance to second and third... Elizabeth Mason hits 1-2 pitch over wall in center (despite Nickles' best efforts), now 3-1 Florida State... Yet another deep drive to center, but Nickles makes the catch, ending sixth inning... Bruins down to final three outs in effort to move directly to WCWS finals and avoid rematch with FSU... K for one down... Low liner down first-base line gets by first-baseperson for a single... K for second out... Briana Perez, facing 0-2 count, doing a good job of fouling-off good pitches. Now 3-2... Ball four on questionable check-swing, putting Bruins on first and second... Pop foul-out ends game. FSU wins 3-1... UCLA and FSU will have winner-take-all rematch to get to final round.

Florida State completes the two-game sweep of UCLA with a 12-6 rout. FSU on to the championship round and UCLA eliminated.

NCAA Softball tweets that, for the first time, all four WCWS semifinal coaches are women...

Saturday, June 02, 2018

2018 Women's College World Series -- Day 3

It's called Survival Saturday, because every team playing today enters with one loss and hence, you either win to survive our head home.

In the first game, Oklahoma leads Arizona State 2-0, as the Sun Devils bat in the bottom of the seventh... ASU gets the leadoff runner on base, as the Sooners' catcher, after picking up a short blooper in front of home plate, has the ball slip out of her hand as she tries to throw to first... A strikeout and a bunt result in a runner on second with two out... Another K ends the game and the Sun Devils' season... Oklahoma wins, ASU eliminated.

In the second game, Florida State has just broken things open a bit vs. Georgia. A one-out single in the bottom of the fifth drives home runners from second and third, making it 6-2 Seminoles... 7-2 FSU is your final. Georgia eliminated.

The next game, at 6:00 pm Central, will be a rematch of last year's championship series, Oklahoma vs. Florida! One of these teams is going home a lot earlier than it expected... Sooners and Gators underway, with Florida batting first as the visitors... A run each in the first and the fifth give Oklahoma a 2-0 victory. Florida eliminated.

A surprising nightcap, as No. 6-seed Florida State beats top-seeded Oregon, 4-1. Oregon eliminated.  After scoring 11 runs in a WCWS-opening win over Arizona State, the Ducks scored only a combined three runs in losses to Washington and FSU.

Tomorrow's match-ups will include Oklahoma vs. Washington, with the Sooners needing two wins to move on and the Huskies one, and Florida State vs. UCLA, with the Seminoles needing two wins and the Bruins one.

Friday, June 01, 2018

2018 Women's College World Series -- Day 2

Tonight's play features two games, each matching winners from yesterday. In tonight's opener -- just underway -- No. 1 seed Oregon is facing conference-mate and No. 5 seed Washington. Oregon is the visiting team in this game, despite the higher seed. The Ducks swept three games from the Huskies in Seattle (April 27-29), so it would be a major upset if Oregon lost tonight. However, one never knows in a one-game context.

Oregon strands a runner at second in the top of the first... Pretty uneventful game until bottom of the fifth. At that point, U-Dub gets leadoff single, followed by botched force-play at second on infield grounder, putting Huskies at the corners with none out... Bunt-attempt popped-up and caught for first out... Walk to load bases... Attempted force at home-plate on grounder to short botched, giving Washington a 1-0 lead. Not sure if Oregon could have gotten runner out at home even with well-executed throw and catch... Single to right drives home two (the second runner being declared safe on obstruction call at the plate). Runners to second and third on throw home... 3-zip Huskies... Miranda Elish (rhymes with "embellish") replaces Megan Kleist in the circle for Ducks... Pop-up to right that no Duck can get to makes it 4-0 Washington. Still only one out, with runners on second and third... Ducks avoid further damage... A two-out walk and single, followed by a passed ball to advance each runner a base, gives Oregon some hope of getting back into the game in the top of the sixth... Batter takes two near-strike pitches on 0-2 count, which is now full... Ground-out ends threat... Huskies add two more in bottom of sixth, increasing their lead to 6-0... Oregon rallies a bit in the top of the seventh, but only scores twice. Washington wins by a 6-2 score.

The second game will feature a third Pac-12 team, No. 3 UCLA, playing against No. 2 Florida... Gators' Kelly Barnhill strikes out the side in the top of the first... Gators get leadoff hitter to first on Bruin error... A one-out line-drive single to right puts runners on the corners... Wild-pitch (high) brings in runner from third, 1-0 Florida... UCLA's Rachel Garcia ends up getting all three outs in bottom of first via strikeout, albeit non-consecutively... Another three Bruin batters in the top of the second, another three strikeouts (six in all for Barnhill)... After Garcia gets her fourth and fifth strikeouts, Sophia Reynoso homers to left. 2-0 Florida... Barnhill now 7-for-7 in striking out Bruins... 8-for-8... Kinsley Washington grounds out back to Barnhill -- the first Bruin not to strike out! Bottom 3: Kayli Kvistad pulls a two-run homer to right, nearly halfway up the bleachers. 4-0 UF... Top 4: Error, HBP, and walk load the bases for UCLA with one out... Barnhill walks in UCLA's first run, now 4-1. Bruins still with no hits in the game... UCLA gets second run on tag-up after foul-out to LF corner. Replay shows runner really was out at home on extremely close play, but evidently no replay review... Taylor Pack packs some heat, drilling three-run homer, and, what do you know, Bruins take a 5-4 lead... Bottom 5: After a two-out single, Janell Wheaton lofts a high drive to left-field that probably caused many Bruin fans' hearts to stop briefly, but the ball is caught a few feet in front of the wall... UCLA coming up in the top of the sixth... Bubba Nickles blasts a solo-shot to left-center, making it 6-4 Bruins... A one-out solo-shot by UF's Jordan Roberts cuts UCLA's lead to 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth... Two-out walk puts tying run on base for Florida... UCLA shortstop can't backhand a sharp grounder, putting runners at the corners... Grounder back to circle ends threat... Bruins go quietly in top of seventh (and Florida coach Tim Walton goes noisily, getting tossed for complaining about ball-and-strike calls). Gators down to final three outs... K looking for first out... K swinging for second out... K swinging for third and final out... UCLA wins 6-5...

UCLA's Rachel Garcia ends up with 15 strikeouts (throwing 89 strikes on 127 pitches; 70% strikes). Florida's Kelly Barnhill, after punching out the first eight Bruin batters she faced, records 13 K's for the game (77 strikes on 108 pitches; 71% strikes).