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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Three collegiate coaches -- Michigan's Carol Hutchins, UCLA's newly retired Sue Enquist, and Eastern Connecticut State's former leader Clyde Washburn -- were inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall of Fame last weekend during the organization's convention in Tucson, Arizona. The NFCA issued a press release on the inductions, with a photo of the three honorees appearing (at the moment) on the NFCA's homepage.

Michigan's athletics website has a nice release on Coach "Hutch," but I could not find anything comparable on UCLA's site. Washburn's accomplishments, at the Division III level, are summarized at the bottom of this document.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

There's an interesting discussion thread going on over at Ultimate College Softball. One participant posted predictions for the upcoming Pac 10 season, and others are offering their opinions. Take a look!

Update (December 11): Discussion threads focusing on several other conferences are also available at Ultimate College Softball's main college softball discussion board.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

In what this article described a "light-hearted" event, the current (2007) UCLA varsity team took on a squad of Bruin alumni earlier today. The alumni roster featured a number of illustrious names, including Natasha Watley, Lisa Fernandez, and Tairia Mims Flowers.

The game was tied after the designated number of innings, so a Home Run Derby was instituted to decide the game. Jodie Legaspi, who will be a senior for the current Bruin team this upcoming season, belted 10 homers in the long-ball competition to give her side a 12-11 win.

Now why couldn't the 2002 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which had to be ended with a tie score after 11 innings because both teams had depleted their available pitchers, have been decided that way?

The UCLA article also noted that:

UCLA Softball opens its first season under head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez on February 9, 2007, against Texas as the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.

In case you hadn't heard, longtime Bruin coach Sue Enquist announced her retirement a while back (see my September 29, 2006 entry). The full UCLA schedule for the coming season is available here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A couple of brief items:

Northwestern left-fielder Katie Logan is maintaining an online journal on the Wildcats' fall preparations for this upcoming season.

The University of Michigan has posted its 2007 schedule. With the Wolverines' 2005 national championship and Northwestern's 2006 national runner-up finish, the Big 10 is clearly one of the top conferences in the nation. I will continue to link to leading teams' 2007 schedules as they become available.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Here's a shocker, a bolt of lightning from totally out of the blue (and gold). UCLA coach Sue Enquist has retired at age 49, essentially effective immediately (technically, effective January 1). Here are links to reports from the Daily Bruin and UCLA athletics department.

Starting next season, the Bruins will be coached by current longtime assistant Kelly Inouye-Perez.

Enquist, who also played for UCLA, transitioned into the head coaching job over a period of many years. Quoting from the Daily Bruin article, "After she graduated in 1980, Enquist served as an assistant coach under Sharron Backus. From 1989 to 1997, Enquist co-coached the program with Backus before completely taking over the duties." The Bruins won three NCAA titles with Enquist as co-coach, then three more with her as sole head coach.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My apologies for missing this announcement when it first came out, but Arizona (like Michigan in the entry below) has also indicated which of its incoming frosh players have been invited to try out for the Junior National Team. These new U of A players are:

"Third baseman/utility player Sarah Akamine, shortstop/outfielder K’Lee Arredondo and catcher/third baseman Stacie Chambers..."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The University of Michigan reported today that incoming frosh players Roya St. Clair and Maggie Viefhaus will be among the athletes trying out this weekend in Chula Vista, California for the USA Softball Junior Women's National Team.

St. Clair and Viefhaus appear to be amazing power-hitting prospects, each compiling slugging percentages over .800 at the high school level (to compute SLG%, you first give a hitter one point each for every single she gets, two points for every double, etc., then divide the total by number of official at-bats). Should one or both of the newcomers earn a spot in the Wolverine starting lineup, they'll join junior-to-be Samantha Findlay in providing offensive punch for the maize and blue.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The United States has won the World Championship. After defeating Australia 5-1 in an elimination match, the US shut out Japan 3-0 in the final, thus avenging yesterday's American loss to Japan. Full results of all tournament games are shown here.

On a lighter note, the sports uniform blog critiques the threads worn by the teams at the softball championships.

Monday, September 04, 2006

NEWSFLASH! The US team has lost to Japan, 3-1, in the World Softball Championships. The Americans will probably get a rematch with Japan for the championship, however. The US next faces Australia, whom it has already beaten 11-2, with the loser of this next match receiving the bronze medal and the winner playing for the title. Video coverage of the World Championships (archived, if not also live) is available at the tourney website. Softball fans are also dissecting the games on the discussion forums at Ultimate College Softball (see links section on the right).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The USA now has a 3-0 record in the World Championships in Beijing, China, Cat Osterman just having shut out Canada 4-0. A game-by-game schedule and results chart is available here, as part of the official tournament website.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The USA national team, which won mid-July's World Cup of softball in Oklahoma City, has now arrived in Beijing, China for the World Championships of the sport. Play begins August 27. The main distinctions between the World Cup and World Championships, as best I can tell, are that the latter has more teams competing and is being used to qualify nations for the 2008 Olympics. The website for the World Championships can be accessed here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

ESPN's coverage of National Pro Fastpitch continues, with a game on right now between the Akron Racers and Philadelphia Force. Players who recently finished their collegiate careers at last June's NCAA Women's College World Series are now becoming more apparent in NPF.

As I write, former UCLA Bruin Caitlin Benyi is on deck for Akron. I've also seen Stephanie VanBrakle, a former star pitcher at Alabama who happens to come from Pennsylvania, bat for Philly in this game, but she's not pitching.

Former Tennessee Vol Sarah Fekete is also listed on the Philly roster, but I haven't heard her name called today. She would have just recently returned from the World University Softball Championships in Taiwan (described in several entries below), so perhaps she's taking some time off for now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Earlier tonight, ESPN presented a tape-delayed broadcast of yesterday's National Pro Fastpitch game between Philadelphia and Chicago. The game answered a question I raised in my July 20 entry, namely whether members of the US national team would be competing in NPF, considering that they still have the World Championships to play in about a month. The answer is yes, they are playing in NPF. I saw national team members Natasha Watley and Vicky Galindo participating in the Philly-Chicago contest (also noted in this game summary). I think it's good for a sport -- especially one that's still new to much of the American sports public -- to showcase its top players as much as is practicable.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The United States has won the World University Softball Championship, defeating Japan and then Chinese Taipei (also referred to as Taiwan) on the final day. The University of Michigan duo of Jennie Ritter and Samantha Findlay led the way, the former pitching both games and the latter getting the game-winning hits both times (the US team was also headed by Wolverine coach Carol Hutchins).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Chinese Taipei has defeated the US again in the World University Softball Championships, this time 5-1 (see my entries below for links to the tournament website). I would have thought that two losses by the US (especially to the same team) would have eliminated the Americans, but that apparently is not the case. As noted on the tournament website:

Chinese Taipei has advanced to tomorrow’s finals. The defending champion USA needs to play against with Japan tomorrow morning at 9 to acquire the last ticket to the championship game at 1pm.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A couple of items on tonight's softball agenda...

The website for the World University Softball Championships being held in Taiwan reports the following result (with a little editing on my part of typographical symbols that went awry):

On a hot summer afternoon with 98 F/37 C, Chinese Taipei (4-0) and USA (4-0) played a hot game. This game attracted a full crowd to cheer up for the home team. All the players performed very well. Chinese Taipei's amazing defense stopped America's offense. Chinese Taipei defeated USA with 4-2 victory.

USA showed their guts to lead the game in the first inning by a single and double stolen bases. In the bottom of 1st, two triples and America's one error made Chinese Taipei come back by leading one run. In the later innings, while one team played hard to gain more runs with strong offense, and the other team played harder to defend. The second baseman, Tzu-Hui Pan, and short stop, Chiu-Ching Lee of Chinese Taipei even made beautiful sliding catch to cease America's aggressive offense...

Chinese Taipei won all of the 5 games in the preliminary, USA was 4-1. Two teams will rematch again in the play-off tomorrow at 1 pm.

(To access the full story yourself, for now at least, you need to click on the 2006/07/20 heading on the tournament site, even though it says "The 2nd World University Softball Championship," instead of the usual listing of the countries that played in a particular game and the score.)

If the same format were being used in the WUSC as in the recently concluded World Cup of national teams in Oklahoma City, then Chinese Taipei and the US, as the two top teams in pool play, would meet directly again in the championship game. As described in this USA Softball press release, however, the system is somewhat different. Stay tuned...


Right now, as I write, a National Pro Fastpitch game featuring Texas at Connecticut is being shown on ESPN 2. This is the first NPF telecast I've seen this season. There are only two players I recognize in tonight's game from recent college seasons.

One is Jessica Merchant, whose last act as a collegiate athlete was to snatch an infield fly off the bat of a UCLA hitter to secure Michigan's 2005 NCAA Women's College World Series title.

The other is Raquel (Rocky) Spencer, who just completed her college career at Texas A&M. This past season, Spencer got a hit when Texas pitcher Cat Osterman was one out away from yet another no-hitter (Osterman finished her college career with 20 no-hitters).

The USA national team still has the World Championships to play, in late August. The NPF regular season appears to run for about another month, so I don't know if any national team players will be able to play any games in NPF. Andrea Duran, a national team member who completed her UCLA career this past season, has already appeared briefly for Connecticut this season, as shown here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Results of the US team's first two games in the World University Softball Championships are in. The Americans have routed South Africa and Thailand. A results board is available here. I found it a little tricky to navigate at first, as it contains a "page within page" set-up. On the far right-hand side, there's the usual vertical bar to travel up and down the overall page. However, the square containing the scores also has its own vertical adjustment bar for moving up and down, on the right-hand side of the square. You'll figure it out. The place to click for box scores is self-evident, but you can also obtain brief stories on the games by clicking on the game headings (e.g., Game 4: THA vs. USA...).


The US national team captured the World Cup of softball Monday night, with a 5-2 victory over Japan in the championship game. Japan's pitching ace, Yukiko Ueno, had a difficult time getting her 70+ mph fastball revved up, and fell behind early (some sloppy defense by her team didn't help either). Cat Osterman, who recently closed out her career as a Texas Longhorn, pitched for the US and, except for some difficulties toward the end, was dominant.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Looks like we'll soon have another run-rule-shortened game, as the US leads Japan 9-0 after four (a lead of at least eight, after five innings, would end the game). Even before today's game started, however, it was clear that it would have no bearing on Monday's championship round. The US and Japan each entered today's game with 4-0 records while each of the other teams had at least two losses, so a Monday night rematch in the title game was assured. Not surprisingly, Japan is saving its top pitcher, Yukiko Ueno, for Monday. Sunday's game has just ended, 11-zip.

This article not only summarizes what happened in Sunday's game, but also provides a nice preview of Monday night's US-Japan rematch in the World Cup championship game and goes into some depth on the recent competitiveness of the US-Japan softball rivalry.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

11:15 am Central: A long day of World Cup softball is just beginning, as the US game against Australia has just gotten underway. Cat Osterman is the starting pitcher for the Americans. Last night, the US defeated Canada 6-1, but many would consider the game closer than the score would indicate. Four of the Americans' runs came on a grand-slam homer, where all of the runners got on base after there were two out in the inning. The US has a second game today, against China at 7:00 pm Central.

12:40 pm Central: New opponent, same old result. The US gets a 9-0, five-inning run-rule victory over Australia.

9:00 pm Central: Yet another lopsided, premature end, with the US routing China 14-0 in five innings. I got home a bit after the game started, but heard the TV announcer say later on that the US scored 10 runs just in the first inning!

The Americans next face last year's World Cup champion Japan, tomorrow at 12 noon Central. Whether Japan will use star pitcher Yukiko Ueno on Sunday, or save her for a potential championship game match-up against the US Monday night, remains to be seen. Japan is currently 3-0 in the tournament, and is playing Australia in the late game tonight. As shown on this World Cup results page, Japan has been squeaking by teams that the US has been destroying.


A US team of collegiate players (or those who were in the recent past) is in Taiwan to compete in the World University Softball Championships (which is not the same thing as the World University Games). Play begins tomorrow, after a one-day delay. The leading players for the US team are discussed in my June 19 entry below.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

As those of you watching ESPN are aware, the World Cup softball tournament is now underway (official World Cup website).

Great Britain has just avoided -- for now -- a run-rule defeat to the US. A sliding-scale run rule is being used -- a bigger deficit is needed to terminate a game, the earlier it is. One such termination point is a 15-run deficit in the fourth inning, and the US was stopped in that inning with a 14-0 lead.

The first two pitchers used by the American team were both collegians during this past NCAA season, Tennessee's Monica Abbott and Arizona's Alicia Hollowell. UCLA's Andrea Duran also made a big splash, socking a three-run homer.

Jennie Finch, the early 2000's U of A star who gave birth in early May of this year, has now gone in to pitch the fifth for the US (an eight-run lead after five also ends the game). Great Britain has just gotten its first hit of the game, but doesn't score in the fifth. Game over.

Many of the British players apparently have affiliations with American colleges, as noted by the ESPN announcers. For example, starting pitcher Stacie Townsend just completed her high school career in Florida and will be an incoming frosh at the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP); she obviously must have some tie to Great Britain, perhaps having been born there or having relatives from across the pond. Other British team members were said to play (or have played) for schools such as Syracuse and Florida State, if I recall correctly.

Not to overgeneralize from the background of a small number of British players, but the dominance of the US over Great Britain would seem to stem, in good part, from two factors: the greater experience of the American players and the higher caliber of the collegiate programs for which they played.

Update: Here's an article on the game.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Over at the USA Softball website, I found the television schedule for the World Cup of softball, which starts tomorrow. Games will be televised on ESPN and ESPN 2.

It is a six-team field, with round-robin play. Each of the US team's five pool-play games will be televised. These will take place on Thursday, Friday, Saturday (two games), and Sunday. The championship game is on Monday night. It probably will include the US, although nothing is certain. The Americans lost to Japan in last year's final, ending a long US stretch of dominance in international play.

As I noted in my previous entry (immediately below), several collegiate players from this past season will be playing for the US.

Monday, June 19, 2006

USA Softball today announced the country's national (press release, roster) and university-level (press release, roster) teams for upcoming international competitions. On the roster pages, you can click on each player's name to get a profile of her (this feature does not appear to be available for the university team yet).

The USA national team will participate in both the World Cup of softball, a six-team gathering July 13-17 in Oklahoma City and the World Championships, a 16-team competition August 27-September 5 in Beijing, China.

Although the above-linked release for the university team says the squad will play in the 2006 World University Games, I'm pretty sure that's in error. The World University Games are played in odd-numbered years, plus this timetable says (correctly, I believe) the team will be playing in the July 15-23 World University Softball Championships in Taiwan.

The national team's roster consists of 17 players. Eleven of them were on the 2004 US Olympic team, Texas's Cat Osterman being the only Athens, Greece participant who played during the just-completed 2006 college season. Of the additional six players, five played on last year's US national team, including 2006 collegians Alicia Hollowell and Caitlin Lowe of Arizona, and Monica Abbott of Tennessee. The only player named to this year's national team who has not been on it previously is Andrea Duran, who recently completed her collegiate career for UCLA. Mike Candrea, coach of this year's NCAA champion Arizona, will be the skipper for the national team.

The university-level team will have a maize and blue Michigan tint, as Carol (Hutch) Hutchins, who directed the Wolverines to the 2005 NCAA title, will preside. Further, two major contributors to UM's title -- pitcher Jennie Ritter and first-baseperson Samantha Findlay, who belted a crucial home run in the '05 World Series decider -- will be on the squad.

Other top players include pitchers Katie Burkhart (Arizona State) and Brianne McGowan (Oregon State), and national collegiate batting-average leader Sarah Fekete of Tennessee.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Welcome to my end-of-season round-up of where things stand for 14 top college softball programs (the eight WCWS participants, plus six other teams that I would consider “high-level”). Below, I list each team's outgoing seniors (noting in bold which ones finished in the top 10 in any major NCAA statistical categories) and provide any news developments I'm aware of, related to a given team.

A link to the NCAA statistical leaders is available here. Of all the statistics, I’m most skeptical of pitcher wins, because offensive support is obviously also a major factor there.

Here we go!

Seniors: Autumn Champion, Leslie Wolfe, Kelly Nelson, Alicia Hollowell (ERA 8th, K/7 INN 5th , Wins 5th)

Here's a report on the Wildcats’ victory celebration back at U of A.

Taryne Mowatt, who just finished her sophomore season with a strong offensive performance in the WCWS, ranked 9th in strikeouts per 7 innings in her pitching stints.

Seniors: Courtnay Foster, Sheila McCorkle, Jamie Dotson, Ashley Crane, Kristen Amegin

Seniors: Sarah Fekete (Batting Avg 1st), Katherine Card, Kristi Durant

The Lady Vols have a new softball stadium in the works.

Seniors: Andrea Duran (Runs scored/game 6th), Alissa Eno, Caitlin Benyi, Emily Zaplatosch

Seniors: Chez Sievers, Cat Osterman (ERA 1st, K/7 INN 1st, Wins 2nd), Jaclyn Daniels, Amber Hall, Tina Boutelle

Here’s what is apparently the final installment of Cat’s Korner, Osterman’s blog.

Seniors: Dominique Accetturo, Stacy Ramsey, Stephanie VanBrakle

The school’s athletic webpage has a review of the 2006 season.

Arizona St.
Seniors: Bridgette Caron, Jenn McCard, Samantha Zadel, Kim Zadrozny, Ashley Werschky, Desiree Serrano

Oregon St.
Seniors: Maggie DeWall, Ingrid Lochelt, Vanessa Iapala, Lisa Allen, Adrienne Alo, Amy Klever

Seniors: Stephanie Bercaw, Grace Leutele, Jennie Ritter (ERA 3rd, K/7 INN 6th, Wins 7th), Tiffany Haas, Becky Marx

Here's a Michigan Daily article on the five seniors.

Also, the Wolverines' home field will be expanded and renovated.

Seniors: Kristina Thorson (ERA 7th, K/7 INN 10th, Wins 3rd, Saves Tie 5th), Lindsay James, Haley Woods, Emily Friedman

Seniors: Stephanie Hill, Lauren Delahoussaye, Camille Harris, Lauren Castle

Seniors: Megan Bordelon, Catalina Morris, Laura Severson, Lauren Lappin, Shoney Hixson

Seniors: Aimee Minor, Sarah Hyatt

Seniors: Ashley Godfrey, Courtney Knight

Other Topics:

Recruiting. In the collegiate athletics "life cycle," the recruiting of players to become next season's freshmen is the counterpart to the loss of the seniors who've finished their four years on the field. I've found the Ultimate College Softball discussion boards (see links section in right-hand column) to be very helpful in clarifying what is generally known and not known about college softball recruiting.

It seems that there may be some individual recruiting “gurus” who are generally knowledgeable about their own regions. Plus, the UCS boards will periodically feature discussion of a particular recruit or a particular university's incoming class.

However, no intensive, nationally comprehensive softball recruit ranking service, such as for men’s college football and basketball, appears to exist yet. I don’t know how many years it will take, but I’m sure one will at some point.

Professional leagues. I was familiar with National Pro Fastpitch after seeing some of its games on ESPN last summer. NPF's draft was held back in February and players could sign when their collegiate careers ended. As can be seen in this listing, the first round was comprised heavily of players whose teams would go on to make the WCWS, with the later rounds mixing eventual WCWS and non-WCWS players.

Another pro operation that I only recently learned about from the UCS boards is Pro Fastpitch (E)Xtreme. As shown on its website, PFX has signed a number of top college seniors from this past season. PFX uses a tour format, like golf or tennis, where it comes into a given host city for three or four days, then moves on to somewhere else, usually a week later. The tour stops include not only games, but also instructional sessions.

International competition. As noted in my entry (below) just prior to this one, another World Cup of softball will be held in Oklahoma City this July.

Another opportunity for college players (not just seniors) is the World University Games. Many familiar names were among the players invited to try out for the U.S. team. Based on this USA Softball timetable, the World University Games try-outs appear to have been completed, so the final roster seemingly should be announced soon. The actual World University Games are not until 2007 (they're held only in odd-numbered years), but as shown in the previously cited timetable, this year there's a World Univerity Softball Championship in July in Taiwan.

A final, congratulatory note: "Robocoach," operator of the aforementioned Ultimate College Softball website and discussion boards, announced not too long ago that his site had received nearly a million hits in the month of May. Congratulations to him! This is just another sign of the increasing popularity of college softball.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Just a brief posting, as I continue to work on my big end-of-season round-up of where the top college softball programs stand, with the loss of their seniors from this past go-round.

An announcement has been made that the "II World Cup" of softball (that's how it's listed, with the Roman numeral first) will take place July 13-17 in Oklahoma City. Six countries will participate: Australia, China, Canada, Great Britain, Japan (last year's inaugural winner) and the USA.

This USA Softball timetable says that the "National Team Selection Camp" will start tomorrow, running June 12-16.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Well, another college softball season is on the books. I first want to thank everyone who has visited my blog during its inaugural season, and sent me e-mails. A blog is of no use if nobody goes to it!

Second, I want to invite everyone to keep visiting the site over the summer. I've done write-ups nearly every day for the past few weeks -- and often multiple entries per day -- so I am going to relax for a while and slow down a bit in my postings. However, there are several topics I'd like to write about over the summer, so the entries will not come to a complete stop. Plus, even when I'm not doing much writing, I believe this site will always serve as an excellent portal to other softball sites, via the links section in the right-hand portion of the page.

The next thing I plan to write -- probably within the next two weeks or so -- is a status round-up of the top softball programs (key seniors from this past season whose shoes will have to be filled, stadium upgrades, etc.). I'll also write about former college players as they appear in international and professional competition.

Thanks again for visiting, and please continue to come back...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

2006 WCWS Game 2

9:20 pm Central: It's now over! Alicia Hollowell strikes out the last Northwestern batter looking on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, and Arizona wins the national championship, 5-0. In three games against Hollowell (two in the championship round and an early-season nonconference game), Northwestern never got a run off of her.

Northwestern did get 9 hits tonight -- enough to threaten to score a few times while the game was still close -- but never got it done.

Congratulations to the Wildcats -- the Arizona Wildcats for winning the national championship and the Northwestern Wildcats, runner-up in their first trip to the World Series in 20 years.

9:15 pm Central: Northwestern isn't going down without a fight. Trailing 5-0 with two out in the top of the seventh, NU has put together two singles -- make that three. It's still a huge long shot for Northwestern, of course, but U of A hasn't yet closed the deal...

9:05 pm Central: Arizona continues to stretch out its lead, now 5-0 going into Northwestern's last chance in the top of the seventh...

Throughout the WCWS and especially tonight, the ESPN2 announcers have continually alluded to Arizona's floundering at midseason and Coach Mike Candrea reigniting the team through some combination of new-age philosophy and old-fashioned toughness. If you look over the team's game-by-game log for this season, I don't see much floundering. UCLA had U of A's number, sweeping three, but Arizona's other losses were few and far between. Plus, U of A had some good wins in both nonconference and conference play. Remember how good the Pac 10 was -- it got seven of its eight teams into the NCAA tournament, and four into the World Series... Oh well, the "Arizona in crisis" storyline makes for good drama.

8:40 pm Central: What happens when you mix a couple of U of A hits with Northwestern reverting to some shoddy defensive play? 2-0 'Zona, still batting in the bottom of the fifth... Another hit, not fielded cleanly in right field allowing Arizona runner to score from first, and it's 3-0...(inning ends with no more runs).

7:50 pm Central: Northwestern keeps up the pressure in the top of the third, loading the bases with no outs, and top hitter Garland Cooper coming up... Hollowell strikes out Cooper, then a foul-out quickly makes it two outs... and a fly-out ends the inning with no score for NU.

7:35 pm Central: Northwestern finally shows some signs of offensive life, getting a couple of hits to put runners on first and second, in the second. Arizona pitcher Alicia Hollowell gets out of it, however. Still 1-0 for the Tucson crew.

7:25 pm Central: Arizona hasn't wasted any time taking the lead in Game 2 of the WCWS, going up 1-0 in the bottom of the first, on a couple of singles, a bunt, and an infield grounder (fielder's choice, throwing the batter out at first).

This is classic U of A "small ball," a topic explored in this article from earlier today.

Monday, June 05, 2006

2006 WCWS Game 1

9:35 pm Central: Nothing happened since my last entry to change the dynamics of WCWS championship series Game 1. In fact, things even deteriorated a bit more for Northwestern, as it lost 8-0 (the same score by which U of A spanked NU earlier in the season, as the ESPN2 announcers pointed out).

Arizona's Alicia Hollowell threw a no-hitter in that earlier game, and almost did so again tonight.

Northwestern did get a hit this time, but only one. A single by Jamie Dotson leading off the bottom of the fifth broke up Hollowell's bid for a repeat no-hitter over NU. Combining the earlier no-hitter with tonight's game, Hollowell ended up pitching 10 straight hitless innings against the Purple* (not 11, as I had written earlier, as the previous game ended after six innings due to the "run rule" or "mercy rule").

*Since Arizona and Northwestern are both the Wildcats, I'm having to come up with alternative designations for the teams!

8:15 pm Central: Northwestern "air-mails" the throw to first on an infield grounder -- Arizona now has second and third with no out in the fourth... Sac fly, 6-0... Northwestern gets out with no further damage.

7:45 pm Central: Arizona has gotten off to a 2-0 start in the top of the third and there are still no outs. Northwestern pitcher Eileen Canney got off to an "un-Canney" start, leading Coach Kate Drohan to pull her in the top of the third, after U of A put its first two runners on second and third. Courtnay Foster is now pitching for NU.

Northwestern tried to throw out the lead runner on an infield grounder, but she was safe, making it 1-0. An infield pop-up on which Northwestern re-enacted the Keystone Kops made it 2-0.

It's now 3-0, as an Arizona fly ball drops in front of the Northwestern left-fielder. Northwestern has just gotten the next two U of A batters out, but there are runners on second and third...

Taryne Mowatt belts one to the wall in left, 5-0.

Northwestern finally gets out of its nightmare inning.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

8:00 pm Central: In what for the last few innings was just a formality, Arizona has defeated Tennessee to claim the second spot in the championship series.

It all now comes down to the Wildcats (Northwestern) vs. Wildcats (Arizona), two-out-of-three starting Monday night, for the national championship. See you tomorrow...

7:40 pm Central: 6-0 Arizona, midway through the sixth.

6:55 pm Central: Another inning, another run, 5-0 Arizona. I wonder if the "run rule" (an eight-run lead after at least five innings) applies in the WCWS?

6:35 pm Central: It's now 4-0 Arizona in the second. This game could be getting out of hand soon, if it's not already!

6:25 pm Central: Arizona has taken a 2-0 lead over Tennessee in the top of the first inning of their winner-take-all game to qualify for the championship series. The Wildcats were helped in good part by shoddy Vol infield play (an apparent carryover from the ending of the two teams' first contest earlier today).

4:45 pm Central: One out for UCLA... (Keep hitting your "refresh" button, as I'm doing real-time updates.)... Two outs...

Northwestern pitcher Eileen Canney zaps Zaplatosch (strike-out swinging), and we have our first team into the championship series! Starting Monday night, Northwestern will either face Arizona (in a battle of the two Wildcat squads) or Tennessee.

Canney holds the top four batters in the Bruin batting order -- including seniors Andrea Duran, Caitlin Benyi, and Emily Zaplatosch -- hitless.

On to Tennessee vs. Arizona...

4:35 pm Central: Tammy Williams homers in the top of the eighth to put Northwestern back on top, 2-1. Garland Cooper immediately follows with another homer, 3-1.

UCLA (again) coming up for its last shot.

4:20 pm Central: Jodie Legaspi leads off the bottom of the seventh for UCLA with a double. Sacrificed to third, one out. Ground out, runner can't score. Two outs...

Dedmon does it again! Kristen Dedmon, who got a clutch pinch hit in the 2004 World Series, does it again. Tie game!

Tara Henry beats out a bunt, as the Northwestern player covering first lifts her foot off the bag.

Up comes Andrea Duran, the hitting hero of yesterday, with runners on first and second. Duran pops out. Going to extras...

2:40 pm Central: Jamie Dotson drives one over the right-field fence to give Northwestern a 1-0 lead over UCLA.

2:00 pm Central: Tennessee has just finished off Arizona, 1-0. It now becomes a one-game showdown between the Vols and Wildcats later today at 6:00 pm Central, for a spot in the championship series.

Tennessee shortstop Lindsay Schutzler helped keep the game more exciting than it needed to be, committing two errors in the seventh and leaving U of A with first and third with two outs (I can only imagine the angst among Vol fans). Schutzler redeemed herself, however, throwing out the Wildcats' Caitlin Lowe on a bang-bang play at first base.

Upon being called out, Lowe slammed down her helmet and (even though I have no training at reading lips), appeared to yell, "That's [BS]." It was definitely an extremely close play. I would need to see it over and over again from different angles, in slow-motion and freeze-frame. In the umpire's defense, of course, it's a split-second call. Also, it was not the kind of call that would lead me immediately to say it was clearly wrong, the way Lowe seemed to think.

Next up, Northwestern and UCLA. A win sends Northwestern directly to the championship series, whereas UCLA needs to win twice.

1:25 pm Central: Just as I was about to say that there was not much to report at this point in a scoreless Tennessee-Arizona game, the Vols' Katherine Card has hit one out to give her team a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Wildcat outfielder Caitlin Lowe herself went over the fence, in pursuit of the ball!

I was just looking over the UCLA discussion board, and one of the participants made an interesting observation about the Bruins' situation in the tournament, particularly the circumstances under which they got to face star Texas pitcher Cat Osterman:

In a curious way, UCLA's first-round loss may have been a blessing in disguise. The way it's played out, UCLA has had to beat Texas only once instead of twice, as would have been the case had the teams met in the final. other single player scares me so much [as Osterman]. When she's on, she's absolutely dominating.

Back to the Vols and Wildcats, Arizona had a threat going in the top of the sixth with runners on first and second and one out, but didn't score.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

11:15 pm Central: A few final thoughts for the evening...

As has been the case in past years' WCWS tournaments, Texas's downfall was lack of offense this year, too. Despite dramatic improvement offensively during the regular-season by the Longhorns, in the two losses that eliminated them from the World Series this year (against Arizona and UCLA), Texas scored no runs.

After the last Texas batter was retired, pitcher Cat Osterman showed the sadness of having her collegiate career end without a national championship. As UCLA sports fans will probably never forget, after the Bruin men's basketball team pulled off a stunning comeback against Gonzaga this past March in the NCAA regionals, the Zags' Adam Morrison exhibited probably as much visible despondency as anyone in recent memory. As summarized in this article, UCLA's Arron Afflalo then made what I thought were some very gracious remarks regarding Morrison:

"I felt for him," Afflalo said. "He's a great player. There's really no reason for him -- outside of the fact that he's a competitor and wanted to win -- he has no reason to cry.

"He should definitely keep his head up. That's hard to say when you won the game and your opponent lost. But I really just wanted to see him in a good mood."

Those words convey my sentiments toward Osterman (just change each "he," "him," and "his," to "she" and "her").

UCLA now gets paired up with Northwestern for the right to go to the championship series (against the team that emerges from Arizona and Tennessee). Northwestern needs only a single win against UCLA, whereas the Bruins would have to beat the undefeated Wildcats twice.

Northwestern has already beaten UCLA once this season, in Los Angeles no less. Another consideration is that, whereas UCLA's Anjelica Selden pitched two complete games today (against Alabama and Texas), Northwestern had the day off. Even aside from the respite, pitcher fatigue is not a problem for the Wildcats, as they have two excellent throwers, Eileen Canney and Courtnay Foster. Canney's the primary starter, who I assume would go in Game 1 against UCLA, but Foster's also seen some action in the WCWS. Hypothetically, if UCLA got off to an early lead in Game 1, Northwestern might very well take Canney out to preserve her for Game 2.

10:55 pm Central: The last few innings had been relatively uneventful, but UCLA just missed a good chance to add a run to its lead in the top of the seventh. Zaplatosch doubled to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to third, but the Bruins couldn't bring her in.

Texas is down to its last three outs... The first two outs come easily for UCLA, but the Longhorns bunt for a base hit to bring the tying run to the plate... Game over, on a comebacker to the pitcher's circle. As Bruin fans are painfully aware, pitcher Anjelica (Jelly) Selden has, in the past, had a mental block about throwing the ball to first, but she was OK this time.

9:55 pm Central: The Bruins' Emily (Zap) Zaplatosch hits a "conventional" home run in the top of the fourth, making it 2-0. Before UCLA fans get too giddy, however, you'll recall how a 2-0 lead didn't stand up against Tennessee in the opener.

9:45 pm Central: UCLA scores first in the epic battle with Texas. Andrea Duran, who as described in my earlier postings below had a triple and homer against Alabama, has just scored on perhaps the most exciting type of play in softball and baseball, an inside-the-park homer.

On a flare out to right field, the Longhorn outfielder tried to make a shoestring catch, but the ball got by her. As the right-fielder and second-baseperson chased the ball toward the fence, Duran circled the bases. She almost certainly would have been out at the plate, but the Texas catcher dropped the ball while tagging Duran (it may even have been the case that the catcher never really had good control of the ball). The ESPN announcers said something that I too was thinking: that with two outs for UCLA, it probably made sense to take the risky step of sending Duran home, because the prospects of getting another hit off of Cat Osterman to drive in Duran weren't good.

Just after 9:00 pm Central: Texas and UCLA are just getting underway. As Longhorn pitcher Cat Osterman was warming up, the ESPN announcers noted that Osterman had twice been pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. SI has a webpage that allows you to search its archive of covers. I typed in "Cat Osterman" and received only one match (click here to see that cover).

One inning complete, with no score. UCLA is threatening in the top of the second, with runners on first and second, with no out. Texas gets out of it, thanks in good part to a double play on a liner to third (caught in the air) and throw-down to second that beats the runner back.

ESPN's Holly Rowe just did a piece on Osterman's blog, Cat's Korner (as in "K" for strikeout). It's interesting to see that Cat is blogging during the tournament. For those of you who want to visit Cat's Korner, here's a direct link.

8:10 pm Central: Tennessee and Arizona State have gone extras, tied 1-1 after seven innings. Each team scored in the fifth. For the Vols, it was "small ball," based on two singles, a sacrifice, a walk, and a hard shot back at the pitcher that featured a throwing error, but also the put-out of a second Tennessee runner attempting to score (got that?). For the Sun Devils, it was "big ball," as Heidi Knabe (pronounced "Ka-nob-bee") answered with a towering homer to left (she also homered earlier in the day against Oregon State).

Tennessee is currently threatening in the top of the eighth, but ASU has put out the fire. Nothing for the Sun Devils in the eighth, either.

Two-run shot by the Vols' Jennifer Griffin in the top of the ninth; it's now 3-1. Nothing for ASU in its half. Game over. Sun Devils go home.

Tennessee now gets to take on Arizona tomorrow. U of A needs just one win to advance to the championship series, whereas Tennessee must defeat the Wildcats twice to accomplish the same.

4:00 pm Central: UCLA has closed out Alabama, 4-1. Other than a fifth-inning situation where the Crimson Tide had the bases loaded with one out (but didn't score), the latter part of this game went pretty uneventfully. The Bruins thus avoid their program's potential first-ever two-and-out elimination from the Women's College World Series. And it's Sweet Home for Alabama.

We have a couple of hours until the next game, which is between Arizona State and Tennessee. UCLA then takes on Texas afterwards. A UCLA-Texas match-up was probably contemplated by many observers -- just not in the losers' bracket!

2:20 pm Central: Arizona State eliminated Oregon State, 3-1, in today's first game. The Sun Devils will thus take on Tennessee later in the day, via the format I discussed at length in a posting yesterday (below).

UCLA and Alabama are currently playing. After the Bruins' Andrea Duran tripled on the first pitch of the game and was driven in on a single, the Crimson Tide staged a two-out rally in the second. Bama's Dominique Accetturo homered to tie the game, 1-1. The Tide had its next three batters load the bases, but couldn't score any more runs.

Duran has just homered in the third to make it 2-1. She's now halfway to the cycle, with the two toughest components (a triple and homer) out of the way! [Update: Duran did not get any more hits in the game.] Krista Colburn, who drove in Duran for UCLA's first run, has followed Duran's homer with a single, leading Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy to remove Stephanie VanBrakle in favor of Chrissy Owens. An "air-mailed" infield throw has given the Bruins another run, and the top of the third ends with UCLA ahead 3-1.

Friday, June 02, 2006

10:55 pm Central: Northwestern got by Tennessee, 2-0, a little while ago. What this means is that Northwestern and Arizona are each one victory away from making it to the championship series, a 2-out-of-3 affair that would start Monday night. If Northwestern and Arizona indeed were to meet in the championship round -- and it's still very premature to say so -- it would be the Wildcats vs. the Wildcats!

Let's take a look at the brackets, now that losers' bracket play will begin tomorrow...

First, let's look at the top half of the draw (the part that started out with Arizona, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Texas). In the losers' bracket of this section, Oregon State and Arizona State meet tomorrow at 11:00 am Central, the loser going home.

In determining the next opponent for the winner of this game, a little "switcheroo" comes along. Of the two teams that suffered their first losses tonight -- Texas and Tennessee -- Texas would seem to be the logical opponent for the OSU-ASU winner, as the Longhorns started out the tournament in the same part of the bracket as the Beavers and Sun Devils. However, as can be seen in the bracket, Tenneseee and Texas get switched to the opposite brackets from where they came. Thus, it's the Vols that will await the ASU-OSU winner.

Saturday's second game pits Alabama against UCLA, with -- again, due to the aforementioned shift -- Texas awaiting the winner. Alabama is not exactly in an enviable position; if it is to have any chance of making the championship round, it will have to begin that journey by knocking off UCLA and then Texas, the latter two each having been ranked No. 1 in the nation during stretches of the regular season!

On to Saturday!

9:00 pm Central: About an hour ago, No. 2 seed Arizona defeated No. 3 Texas, 2-0. It's technically not an upset, in terms of the seeding, but many people will still consider it so, because of the seeming invincibility of Longhorn pitcher Cat Osterman.

Invincible, indeed, Osterman seemed, not giving up a hit until two outs in the bottom of the sixth (and not giving up any more hits after that). The Wildcats' hit drove in their first run, after a hit-by-pitch, steal, and walk put a runner in scoring position. Then, with U of A having runners on first and third, the former took off toward second, attempting to draw a throw from the Texas catcher to second. The throw indeed was made, allowing the runner on third to score.

Arizona senior Alicia Hollowell give up four hits, but spaced them out sufficiently to minimize the threats the Longhorns could get going. Texas now goes down to the losers' bracket, where it potentially will have to play No. 1 seed UCLA tomorrow (more on that later).

2:01 am Central: Tennessee has just defeated UCLA, 4-3, to end the first round of the WCWS [link to game story added later on Friday]. The Bruins' Anjelica Selden looked to have things under control, allowing only one hit over the first five innings, as UCLA led 2-0. The Vols then went on a "hit parade," going ahead 3-2 in the top of the sixth, and adding a run in the top of the seventh to increase the lead to 4-2. UCLA rallied for a run in the bottom of the seventh and had the potential tying run on second base, but Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott closed the door on the Bruins, the game ending on a grounder to third base that resulted in a force out. In similar fashion to last weekend's super-regional final against Michigan, Abbott "bent but didn't break," at the end.

Later today, we have two games, both in the winners' bracket. Texas faces Arizona at 6:00 pm Central, followed by Northwestern and Tennessee.

Losers' bracket play will begin Saturday.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

11:21 pm Central: The first pitch of the UCLA-Tennessee game is delivered. The Bruins' Anjelica (Jelly) Selden throws a strike to the Vols' Sarah Fekete.

10:55 pm Central: It's over! Northwestern wins 6-5 in the bottom of the 10th.

10:35 pm Central: It's a long day of softball! Alabama is batting against Northwestern in the top of the 10th inning, with the score tied 5-5. And there's still another game to go (UCLA-Tennessee)!

One minute it looks like Northwestern is going to win, then like Alabama is going to win, then Northwestern,... The Crimson Tide was one strike away from winning in the bottom of the seventh, and its pitcher, Chrissy Owens (who had earlier replaced Stephanie VanBrakle) had not given up a home run all year. The Wildcats seemed to be in dire straits, but really they were in Dyer straits, Erin Dyer, that is. Sure enough, Dyer hit one over the center-field fence to tie the game.

6:45 pm Central: Texas has just finished off Arizona State, 2-0. The Sun Devils barely got a scratch on Cat Osterman, who struck out 18 ASU batters and allowed only one hit. Next up: Alabama vs. Northwestern.

5:45 pm Central: It seems to be raining on-and-off in OKC. Arizona and Oregon State were able to finish their game, with the Wildcats winning 3-2 in nine innings (which for you newcomers to the game, is extra innings, because regulation is seven innings). ASU and Texas are now underway. Links to newspaper articles previewing today's games are shown below, in my first entry of the day today.

2:45 pm Central: Play seems to have resumed after the rain delay, with Oregon State scoring a run to close to within 2-1 of Arizona, bottom 5.

1:45 pm Central: Play in the opening game of the Women's College World Series between Oregon State and Arizona appears to be stalled in the bottom of the third inning (with the Wildcats up 2-0), due to rain. I'm not by a TV at the moment, but I noticed that the online gametrackers I was checking (at the NCAA and CSTV pages, see links section on the right) were not changing for a long time. To verify my hunch about rain, I checked out the current Oklahoma City weather, on the Weather Channel website, and it says "Heavy T-Storm." The word "Heavy" doesn't sound promising, but rain delays are nothing new.

9:30 am Central: With the opening game of the Women's College World Series just 2.5 hours away, let's go around the horn to see what newspapers in the participating teams' towns are saying (I should note that, whereas most of the newspapers below provide unimpeded access to their pages, a couple require you to jump through some "hoops," such as providing demographic and/or consumer-preference information).

The Daily Bruin emphasizes the enormous experience of Sue Enquist's squad, pointing out that:

If you tally the total number of games played at the World Series by each player on the UCLA roster, you get an amazing, unheard-of 122. The Bruins, who have seemingly made ASA Hall of Fame Stadium their second home, return every player who played in the championship series against Michigan a year ago. On top of the players from last year, 10 current Bruins played on the 2004 national championship team, four of them also playing on the 2003 team that won it all.

As the Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette-Times tells it, however, UCLA's storied past in the WCWS may benefit not just the Bruins, as Oregon State's "coach Kirk Walker has made 10 appearances as an assistant with UCLA and helped the Bruins win six championships."

The Knoxville News-Sentinel, sticking with this experience theme, examines how Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott may have learned some valuable lessons from pitching against UCLA at last year's WCWS.

This Tuscaloosa News/Tide Sports article develops the theme that last year's national champion Michigan may serve as an inspiration to this year's Alabama squad, based not just on geography, but also the -- you guessed it -- experience of multiple trips to the WCWS.

The Austin American-Statesman tries to dispel the notion that Texas will be hindered by the pressure of trying to win a national championship for senior Longhorn pitcher Cat Osterman:

Will they be feeling the heat in Oklahoma City, realizing that this is their last chance to let Osterman's almost unhittable pitching spur them to a national title?

Probably not. Odds are this fun-loving group will enjoy the journey to the Women's College World Series no matter what the outcome.

The Arizona Republic runs the headlines "ASU doesn't fear Osterman" and (drawing from the Tucson Citizen) "Wildcats to face Beavers' ace."

Finally, the Chicago Sun-Times discusses, shall we say, an unusual "tradition" the Northwestern players have regarding their gloves.

Now that I've finished this write-up, it's actually more like 1.5 hours until play begins!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

We're now less than 24 hours away from the beginning of the Women's College World Series. One last topic I'd like to explore before the start of play is the participating schools' athletic budgets.

The Indianapolis Star newspaper compiled what it calls the NCAA Financial Reports Database, which provides revenue and expediture information -- broken down into fairly fine-grained categories -- for a large number of NCAA schools. It's actually a lot of fun to poke around in the database, which you can access via the above link. You can select schools, and for each school, switch between "Revenue Statement" and "Expense Statement."

I first viewed the database several weeks ago after hearing about it through -- what else -- a sports discussion board. As I was going back to look at it earlier today, I was hoping that information would be available specifically for softball, but that wasn't the case. As you can see, the breakdowns are only for football, men's basketball, women's basketball, and "Other." We thus won't be able to see what the eight WCWS schools spend on softball, but we can still look at overall athletic budgets, which probably give some indication of how well softball is funded at a given institution. Here are the overall athletic expenditures ("Total Operating" expenses), ranked in descending order:

University of Texas, Austin $82,400,829

University of Tennessee $71,783,012

University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa) $56,989,608

UCLA $46,010,599

University of Arizona $40,760,160

Arizona State University $39,749,018

Oregon State University $36,106,183

Northwestern University -- Unavailable, as private schools not required to disclose (see link to database above for explanation)

I encourage those of you who are fans of schools not listed above to check out your institution's expenditures. If, as seems likely, the amount is less than some or all of the schools above, maybe you won't feel so bad about your team's failure to make it to Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One thing that cannot have escaped college softball fans is that many of the dominant pitchers are very tall, especially for women. Among the teams playing in the Women's College World Series, which begins Thursday, we have: Cat Osterman of Texas (whom I profiled in yesterday's entry, below), 6-foot-2; Monica Abbott of Tennessee, 6-3; and Brianne McGowan of Oregon State, 6-2.

Given my recreational interest in physics, I've begun to wonder if longer pitching arms produce higher speed on the ball. We first need to establish that taller people have longer arms; indeed, arm span is positively correlated with height. Further, writings on various sports suggest that there may be something going on with height and/or arm length.

Regarding whether 16-year-old female golfer Michelle Wie would ever be good enough to qualify to play on the men's PGA tour full-time, a commentator suggested on's website that:

... there is the fact that she is 6-foot-1 trending toward 6-foot-2. That gives her a big swing arc that can generate impressive club head speed.

Another potentially useful source is Timothy Gay's book, Football Physics (which I've reviewed, here).

On pages 130-139 of Dr. Gay's book, his discussion of the kicking motion (especially Figure 5-1) suggests an analogy between a kicker's leg rotation about the hip and a softball pitcher's arm rotation about the shoulder. Limb length appears to have some role to play, as he includes the punter's leg length (assumed to be 3 feet) in calculating the leg's moment of inertia. One difference, of course, between kicking and pitching is that in the former, one strikes the ball, whereas in the latter, one releases it.

The equations in the upper part of p. 137 appear to suggest that greater leg length is associated with greater speed of the ball coming off the punter's foot. Thus, both the aforementioned golf quote and my reading of Football Physics suggest that height (or limb length) is beneficial for athletes performing tasks of angular (circular) motion.

I've inquired with some physicists (whose identities I don't want to reveal at this time because they've offered me only some tentative thoughts), and none of them has shot down the idea that, everything else held equal, a longer arm would lead to a faster pitch.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Everything is now in place for softball's Women's College World Series, which begins Thursday in Oklahoma City. The official NCAA bracket is available here. For each game, the starting time and television information is provided. It looks to me like several of the teams have the potential to do a lot of damage. When a team as talented as Tennessee is the eighth seed, you know the field is going to be competitive!

Of the many storylines that will unfold over the next week and a half, perhaps the most compelling one is that this year is Texas pitcher Cat Osterman's last chance for her and her teammates to win the WCWS.

Already an Olympic gold medalist (here and here), and also the all-time NCAA softball strike-out leader, Osterman is softball's mega-celebrity, attracting enormous media coverage such as this splashy feature in USA Today. From Lawrence to Lubbock, her road appearances in the Big 12 have brought out some of the biggest softball crowds seen in these towns.

Looking back on Cat's two previous appearances in the WCWS -- in 2003 as a sophomore and 2005 as a junior -- one sees a mixture of brilliance and frustration (her freshman year of 2002, the Longhorns didn't make the World Series, and she redshirted in 2004 in preparation for the Olympics; click here for Texas's yearly game-by-game logs). What follows is a detailed look back at Cat and her UT teams' fortunes at their two previous WCWS appearances.

2003 WCWS

Texas met UCLA in the final of their part of the bracket (which functioned as a national semi-final). Texas (with no World Series losses) just needed a single win to advance to the championship round, whereas UCLA (having lost its opening game to Cal) needed to beat the Longhorns twice.

UCLA beat Texas 3-0 in the teams' first meeting, a game I don't remember watching.

Instead, the rematch later that night is my first recollection of ever hearing about or seeing Cat Osterman. Texas took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and Osterman was making this lead stand up, striking out Bruin after Bruin. Many of those strike-outs (or at least it seemed) involved UCLA batters, having two strikes against them, swinging and missing at pitches in the dirt.

As a UCLA alumnus (undergraduate), I kept asking myself with great irritation, “Why do they keep swinging at those pitches?” Then I figured it out -- the pitches must not look like they're going into the dirt, to the hitters! (That's the best I could come up with, anyway.)

Improbably, however, UCLA staged a rally in the final inning. Quoting from the UCLA article on the game:

All the drama came together in the bottom of the seventh inning. Toria Auelua led off for the Bruins, but became the 13th strikeout victim of Texas ace Cat Osterman. Senior Monique Mejia, whose error had created the lone Texas run, was next to the plate, and responded with a hit through the left side of the infield, her first hit of the day against Osterman.

From there, Andrea Duran was able to put down a critical bunt, advancing Mejia to second base. Another senior, Natasha Watley, then stepped in and put an 0-1 pitch up the middle of the Texas infield, just to the right of Osterman and just out of diving range to the left of Longhorn shortstop Chez Sievers. The hit scored Mejia from second base, and Watley advanced to second base on the throw.

With two outs and a tie game freshman right fielder Caitlin Benyi, who had struck out in each of her previous three plate appearances in the game,put the first pitch she saw into right field for a hit, scoring Watley from second base and ending the game with a 2-1 UCLA victory.

Fast forward to the 2005 WCWS

This time, Texas suffered a second-round loss to Michigan, my graduate-school alma mater. As shown in the following excerpts from the UM article, the Wolverines got to Osterman incrementally. Osterman also had to deal with virtually no offensive support.

Osterman looked to be cruising through three, striking out eight of the first 10 Wolverines she faced.

Michigan finally broke through in the fourth inning when centerfielder Alessandra Giampaolo... hit a ball off of an outstretched Osterman's glove, beating out the throw from Texas second baseman Chez Sievers to lead off the inning. Jessica Merchant... followed with a single before Samantha Findlay... laced an outside fastball off the left-centerfield wall, driving in Giampaolo and Merchant to put the Wolverines up 2-0.

Ritter continued to bear down on the Longhorns. The Wolverine hurler quietly racked up 12 strikeouts in a one-hit shutout. Ritter did not allow a hit past the first batter, and thanks to Becky Marx... throwing out the runner on a steal attempt[,] Ritter faced the minimum number of batters possible.

Merchant teamed up with Nicole Motycka … in the sixth inning to extend Michigan's lead to 3-0. With Merchant on second after a single and stolen base, Motycka drove a pitch into leftfield. As Merchant rounded third, Texas leftfielder Tina Boutelle fired to the plate. Merchant slid around the sweeping tag to score the run and chase Osterman from the Texas circle.

With the loss, Texas faced elimination for the rest of bracket play (i.e., leading up to the two-out-of-three championship series, where both teams started off with clean slates).

In the Longhorns’ next game, against Arizona, Osterman was positively heroic. She pitched all 11 innings of a Texas 1-0 win (note, again, her lack of run support). Also, she pitched herself out of some serious jams in the later innings.

Texas next faced UCLA, which had not lost yet, in the final part of their bracket (in a reverse of 2003, this time the Longhorns needed to beat the Bruins twice). In what many considered a very controversial decision, Longhorn Coach Connie Clark opted not to start Osterman. As summarized in the UCLA article:

UCLA jumped on Texas starter Meagan Denny in the bottom of the first inning, as Andrea Duran drew a lead-off walk. Tara Henry then grounded into a fielder[‘]s choice with the out at second base. After Caitlin Benyi fouled out and Emily Zaplatosch drew a two-out walk, Jodie Legaspi roped a single down the left field line, scoring Henry from second base before an errant throw from left fielder Tina Boutelle finished the play with Zaplatosch on third base.

Kristen Dedmon then hit an infield ground ball but a bad throw to first base by Texas shortstop Desiree Williams scored Zaplatosch, and put Legaspi on third and Dedmon on second base for Krista Colburn, who singled to right to score Legaspi for UCLA's third run of the inning.

After Colburn's RBI single, the Longhorns brought in All-America pitcher Cat Osterman, who retired all 16 Bruin batters she faced in the game.

As an aside, I believe Denny gets a bad rap for that game. If not for the aforementioned Texas infield error, the Longhorns would have gotten out of the inning having given up just one run.

After starting Denny in this year's opener of the Big 12 conference tournament, which did not go well, Coach Clark made the following postgame remarks:

I think we will come back stronger. We talked about it being gut-check time right now. You must give Oklahoma State credit. They came out and had to win back-to-back games today and they competed very well against us. In terms of pitching Meagan Denny tonight, you have to understand that she is as good as a lot of No. 1 pitchers on many staffs. She is capable of getting the game ball every time out. We ideally wanted Meagan and Cat to go every other game here; we are thinking about the big picture, the NCAAs, and you are not going to get through that tournament with one arm. We also don't want to wear out one pitcher. I was disappointed that I had to take Denny out – I thought, besides the home run pitch, that she was doing a great job out there. The problem was in us not scoring early enough. (my emphasis added)

Also, as Texas fans are painfully aware, in the Horns' two losses in the '05 World Series, they scored no runs. As I wrote about earlier this season, Texas brought in a new hitting coach this year, which has seemed to produce spectacular improvement (one notable exception is the aforementioned Big 12 tournament, where the Longhorns were dismissed in two straight).

So, as the 2006 Women's College World Series approaches, I'm sure softball fans are asking themselves questions such as:

Will Coach Clark deviate from her previously stated position, and use Osterman throughout the World Series?

Will the Longhorn bats remain hot, taking some of the pressure off Osterman to throw scoreless innings virtually all tournament?

If Texas's hitting does not help out, can Osterman consistently throw shutouts?

We shall see.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Few minutes after 6:00 pm Central: We now have our eighth team for the Women's College World Series, Oregon State (in the postings below, all WCWS qualifiers are depicted in bold). The Beavers defeated Cal 3-0 and then 1-0 today, to take the teams' super-regional series 2-1.

4:40 pm Central: We have the identities of two more teams going to the WCWS (bringing the total to seven), but Oregon State has stayed alive against Cal, forcing a third and deciding game to determine the one remaining team for the World Series. Leave it to the Beavers!

Here are the two teams (in bold) that have earned bids to Oklahoma City thus far today:

Tennessee, which edged Michigan 1-0 in what must have been a very dramatic finish to those who saw it live. The reason I say must have been is that ESPN cut away to show a live Barry Bonds at-bat in his quest for 715 home runs, a number that would surpass Babe Ruth for second on the all-time list. Sure enough, Bonds blasted one deep into the center-field seats (although since the pitcher was Byun-Hyung Kim -- remember him in the 2001 Arizona-NY Yankees World Series? -- the outcome couldn't have been that surprising).

When ESPN cut away from softball, I believe, Tennessee was coming up in the top of the seventh, leading 1-0 in the decisive Game 3 (Michigan apparently won the coin flip to be the home team). Had ESPN gone right back to softball after Bonds's homer, we probably could have seen the Wolverines' bottom half of the seventh (Tennessee, it turns out, didn't score in the top half). Instead, however, we were treated to a discussion among studio show participants Harold Reynolds and John Kruk on whether Bonds's home run totals were tainted by his alleged steroid use (gee, that's an original topic), followed by a Tim Kurkjian essay/video montage about Bonds's HR prowess over his career, probably the same montage that's aired heavily in recent weeks!

Meantime, as I gleaned from an internet game-tracker, Michigan had the bases loaded with two outs, literally putting the game -- and a berth in the WCWS -- on a tipping point. A Michigan single probably sends the Wolverines to Oklahoma City (especially with the baserunners able to run on contact with two outs, without fear of being doubled off). An out, and Tennessee goes. It was the latter that happened, via strike-out.

The Vols' Monica Abbott obviously recovered from her shaky outing in Game 2 earlier today, shutting out UM. The Wolverines' Jennie Ritter was a trooper, too, ending her Michigan career having pitched every inning of the super-regionals, the regionals, and the Big 10 tourney, as I've just gone and verified.

By the time ESPN got back to Knoxville, the announcers described how a "jubilant" Tennessee crowd was soaking in the victory, then they replayed the entire bottom of the seventh.

Also going to the World Series is top national seed UCLA, which completed a sweep over South Florida. The Bruins scored a 3-1 victory in Game 2, holding off a rally the Bulls got going in the bottom of the seventh.

Going back to the Oregon State-Cal series, I know that the Golden Bears' star pitcher Kristina Thorson has had tendonitis, so that might affect Game 3 (it appears she was removed around the five-inning mark in Game 2). I have been trying, unsuccessfully thus far, to find a game-tracker; someone on the Cal discussion site says that OSU has taken an early 1-0 lead, however.

While visiting the Cal discussion board, I saw where someone had posted a link to this article about Thorson and her quirky personality.

2:10 pm Central: Michigan has just finished off Tennessee 5-1, to even up their super-regional series. They will play a decisive third game in about 20 minutes. Game 3 will be televised on ESPN, as was Game 2.

In a nice gesture to those of us with ESPN, but without ESPN-U, the network is showing the UCLA-South Florida Game 2 on ESPN during the break between the Michigan-Tennessee games. UCLA received a homer from Andrea Duran in the top of the first to lead 1-0 (the Bruins are the visitors for this game, even though it's on their home field).

12:30 pm Central: Before discussing today's action, I just wanted to mention one late-night result from Saturday. I'm sure that all hardcore college softball fans already know this, but for the sake of completeness, Arizona became the fifth team to qualify for the Women's College World Series, with a 14-5 rout of LSU in Game 3 of their super-regional series (the other four teams that have made the WCWS thus far are listed below, also in bold). Kristie Fox hit two homers for U of A in the deciding game.

Getting back to today's play, Michigan has already knocked Tennessee ace Monica Abbott out of the game in the first inning, with Becky Marx homering to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead (UM is the home team for Game 2, although it's being played in Knoxville).

Tiffany Worthy, who also homered yesterday, has gone yard again today, now making it 3-0 in the second inning off of Vol reliever Megan Rhodes. It's now 4-0, with the Wolverines squeezing in a run, after a Tennessee error gave UM a runner on third. Michigan has left the bases loaded at the end of the second inning; if Tennessee rallies, the Wolverines' missed opportunity for even more runs could come back to haunt them.

Given the difficulty some pitchers (specifically Brandice Balschmiter of UMass and Emily Turner of LSU) had yesterday coming back for a Game 3 after going in Games 1 and 2, I can see where the Tennessee coaches might have been thinking about preserving Abbott for a potential Game 3 (with the 2-0 score at the time of Abbott's removal, it certainly would have been premature to write off Game 2, but the possibility of a Game 3 would probably be on people's minds to some degree).

In the remaining super-regionals, two University of California schools -- Berkeley and L.A. -- will be going for sweeps of, respectively, Oregon State and South Florida, later today.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A little after 10:00 pm Central: It got a bit dicey at the end from LSU's perspective. But the Tigers, who led Arizona 3-0 going into the Wildcat (top) half of the seventh, were able to hold on for a 3-2 win, forcing a third and deciding game in their super-regional series later tonight.

It looked to me like LSU might have been able to end Game 2 a little earlier than was the case, as a Wildcat batter took a pitch with two outs and two strikes that easily could have been called for a game-ending strike (discussants on the Ultimate College Softball forums seem to agree). The pitch was called a ball, however, and the batter rifled the next pitch for a line-drive the LSU shortstop was unable to handle. LSU retired the next U of A batter for the win, though.

It's unclear to me whether Game 3 will be televised on one of the "regular" ESPN channels (ESPN or ESPN2), or only on the less-available ESPN-U. The recently concluded Arizona-LSU Game 2 was on ESPN2, but apparently only because ESPN2 had the time blocked out for a possible Texas-Washington Game 3 (which was not needed). ESPN and ESPN2 both have shows other than softball listed for the next few hours; whether they'll switch something around to put the decisive Arizona-LSU game on ESPN/ESPN2 is something we'll find out by tuning in shortly!

A little after 9:00 pm Central: Currently on ESPN2, we have LSU leading Arizona 2-0, bottom of the fourth. The Wildcats (for this game, the visitors on their home field) have left at least one runner on base in the top half of every inning. Update: It's now 3-0. Should the Tigers hold on and even up the series, the decisive third game would be later tonight.

Elsewhere in the Grand Canyon State, Arizona State has defeated Florida State 5-1 to join the field for the WCWS (I'm listing the World Series qualifiers in bold, as they're determined).

Lastly, for now, UCLA has taken a 1-0 series lead over South Florida.

5:30 pm Central: At this moment, we know three of the teams that will be playing in the Women's College World Series:

Alabama, which captured an 8-7 extra inning victory over Stanford, to render moot the embarrassment of blowing a 7-0 lead (2 games to 0 sweep);

Texas, which scored a 9-1 run-rule-shortened win against Washington (2-0 sweep); and

Northwestern, likewise a run-rule victor, stopping UMass 9-0 in Game 3 (2-1 series win).

The Cal-Oregon State super-regional, which the Golden Bears lead 1-0, has been rained out for Saturday and will resume Sunday.

3:30 pm Central: In the first game to get underway today, Tennessee took a 1-0 series lead over defending NCAA champion Michigan, defeating the Wolverines 5-3 in an ESPN telecast. The Lady Vols blended speed and power, along with some poor UM fielding, to take and maintain control for most of the game. Of Michigan's runs, two came on solo homers (one, a typically prodigious blast by Samantha Findlay, who later received the "Barry Bonds treatment" of being walked intentionally).

Also on ESPN, Texas's Tina Boutelle has just hit a grand-slam homer to give the Longhorns a 5-0 lead over Washington, in the top of the second. Barring a monumental U-Dub comeback against Cat Osterman, the Huskies will be "toast" for the series.

Talking about toast, that's exactly what Northwestern was very close to being, down 1-0 in the series and trailing UMass 2-0 after five innings in Game 2. The Wildcats scored two runs each, in the top of the sixth and seventh innings, however, to pull out a 4-2 victory. The decisive Game 3 has just gotten underway. UMass is starting Brandice Balschmiter for the third time this series, despite her apparent tiring in Game 2 earlier today. In Game 2, Balschmiter walked in both Northwestern runs in the top of the sixth.

Finally, Alabama looked to be well on its way to the Women's College World Series, having won yesterday's opener vs. Stanford, and putting up seven runs in the top of the first today. Not so fast. It's now going to the bottom of the seventh, tied 7-up (and I'm not talking about the soft drink).

11:00 am Central: We're moments away from the first pitch of the Michigan-Tennessee super-regional series, being televised on ESPN... Here it comes... The Lady Vols' Monica Abbott hits the Wolverines' Tiffany Haas with a pitch...

By the end of the day, we'll know several of the teams going to the Women's College World Series, which starts Thursday, June 1, in Oklahoma City (WCWS schedule).

As has become my custom, I'll do updates every couple of hours. As always, check out the sources in my links section, in the right-hand column of the page. Various gametrackers, audio feeds, and perhaps even video feeds, are available. Within the discussion forums of Ultimate College Softball, there is ongoing chat throughout the games. Enjoy your day of following softball!

Friday, May 26, 2006

9:45 pm Central: The 1-0 Texas score over Washington alluded to below indeed held up, so the Longhorns now lead the series 1-0. Other finals...

In Tuscaloosa, it was Crimson and Cardinal (sort of sounds like the Tommy James and the Shondells song, "Crimson and Clover"). Anyway, it was Alabama (the Crimson Tide) defeating Stanford, 4-1.

Rounding out today's action, Arizona went a game up on LSU.

In looking at the discussion forums at Ultimate College Softball (see link to UCS in the right-hand column of this page), it appears that additional series are being televised, beyond what I've noted so far. These additional games are on ESPN-U and College Sports TV (see link to the CSTV page, too).

8:20 pm Central: The Washington at Texas game is currently on ESPN, the Longhorns having just taken a 1-0 lead. The Huskies are now coming up in the top of the sixth. It'll be a busy softball weekend on ESPN and ESPN2, with the focus on the Michigan-Tennessee series, as well as on "U Dub" and Texas. The series between South Florida and UCLA will be televised on ESPN-U, the relatively new college sports-focused member of the ESPN family, which some of you may get.

Two additional final scores available at this time are: Arizona State over Florida State, 6-1, and, in the intra-Pac 10 battle, Cal over Oregon State, 2-1.

5:05 pm Central: We have our first result of the super-regional openers -- Massachusetts (UMass) has defeated Northwestern 1-0. Each super-regional series is two-out-of-three, so the Wildcats can still win the series and advance to the Women's College World Series. However, the Minutewomen need only one more win.

Brandice Balschmiter, who threw a no-hitter for UMass in the regionals, got the shut-out win over Northwestern, holding the Wildcats' usually powerful offense to four hits.

I happened to be in the Chicago area last weekend, visiting my sister and her family, en route to an academic conference I was attending at Indiana University-Bloomington. That allowed me to attend Northwestern's first victory over Notre Dame in regional action last Saturday, and visit with student broadcasters from WNUR (including Softball Bracketology co-author Dan Platt; see links section at right). I also took some pictures at the game...

Northwestern won this game 9-0 in five innings, thanks to the "run rule" (also known as a "mercy rule").

The Wildcats spent a lot of time at the plate, producing runs that launched celebrations by the team...

...and by some banner-waving fans.

On the day I arrived in Chicago (Thursday, May 18), I went by Wrigley Field, about a half-hour after the Cubs' game had ended. One of the team's many traditions is to post a "W" or "L" flag atop the scoreboard after the game, to notify passersby of how the Cubs did. Sadly for Northwestern fans, their outcome against UMass today would warrant the same designation as the Cubs' result on May 18 against the Washington Nationals, as shown below.