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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

There's some good midweek action this week. On Wednesday, UCLA (No. 1 nationally) and Texas (No. 2) each takes on a ranked intra-conference rival in Washington and Texas A&M, respectively. According to a news release on the UCLA athletics website:

UCLA faces an unusually busy Pac-10 schedule this week, as Washington travels to Los Angeles on Wednesday for 12 scheduled innings before the Bruins play host to Arizona and Arizona State on the weekend. Wednesday's schedule will begin at noon with the resumption of a game that was washed out in Seattle on April 15. Play will begin in the top of the third inning with UCLA's Ashley Herrera leading off. The regularly scheduled game then take[s] place with the Bruins batting as the home team.

The Huskies, who are ranked 14th and 15th in the current national polls (see links to the rankings on the right-hand side of the current page), lost to the Bruins 6-0 on April 14 in Seattle, in the one game of that series that was able to be completed. I have also added the University of Washington's softball page to the aforementioned list of links.

Back in the Lone Star State, No. 15/17 Texas A&M hosts the Longhorns of UT. This is the second meeting of the teams this season, the Aggies having scored a 4-2 upset at Texas on April 5. Meagan Denny started for the Longhorns in that game and gave up all four runs.

I have said very little about Texas A&M thus far since starting this blog (and in fact, just added the team's official webpage to the links). The Aggies definitely have a strong team, however, with their aforementioned national ranking and current second-place status in the Big 12 (at 11-4), behind Texas (11-2). Full standings are available on the conference's softball webpage, included among the links on the right-hand side of the page.

According to the A&M softball history page (at the bottom of this linked document), the Aggies were a powerhouse during the early NCAA era of college softball. They won two national championships and made the Women's College World Series five times, all in the 1980s, but have not made it back to the WCWS since.

This year's Aggie squad has a few players among the Top 10 in various Big 12 statistical categories. The one A&M player whose statistics jump out at me is sophomore Megan Gibson, a double threat as a pitcher (12th in the league in ERA) and hitter.

Gibson excels particularly at On Base Percentage (6th in the Big 12 at .456) and Slugging Percentage (5th at .664). As those of you familiar with the "sabermetric" school of baseball statistical analysis may be aware, the combination of On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) is considered a superior measure of offensive prowess than, for example, Batting Average, which doesn't distinguish whether a hit is a single, double, triple, or home run, and doesn't credit ability to draw walks.

Another top Aggie is fellow sophomore and double threat Amanda Scarborough, who pitched a complete-game victory against the Longhorns in this year's first meeting between the teams. Scarborough ranks 8th in the conference in ERA as a pitcher, and first in doubles as a hitter.

There's one other thing I wanted to discuss briefly: In my April 18 posting, where I reviewed the scheduling formats of the major conferences, I stated that the two games each Big 12 team plays against every conference opponent are played as a double-header or as single games on consecutive days (and, implicitly, at the same location).

As you might have figured out from the dates of this year's UT-A&M meetings (and which I hadn't noticed until now), there are some exceptions to this format. Not only are the two Aggie-Longhorn match-ups separated by three weeks this season; each school gets to host a game (Baylor also plays "home and home" with UT and A&M).

My guess is that if, say, Texas Tech and Nebraska were thinking of playing home and home, the cost for each team to take a trip to the other venue would be prohibitive (at least within the scope of current softball budgets). Texas (Austin), Texas A&M (College Station), and Baylor (Waco), however, are all within driving distance of each other, as seen in this distance table of Texas cities and this map of the state (College Station is not shown in the map, but is less than 100 miles northwest of Houston).

I had just intended to write a brief entry tonight about the upcoming UCLA-Washington and A&M-UT games, but by now, I've probably written one of my longer postings. That's the joy of blogging!