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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.