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.