Saturday, March 31, 2007

Michigan bounced back from its loss to Northwestern in last week's Louisville tournament (which would be considered a non-conference game), by routing the Wildcats 11-4 in the teams' Big 10 opener in Evanston. The Wolverines showcased their youthful talent, with contributions from three freshmen, hitters Roya St. Clair and Angela Findlay (the sister of slugger Samantha Findlay) and pitcher Nikki Nemitz. For this year's Michigan softballers, their slogan may have to be modified from "Go Blue" to "Baby Blue!"

In Pac 10 opening action, Arizona State bedeviled UCLA, 6-0, and the University of Arizona blanked Washington by the same score.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

This upcoming weekend of college softball will arguably be one of the best of the entire regular season. This assertion rests on three points:

1. League play begins in the Big 10 and Pac 10, meaning that all four "power conferences" (the Big 12 and SEC being the others) have now entered this stage.

2. As elaborated below, the Big 10 and Pac 10 each have some excellent match-ups for their opening weekends of conference action.

3. The Big 12, which opened conference play last week, will feature a "Clash of the Titans," with Texas A&M playing at Oklahoma in single games Saturday and Sunday. Saturday afternoon's contest will be televised on ESPN2.

Let's go back to the opening of conference play in the two remaining conferences. In the Big 10, Northwestern hosts Michigan for games on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Just a few days ago, the Wildcats defeated the Wolverines in extra innings at the Louisville tournament. UM and NU have each played in the championship round of the NCAA Women's College World Series in recent years, the Wolverines edging UCLA for the 2005 national championship, and Northwestern falling to its namesake Wildcats of Arizona for the 2006 title.

The Pac 10's docket for this weekend, from the composite schedule on the conference's softball page (see links section on the right), is shown below. It's easiest to think of Pac 10 scheduling in terms of geographic "traveling pairs," such as the Arizona schools (U of A and ASU), the Oregon schools (UO and OSU), and the northern California schools (Stanford and Cal-Berkeley). For example, unless they're playing each other, Arizona and Arizona State will either both be at home or both on the road in the same general location. If the Arizona schools were each playing one of the Oregon schools to start off a weekend, they would then switch opponents to close it out. The one little quirk to the system is that USC and Washington State don't field softball teams, so UCLA and Washington serve as partners to each other. With that in mind, the following schedule should make perfect sense!

Fri., Mar. 30
ARIZONA at WASHINGTON, 1 p.m.
ARIZONA STATE at UCLA, 1 p.m.
CALIFORNIA at OREGON, 3 p.m.
STANFORD at OREGON STATE, 3 p.m.

Sat., Mar. 31
ARIZONA at UCLA, 2 p.m.
ARIZONA STATE at WASHINGTON, 1 p.m.
CALIFORNIA at OREGON STATE, 1 p.m.
STANFORD at OREGON, 1 p.m.

Sun., Apr. 1
ARIZONA at UCLA, 1 p.m.
ARIZONA STATE at WASHINGTON, 1 p.m.
CALIFORNIA at OREGON STATE, 1 p.m.
STANFORD at OREGON, 1 p.m.

As can be seen, Arizona and ASU, the two highest-ranked Pac 10 teams nationally, travel to the UCLA/Washington duo, and the "NorCal" schools travel to the Oregon schools. Another complexity is that each team plays three games on its trip, two against one opponent and one against the other; for example, Arizona plays two games at UCLA and one at Washington. However, UCLA and U-Dub will later travel to the Arizona schools, with UCLA playing once at U of A and Washington playing twice there. In the end, Arizona ends up with three games each against UCLA and Washington. In order to work as a scheduler for the Pac 10, you have to pass a test of differential and integral calculus (just kidding).

Below Arizona and ASU, four teams -- UCLA, Washington, Oregon, and Stanford -- are ranked in comparable positions nationally, in the vicinity of 10-15, with the specifics varying by which poll one looks at. The remaining two teams, Oregon State and Cal, have been somewhat disappointing thus far, but with the opening of conference play, hope springs eternal.

Perhaps playing at home will allow UCLA and Washington to do some damage against Arizona and ASU. We shall see!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

During a break in one of the March Madness NCAA basketball games this afternoon, I was doing some channel surfing and came upon a Fox Sports cable telecast of the finale of this weekend's Alabama-LSU softball series. The Tigers won today's game 3-0, although things were a little more precarious for LSU than the score suggests, as Alabama got multiple runners on base in the top halves of the sixth and seventh innings. In fact, the Crimson Tide's offensive totals in the box score reflected the unusual situation of a team getting 10 hits, but no runs. Alabama hurler Chrissy Owens (16-1) absorbed her first loss of the season. With the win, LSU took the three-game series, 2-1.

Elsewhere in the SEC, Florida swept its series with Georgia in a battle of nationally ranked squads, No. 1 Tennessee continues to roll (sweeping Arkansas this weekend), and Kentucky's Brooke Marnitz (facing Mississippi this weekend) continues her hot hitting. In statistics as of Saturday that I found on the UK athletics website Sunday night, Marnitz has a batting average of .432, an on-base average of .484, and a slugging percentage of .963.

It's still a while away, in late April, but two LSU-Tennessee games will be televised on ESPN2.

***

Around the nation, in the Louisville tournament, Michigan rebounded from its tough Saturday to beat the host Cardinals, leaving U of L at 3-1 for the tourney. Northwestern also finished at 3-1 in the event. In theory, one could award the tournament title to the Cards, as they beat the Wildcats head-to-head, but the Louisville softball page made no mention of the final standings, as best I could tell.

In the Big 12, Texas slowed down Oklahoma's momentum a bit, defeating the Sooners in 10 innings.

Next weekend, the Big 10 and Pac 10 start their conference seasons!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A few results for the day...

Michigan's offense took off on spring break, as the Wolverines went 15 consecutive innings, combined over two games, without scoring a run. As a result, UM dropped decisions to Northwestern, 2-1 (9 inn.), and to Liberty, 2-0, in the Louisville tournament.

The host Cardinals (3-0) appear well positioned to win the tournament, with only a Sunday game left against Michigan to conclude the event. Northwestern is 1-1, with games left tomorrow against Cal and Liberty. However, even if Louisville lost and Northwestern swept its two games, the teams would end up tied at 3-1, and Louisville defeated Northwestern head-to-head on opening day. Michigan is 1-2, as are Liberty and Cal.

***

Oklahoma (No. 3 and 4 in the two national polls) continued its roll, blanking Texas 7-0 in Austin.

LSU split a doubleheader with No. 2 nationally ranked Alabama. Here's a summary of the rest of SEC action (nothing much out of the ordinary).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Yesterday, Oklahoma's surging Sooners came into Lubbock and swept a rain-delayed doubleheader from Texas Tech, 7-0 and 7-3.

According to the OU webpage's summary of Game 1, Sooner pitching ace Lauren Eckermann "recorded her 20th win of the season. The junior added to her perfect record with a season-high 12 strikeouts and only gave up five hits while recording her seventh shut out of the season."

Oklahoma next faces Texas in Austin in Saturday and Sunday contests.

A little further down the road, the nation will get to see a match-up of the top two teams in the Big 12, as ESPN2 will televise the visit of Texas A&M to Oklahoma on Saturday, March 31 at 2 p.m. Central.

***

Today in Louisville, Kentucky, the Women 4 Women tournament got underway. Michigan and Northwestern are both in this tournament, and it seems a bit odd to have two teams from the same conference in such a small (five-team) event. The Wolverines and Wildcats will face each other Saturday morning in Louisville, then just six days later, they start a two-game series to open Big 10 play, with UM travelling to Evanston for games on Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31.

In today's opening action in Louisville, Michigan beat Cal, but Northwestern fell to the host Cardinals.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Oklahoma won the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, California, shutting out Arizona 11-0 in a five-inning, run-rule game. According to this article from the OU athletics site:

It was the first time the Wildcats had been run ruled in 12 seasons when they lost to UCLA on April 16, 1995 (6-1 in six innings).

The Sooners really had to eke one out in eight innings in their semifinal game against DePaul.

Oklahoma will be here in Lubbock this Thursday, March 22 to open Big 12 conference play with a double-header against Texas Tech.

DePaul, a participant in the 2005 NCAA Women's College World Series, had five losses in the early weeks of the present season, but went on a 10-game winning streak before losing to Oklahoma. I have added a link to the Blue Demons' team page in the right-hand column.

***

Here's your Sunday SEC round-up. There did not appear to be any upsets in confernce play today.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Evening

Here's how things stand regarding the quest for the championship of the Judi Garman Classic (copied and pasted from tournament website).

CHAMPIONSHIP BRACKET (Field 1)
GAME 1: Michigan 1, Arizona 2
GAME 2: Louisiana-Lafayette 6, Penn State 5
GAME 3: Oklahoma 8, Cal State Northridge 0 (5 inn.)
GAME 4: DePaul 4, Fresno State 1

Arizona (V) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (H), Sunday 8:30 a.m.
Oklahoma (H) vs. DePaul (V), Sunday 10:30 a.m.

Championship Game, Sunday 1 p.m.


As a University of Michigan graduate (Ph.D., 1989), I have to say that the loss to Arizona would seem to be a major missed opportunity for the Wolverines to strengthen their seeding potential for the NCAA tournament later this spring. The UM did not play a non-conference schedule that would get it too many games with top Pac-10 teams, so this could have been a big win. The Wolverines then dropped a 5-2 contest to fellow Big 10 team, Penn State, in an extra round presumably designed to let teams that lost their openers on Saturday get an extra game.

***

Here's tonight's SEC round-up. The conference's highly ranked teams held to form against their less-heralded opponents. One noteworthy development is LSU's doubleheader sweep over Florida; the Gators have been a bit of a roadblock to the conference's best teams thus far, taking a game each from Tennessee and Alabama earlier on.

Early morning

Louisiana Lafayette defeated Notre Dame in the late game last night, so today's match-ups in the championship brackets of Fullerton's Judi Garman Classic are set (copied and pasted from tournament website):

CHAMPIONSHIP BRACKET (Field 1)
GAME 1: Michigan (A1) vs. Arizona (D2), Saturday 9 a.m.
GAME 2: Louisiana-Lafayette (B1) vs. Penn State (C2), Saturday 11:15 a.m.
GAME 3: Oklahoma (D1) vs. Cal State Northridge (A2), Saturday 1:30 p.m.
GAME 4: DePaul (C1) vs. Fresno State (B2), Saturday 4 p.m.

CONSOLATION CHAMPIONSHIP BRACKET (Field 2)
GAME 5: Florida State (A3) vs. NC State (D4), Saturday 9 a.m.
GAME 6: Arizona State (B3) vs. Cal State Fullerton (C4), Saturday 11:15 a.m.
GAME 7: Pacific (D3) vs. Washington (A4), Saturday 1:30 p.m.
GAME 8: Texas (C3) vs. Notre Dame (B4), Saturday 4 p.m.


Such is the depth of college softball that some quite good teams are in the consolation bracket. In fact, if you didn't see the labels "championship" and "consolation," it might be difficult for someone taking the equivalent of a "blind taste test" to say which bracket is which, just from the listings of teams.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Late night

The big story from the Judi Garman Classic at Cal State Fullerton is that highly ranked Arizona State (No. 2 and 4 in the national polls) dropped two games. The Sun Devils lost first to Fresno State by a 6-1 score, and then to Louisiana-Lafayette, 2-0 in eight innings.

There's one more game still going on tonight, between Notre Dame and Louisiana-Lafayette. This game evidently has implications for the standings of Pool B, which are needed to complete tomorrow's schedule. This can be seen in the schedule below, which I've copied and pasted from the tournament website.

CHAMPIONSHIP BRACKET (Field 1)
GAME 1: Michigan (A1) vs. Arizona (D2), Saturday 9 a.m.
GAME 2: Pool B First Place vs. Penn State (C2), Saturday 11:15 a.m.
GAME 3: Oklahoma (D1) vs. Cal State Northridge (A2), Saturday 1:30 p.m.
GAME 4: DePaul (C1) vs. Second Place Pool B, Saturday 4 p.m.

CONSOLATION CHAMPIONSHIP BRACKET (Field 2)
GAME 5: Florida State (A3) vs. NC State (D4), Saturday 9 a.m.
GAME 6: Third Place Pool B vs. Cal State Fullerton (C4), Saturday 11:15 a.m.
GAME 7: Pacific (D3) vs. Washington (A4), Saturday 1:30 p.m.
GAME 8: Texas (C3) vs. Fourth Place Pool B, Saturday 4 p.m.


***

An item I just discovered tonight, but should have noticed earlier, is that No. 1 Tennessee suffered its second loss of the season on Wednesday, a 5-4 setback to the University of Mississippi. I'd like to say you can chalk this omission up to a serious case of March Madness. In reality, though, I tend to approach upcoming games by scanning schedules and trying to pick out games that match two big-name teams with each other. That's probably why I missed this Tennessee game; even with the win, Ole Miss is just 10-16.

Morning

In late action Thursday night in the Judi Garman Classic at Cal State Fullerton, Oklahoma took a big step toward inclusion among the nation's elite teams, knocking off Arizona, 6-2. The Sooners are now 30-1.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Several games have been completed today in the Judi Garman Classic at Cal State Fullerton.

The headline story is Arizona State's Katie Burkhart pitching a perfect game in the Sun Devils' 3-0 victory over Notre Dame.

In other action, Michigan upped its record to 21-1 with a 6-3 win over Washington. The widely anticipated game between Arizona and Oklahoma is scheduled to start at 8:30 Pacific, but tournaments often run behind. Given that I'm in the Central timezone, I probably won't have a score tonight, but you can check the tournament website (linked above) or either of the teams' sites (in the links section on the right).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Evening

I just finished listening to the conclusion of Game 2 of the Alabama at Florida doubleheader via the Crimson Tide's internet radio service.

Bama won the first game 6-2, but Florida rebounded to hand the Tide its first loss of the season in the nightcap. An eight-run Gator inning somewhere in the middle of the game was more than enough to "swamp" Alabama, 8-4. The Tide had the tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh with two out, but a grounder to the pitcher ended matters.

Alabama's top pitcher, Chrissy Owens, apparently was not the starter in Game 2, as the radio announcer alluded to Owens' coming in to relieve another pitcher.

The Alabama and Florida team pages (see links section on the right) should have summaries of tonight's action posted at some point later in the evening. These would probably be the best places to seek more details.

Morning

It's an unusually busy Wednesday this week, with a major tournament starting tonight and a potentially big series taking place in the SEC.

The tournament is the Judi Garman Classic, a 16-team competition hosted by Cal State Fullerton. Unlike some of the other "tournaments" this season, the Garman Classic will actually have championship brackets after pool play, instead of only prescheduled match-ups.

The host Titans take on Texas tonight (not a bad alliteration, if I do say so myself) in the opening game of the tourney (and in fact, the only game of opening day). The heavy volume of pool play occurs all day Thursday and Friday, with bracket play to follow (check the tournament webpage, linked above, for details).

No. 6 Oklahoma (in a pool with No. 5 Arizona) and No. 7 Michigan (in a pool with No. 13 Washington) will face some of their toughest competition thus far this season, in the Garman event. No. 16 University of Louisiana-Lafayette, whom some people refer to as "Oo La La," has already faced the likes of Alabama, Baylor, and Georgia, and will get an added challenge from being in a pool with No. 4 Arizona State (the aforementioned rankings are from the ESPN/USA Softball poll, which is the more up-to-date of the national polls at the moment). There should also be some excellent battles beyond pool play when the championship rounds begin.

In the SEC series I alluded to, Alabama, 24-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally in the ESPN/USA Softball poll, travels to Gainesville for an evening doubleheader against Florida. The Gators, of course, handed Tennessee its first loss of the season, this past weekend. Tide pitcher Chrissy Owens has a microscopic 0.42 ERA. The radio broadcast of these games will be available over the Internet, as described at the bottom of the linked article.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Late night

I had been checking the Arizona State and Texas Tech team pages tonight to find out the score of their game this afternoon, but neither site had any results. Fortunately, the user-updated "Scoreboard" thread on Ultimate College Softball had frequent updates, and I got the score I was looking for: ASU 12, Texas Tech 3 in 5 innings (presumably shortened due to the run/mercy rule).

The UCS page also brought to my attention Arizona's visit to Baylor for a tournament, which yielded three games between the Wildcats and Bears. I hadn't been paying attention to either team this weekend. As I learned, Baylor more than held its own against Arizona, which sent Baylor's coach "over the moon." From the Baylor article:

"We took our program to a new level today," [said] head coach Glenn Moore. "To win two-of-three over a softball program like Arizona is huge. It was probably the best weekend in Getterman Stadium history."

Finally, here's your official SEC round-up of today's action. Highlights included Tennessee taking its series against Florida, and Alabama remaining undefeated.

Early afternoon

In a late result from last night's Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge, upstart Texas Tech took a 6-2 lead after 3 1/2 innings against highly ranked Arizona State (No. 3 and 6 in the two national polls), only to have the home Sun Devils score 2 in the fourth and 3 in the fifth to prevail 7-6.

Earlier in the day, Tech defeated the University of Washington, 3-2. The Red Raiders had lost to both ASU and U-Dub on the first day of competition.

Missouri, the other Big 12 participant, had an identical portfolio to Texas Tech's --a 1-3 record, with the win coming against Washington -- but via the tie-breaker system, it will be the Red Raiders getting a rematch with ASU in today's "marquee" match-up.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

No. 1 Tennessee suffered its first loss of the season, splitting today's doubleheader with Florida as league play opened up in the Southeastern Conference. The official SEC softball page summarizes all of today's action in the league, so with no further ado, check it out.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The major story in college softball this weekend, in my view, is the opening of conference play in the SEC, a good 2-3 weeks before the other major conferences start their league play. As gleaned from the composite schedule on the SEC softball page, this weekend's match-ups are as follows:

March 10
Mississippi State at Alabama* (2) 1/3 pm
South Carolina at Arkansas* (2) 1/3 pm
Auburn at Kentucky* (2) 12/2 pm
Tennessee at Florida* (2) 12/2 pm
[Georgia at Florida State Tournament TBA]
LSU at Ole Miss* (2) 1/3 pm

March 11
Mississippi State at Alabama* 1:30 pm
South Carolina at Arkansas* 1 pm
Auburn at Kentucky* 12 pm
Tennessee at Florida* 12 pm
[Georgia at Florida State Tournament TBA]
LSU at Ole Miss* 1 pm


Vanderbilt does not field a softball team, leaving one SEC school without a conference opponent at any given time. As I've bracketed above, Georgia will not be involved in conference play this weekend, instead participating in the Florida State tournament.

Tennessee (a consensus No. 1 in both national polls) and Alabama (No. 3 and 4) are both undefeated. LSU is also in the top 10 (No. 9 and 10). Florida, Tennessee's opponent this weekend, is ranked 19th and 24th.

***

Further west, Arizona State will host the four-team Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge. ASU and Washington, representing the Pac-10, will play a bunch of games against Texas Tech and Missouri, representing the Big 12.

The games between Texas Tech and the University of Washington, in particular, will be interesting, as former Husky coach Teresa Wilson is now in her third season at the helm of the Red Raiders (AP article from a few years ago on Wilson's hiring at Tech). This article from the Texas Tech athletics site explores the impact of Wilson's role at both schools. Among the ripple effects of Wilson's move was the transfer of catcher/infielder Robyn Wike from U-Dub to Tech (note the article's interesting spelling of the word "enticing").

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In what looked to be one of the better midweek match-ups thus far in the season, UCLA headed down to Cal State Fullerton tonight to take on the Titans. Fullerton senior pitcher Candice Baker had just received national player of the week honors from two separate organizations for her superb outings in wins over Stanford and Oregon State.

A trifecta against Pac-10 opponents was not to be for Baker, however, as the Bruins lit her (and the scoreboard) up. UCLA scored seven runs in the 3 2/3 innings Baker pitched, en route to an 8-1 victory. In all, the Bruins belted five homers.

According to the linked article in the previous paragraph, the game drew over 1,000 fans, a nice development for the sport.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Illinois State, which has been right on the border of the national top 25, with a No. 25 ranking in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll and a position just outside the top 25 in the USA Today/NFCA poll, should be moving on up after this weekend's games. The Redbirds played in the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament at UCLA and went 4-1, including a win over the host Bruins and two over nationally ranked Florida; the one ISU loss was to Cal State Long Beach, which the Redbirds avenged later in the tournament.

UCLA went 3-1 in the same tournament, with two wins over Loyola University Chicago and one over Florida. The Bruins gave up only five runs in the four games. However, reflecting some difficulties experienced in previous weeks by Anjelica Selden, now in her third year as the Bruins' No. 1 pitcher, there's a thread on the UCLA sports discussion board asking the question, "What's wrong with Jelly?" The initial commentary presents a number of statistics about Selden's performance over the years, followed by several replies.

Cal State Fullerton pitcher Candice Baker turned in another strong performance against a Pac-10 opponent, tossing a two-hit shutout against Oregon State (No. 11 and 13 in the national polls), with the Titans winning 1-0. Expectations for Oregon State were high going into this season, coming off the momentum from last year's Women's College World Series appearance, with the Beavers being ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation early in the season. The Beavers' record of 11-7 at this time may strike some as disappointing, but a lot of softball remains.

LSU lost another game to Washington in the Husky Classic, 6-3. I believe the original schedule said LSU and U-Dub would play two on Sunday, but they only played once today.

The 2005 NCAA champion, Michigan, has been out of the limelight of late, probably a combination of star pitcher Jennie Ritter (and a few other seniors) completing their eligibility last season and the Wolverines' absence from the top tournaments of the current season. For what it's worth, Michigan has now won 16 straight games and is 20-1 overall, having just finished play in the Jacksonville, Florida tournament. Frosh pitcher Nikki Nemitz is providing added depth in the circle, along with Stacy Delaney and Lorilyn Wilson.

Before arriving in Jacksonville, the Wolverines, ranked No. 9 and 13 in the two national polls, swept a doubleheader from Florida State in Tallahasse, giving their coach, Carol "Hutch" Hutchins, her 1,000th win.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Some highlights from this weekend's play thus far, starting with heroics in the pitching circle...

Cal State Fullerton's Candice Baker threw a no-hitter against nationally ranked Stanford (No. 8 and 9 in the two polls) on Friday, with the Titans winning 1-0.

Also, Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott shut out Tennessee Tech 4-0 on Saturday, to break the NCAA Division I career wins record with her 152nd victory.

And a quick check-up on some of the nation's other highly ranked teams...

LSU lost to Washington, 3-1 in nine innings, in the teams' first meeting of the Husky Classic.

Arizona St. lost for only the second time this season, falling 8-7 to UC Santa Barbara on Friday.

Texas A&M is undefeated so far in the tournament it is hosting, but needed a walk-off grand-slam from Amanda Scarborough to beat Illinois 7-5 on Saturday. Scarborough, who played first base in this game, is also a pitcher.

Friday, March 02, 2007

After three straight weekends of large tournaments, each featuring several of the nation's elite teams, the intensity seems to be lower this weekend, with a bunch of smaller tournaments and head-to-head series.

Perhaps the best match-up of the weekend will occur as part of the Husky Classic in Seattle, as LSU, No. 6 and 7 in the two national polls, will take on its first ranked opponent in the University of Washington (No. 14 and 15). After LSU plays a pair vs. Portland State, the Tigers and Huskies will play three times (LSU schedule).

No. 1 Tennessee travels from Knoxville to Chattanooga for the Frost Classic, against what appear to be heavily overmatched opponents. As noted in the linked document, an individual milestone may occur during the event:

History could also be made in Chattanooga as Lady Vol senior pitcher Monica Abbott stands just two wins from breaking the NCAA Division I career victory mark of 151 held by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades. The 6-3 lefthander enters the weekend with 150 triumphs in her three-plus years wearing the Orange & White after opening the 2007 season at a perfect 11-0.

To see what other leading squads are up to, take a look at the team-specific webpages in the right-hand column.