Sunday, April 29, 2007

In today's decisive game of the three-game Tennessee at LSU series, televised on ESPN2, Vols' pitcher Monica Abbott was just a little too wild and not quite sharp enough to prevent the Tigers from putting up three runs in the second inning, a total that held up for a 3-2 LSU win. Dani Hofer came in to get the final two outs for LSU, earning a save in relief of Emily Turner.

The fateful second inning unfolded as follows (quoting from the above-linked LSU game article):

[Leslie] Klein led off the second with a six pitch walk, coming back from an 0-2 count to draw the free pass. Freshman Rachel Mitchell then earned the second walk of the inning as she also battled back from an 0-2 count to take her base and send Klein to second. Junior Killian Roessner was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.

After junior Erika Sluss came in to pinch run for Roessner at first, junior Tayl'r Hollis came to the plate. With a 3-1 count, Hollis was awarded a ball by home plate umpire Rodney Roth after Abbott continued to take too much time in the circle. The result was a bases loaded walk by Hollis for the first run of the game.

[Kristen] Hobbs then came through with a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Mitchell from third and sent Hollis and Sluss to second and third. With two outs, freshman Jazz Jackson earned her second RBI of the weekend on a single down the left field line just over the head of the Tennessee third baseman, giving LSU the 3-0 lead, which would eventually hold up.

Abbott, having struck out 13 LSU batters in her Saturday appearance, needed just six more today to break former Texas pitcher Cat Osterman's NCAA career strikeout record. Abbott got five today to tie the record, but it will take another outing to surpass the mark.

In the Big 12, Baylor bounced back to split its two-game stint with Missouri, once again leaving these two teams tied for first in the conference standings at 12-3.

Had Oklahoma been able to sweep Kansas, the Sooners would have been tied in the loss column with three losses; instead the Sooners only split with the Jayhawks, so OU finishes conference play at 14-4.

Texas Tech, which has struggled mightily in conference play, knocked off Texas A&M by a 6-2 score in College Station, earning the Red Raiders only their second Big 12 victory of the season. The Aggies, now 12-5, suffered major damage to their regular-season conference-title hopes.

Here are the remaining Big 12 conference games (from the official Big 12 softball page), before the conference tourney May 10-12 in OKC. Most (if not all) of the schools are in the Central time zone, so I would guess the following times are Central.

Tue., May 1, Texas A&M at Baylor... Waco, Texas 6:30 p.m.

Thu., May 3, Texas at Baylor... Waco, Texas CSTV 6:30 p.m.
...............Oklahoma State at Oklahoma... Norman, Okla. 7:00 p.m.

Sat., May 5, Kansas at Iowa State... Ames, Iowa 2:00 p.m.
...............Nebraska at Missouri... Columbia, Mo. 2:00 p.m.
...............Texas Tech at Oklahoma State... Stillwater, Okla. 2:00 p.m.

Sun., May 6, Kansas at Iowa State... Ames, Iowa 12:00 p.m.
...............Nebraska at Missouri... Columbia, Mo. 1:00 p.m.
...............Texas Tech at Oklahoma State... Stillwater, Okla. 3:00 p.m.

If you're a fan of high-scoring action (or of any scoring), today's Arizona at Stanford game (televised by CSTV) would not have been to your liking. The game ended as a 0-0 tie after 12 innings; no further play was possible because the Wildcats needed to catch their flight home.

Finally, in Big 10 play, Ohio State (12-2) took two from Indiana, putting the Buckeyes in position to win the regular-season conference title. Penn State visits Columbus next weekend. As noted in this article, Northwestern has completed its league slate at 15-3, so even one Buckeye loss will give the title to the Wildcats. The regular-season conference title carries added importance, as the winner gets to host the conference tournament.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tennessee and LSU have split today's doubleheader, making tomorrow's single game the decider of the three-game series (2:00 Eastern/1:00 Central on ESPN2).

Each team held out its top pitcher from one of today's games, so there was no battle of the aces. Top Vol Monica Abbott pitched in Game 1 against the Tigers' Dani Hofer, a contest won by Tennessee, 2-1. Then, in the nightcap, LSU ace Emily Turner went against the Vols' Megan Rhodes, with the Tigers emerging victorious, 5-1.

I would expect Abbott vs. Turner in Game 3, but we'll have to tune in to see!

In the battle for first place in the Big 12, Missouri has captured the opener of its two-game series at Baylor, 4-3.

Ohio State has swept its Friday-Saturday two-game series against Purdue to remain in first in the Big 10 at 10-2. If they're to win the conference's regular-season title, the Buckeyes can't afford a loss, as Northwestern (13-3) keeps winning, having just swept Iowa. Michigan (9-3) is still in contention, but a split with Minnesota is not what the Wolverines would have wanted. Each Big 10 team gets a new opponent for a Sunday doubleheader (Ohio State hosting Indiana, Northwestern hosting Illinois, and Michigan hosting Wisconsin).

Despite a 3-2 loss to Stanford today, Arizona (11-3) retains a two-game lead over its nearest Pac 10 opponent, ASU (9-5). A Sunday rematch of the Wildcats and Cardinal airs on CSTV at 1:30 Pacific.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A little poetry for this weekend's featured games...

In the Big 12, Baylor and Mizzou,
Are tied atop the standings at 11-and-2,
Saturday and Sunday in Waco they'll meet face-to-face,
To see who will remain in first place,
But only one game behind is OU.


In the SEC, Tennessee leads the East and LSU, the West,
The two teams will play three in Baton Rouge in a major test,
With Abbott and Turner, some great pitching will be on display,
But because of the conference's format of divisional play,
We'll have to wait for the SEC tourney to see who's the best.


Two games of the Tennessee-LSU series will be televised on ESPN2. Also, ESPN.com has a story about two LSU seniors who have overcome serious injuries.

For further details on this weekend's games, please check the various conference and team websites in the links section on the right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The winners of the four games I highlighted in my entry this morning (below) are, respectively, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington.

***

Intrastate rivalries highlight tonight's action.

Texas A&M plays host to the University of Texas at 6:30 Central, a game that will be televised on CSTV. Also in the Big 12, Oklahoma's at Oklahoma State.

In the Pac 10, Oregon State hosts the University of Oregon in a late afternoon showdown. Also today, UCLA visits Washington, in the conference's makeshift "natural" rivalry (because USC and Washington State don't field teams).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

At the risk of stepping onto the turf of the sports uniform blog, I wanted to comment on how a couple of teams' softball helmets are designed to imitate football helmets.

Traditional softball (and baseball) hats put the team abbreviation or logo at the front, above the bill. As shown in the montage below, however, the University of Wisconsin softball helmets adopt the football style of putting the "W" on the side, with a stripe from front to back, over the top.

Meanwhile, Oregon State's softball helmet bears a resemblance to the Michigan football helmet's design, with the winged pattern in front and stripes going toward the back.



I don't really know what to make of this, other than to say that athletic directors and softball coaches and outfitters apparently feel free to experiment a little with their uniforms. Softball is not the only place this happens, however. The Michigan hockey team also borrows from the football helmet design.

Update: I posted a message on the discussion board at Ultimate College Softball, asking if anyone knew of additional teams that had football-like or other unconventional helmet designs. A participant with the moniker "Pudge" listed the following: "Oregon and the two big O's on the side. Florida State with the spears on the side." Indeed, if you go to these teams' official sites (Oregon, in the player montage at the top of the page; Florida State), you can see these examples.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I was watching something on CSTV a few hours ago, and there was a "crawler" or "scroller" moving across the bottom of the screen, reporting scores and other news items in collegiate sports. After the summary of today's softball scores went by, I realized that conveying the results would be quite easy. All I have to say is that all teams in the USA Today/NFCA poll's top 10 won today. Thank you, and good night!

Actually, I do have a little to add.

What today's dominance by the top 10 means in terms of the Big 12 conference is that Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Baylor all won, leaving a tight race at the top of the standings...

Baylor....... 11-2-0 41-11-0
Missouri..... 9-2-0 33-19-0
Oklahoma..... 12-3-0 47-5-0
Texas A&M.... 10-4-0 37-7-0

Earlier today on ESPN2, Arizona State outlasted Oregon State, 8-7 in 11 innings. In the bottom of the 11th, the Sun Devils' Bianca Cruz drove in the winning run with a single, a "Cruz Missile" that appeared to land just in front of the Beaver left-fielder. In driving in that run, Cruz broke the school record for most RBI in a season.

After a somewhat disappointing non-conference part of the season, Oregon State has been doing better than I would have expected in Pac 10 play. Now 6-5 in conference, the Beavers had won the first game of their weekend series with ASU. One factor that appears to be contributing to the Beavers' steady performance in league play is the emergence of pitcher Ta'Tyana McElroy, to complement Brianne McGowan; both are seniors.

At 10-2, Arizona is at least two games ahead of every Pac 10 opponent.

Ohio State split with Iowa today, leaving the Buckeyes tied with Michigan atop the Big 10 at 8-2 (Northwestern is just percentage points behind at 11-3). Ohio State's conference games are all at home the rest of the way.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

As can be seen from my earlier postings this week, I thought Wednesday night's action would probably overshadow this weekend's docket of games. Today's contests have turned out, however, to be quite eventful -- and the weekend isn't over.

For starters, LSU's Emily Turner threw her first career no-hitter, in Game 2 of a doubleheader sweep of Arkansas (the scores were 5-0 and 7-0).

In the Big 12, Missouri -- a team with 17 non-conference losses so far this season -- got another big win in its improbable drive for a regular-season league title, with a 5-0 victory over Texas A&M.

True enough, a good share of Mizzou's non-conference losses have been to A-list teams, such as Arizona, ASU, Northwestern, and LSU. Other losses, though, have been to unranked teams Western Illinois, Memphis, and Pacific.

Oklahoma and Nebraska have one of football's great traditional rivalries. Today, they played an "instant classic" on the softball diamond. The home Sooners entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 9-6, narrowed the score to 9-8 and then, with two outs, got a two-run walk-off homer from Savannah Long to take the game, 10-9.

Over in the Big 10, Ohio State has opened the weekend with two wins at Illinois, leaving the Buckeyes atop the league standings at 7-1.

Penn State, which also entered the weekend with only one conference loss, has been swept two games at Iowa. It thus looks like traditional conference powers Michigan and Northwestern will be the main teams giving chase to Ohio State the rest of the way.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Once again, this weekend, the Big 12 appears to be where the hottest action is. As of this morning, the top teams in the standings are as follows (taken from the official conference softball page).

Missouri..... 8-1-0 32-18-0
Baylor....... 9-2-0 39-11-0
Oklahoma..... 10-3-0 45-5-0
Texas A&M.... 9-3-0 36-6-0
Nebraska..... 7-4-0 34-13-0

The importance of two Saturday/Sunday series -- Texas A&M at Missouri and Nebraska at Oklahoma -- thus becomes evident.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Late Night

Call them the "Broomer Sooners," as Oklahoma has now swept tonight's doubleheader from Baylor.

In the Big 12 standings, we now have Missouri at 8-1, Baylor at 9-2, and Oklahoma at 10-3. To borrow one of Dan Rather's homespun expressions, "This race is hotter than a Rolex in Times Square."

The Pac 10 race has also tightened, with Arizona State beating Arizona, 6-3. The Sun Devil offense pounded out 12 hits, which is unusually high for such elite competition. However, the Wildcats did not use their ace pitcher, Taryne Mowatt, who had baffled ASU in the teams' prior meetings this season.

Evening

Oklahoma has taken the first game of its doubleheader with Baylor, 3-2 in eight innings. It is the Bears' first Big 12 loss of the season.

Afternoon

I'm calling today Wedge Wednesday. Three games tonight (a single game and a doubleheader) are not only more important than typical midweek fare; tonight's games may be among the most important of the entire season for determining conference regular-season titles.

The reason I have coined the term "Wedge Wednesday" (after combing through the W section of the dictionary for alliteration possibilities) is that certain teams are in a position to drive a "wedge" between themselves and other leading contenders in their leagues.

Take the Arizona at ASU (single) game, which is close to a sell-out. According to the official Pac 10 softball page (see links section on the right), the top of the standings are as follows:

Arizona...........7-1 31-8
Arizona State.....5-3 39-10
Oregon State......5-3 33-13

A win by the Wildcats would thus drive the aforementioned "wedge" between themselves and the Sun Devils in the standings, whereas an ASU win would make it a new race.

Also, in the Big 12 (see standings in last Sunday's entry below), Baylor could virtually end Oklahoma's chances with a sweep of tonight's doubleheader in Norman.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I'm sure I speak for the entire collegiate sports community in extending our thoughts and condolences to everyone at Virginia Tech and their families. The school has created a special website for information related to the tragedy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Your weekend wrap-up...

Big 10

Make it four teams (at least) in the race for the Big 10 title, as Penn State went to Northwestern today and split a doubleheader. Ohio State had also split with Northwestern earlier in the weekend.

Michigan, on the verge of a doubleheader sweep at Illinois with a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 2 after winning Game 1, saw the Illini tie the game in the seventh inning of Game 2, then win it in the eighth.

The top teams in the Big 10 standings (from the conference website) are as follows...

Ohio State... 5 1 0 .833 22 14 0 .611
Penn State... 3 1 0 .750 19 13 0 .594
Northwestern. 8 3 0 .727 33 9 0 .786
Michigan..... 4 2 0 .667 32 7 0 .821
Illinois..... 5 3 0 .625 26 15 0 .634

Illinois still has games left with Ohio State, Penn State, and Northwestern, so the Illini will have its work cut out for it to stay in the upper half of the standings.

Big 12

Here, too, another team joined the ranks of the contenders, as Missouri split today's doubleheader with Oklahoma. Nebraska's also lurking on the outskirts of contention, thanks its sweep of fading Texas in a two-game series.

The leading teams in the standings are as follows...

Baylor....... 9-0-0 39-9-0
Missouri..... 6-1-0 30-18-0
Oklahoma..... 8-3-0 43-5-0
Texas A&M.... 7-3-0 34-6-0
Nebraska..... 5-4-0 32-13-0

Elsewhere

Arizona stayed in command of the Pac 10 race, sweeping the northern California schools this weekend and upping its conference record to 7-1; all the other teams have three or more conference losses.

Nothing really jumps out at me in tonight's SEC summary.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Just some quick Saturday news and notes...

Northwestern earned a split of its two-game series with Ohio State, behind two homers from Garland Cooper. The games were mirror images of each other, with each team winning one of the games by a 5-3 score.

Today's scheduled opener of the Oklahoma at Missouri series was just the latest weather-related casualty of the season; the teams will try to play a doubleheader on Sunday.

Baylor needed a major rally in the bottom of the seventh to beat Oklahoma State and remain undefeated in the Big 12.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Evening

Softball observers who've considered the Big 10 to instead be the "Big 2" of Northwestern and Michigan (and I count myself among them), may now have to make room for another team, Ohio State. The Buckeyes stunned Northwestern, 5-3 in extra innings, in the opener of the teams' series today.

In fact, Ohio State nearly had the game in hand earlier, yet remained unfazed by a Northwestern comeback. Quoting from a game article, "Northwestern's Erin Dyer hit a two out, three run home run in the sixth inning to tie the game at 3-3 and force extra-innings..." After a clutch home run in last year's World Series (against Alabama) by the same player, I coined the term that Northwestern had been rescued from "Dyer straits," and it happened again today.

This time, however, Ohio State had its own hero as, again quoting from the article, "Sophomore Courtney Pruner homered twice, including a two run shot in the top of the ninth inning..."

The two teams go at it again tomorrow.

Talking about clutch homers, Michigan got one from -- who else -- Samantha Findlay, en route to an extra-inning win over Iowa.

One other team that might be poised to join the elite of the Big 10 is Penn State. Due to the ubiquitous weather problems around the nation, Penn State has played only two conference games thus far, sweeping Wisconsin, but the Nittany Lions come in to play Northwestern in a Sunday doubleheader and thus have a chance to enhance their resume (Penn State also owns a win over Michigan in the Fullerton tournament).

Morning

The biggest theme I could glean from this weekend's softball schedule is that, in two major conferences, an upstart, undefeated team (in league play) will have a chance to show whether it's a legitimate contender for the conference title.

In the Big 10, Ohio State (21-13, 4-0) heads to Evanston to take on last year's national runner-up, Northwestern (31-7, 6-1). The Buckeyes have swept two games each from Minnesota and Wisconsin, but have had inclement weather put the kaibosh on their last eight games, including a pair with another Big 10 power, Michigan.

Meanwhile, in the Big 12, Missouri (5-0, 29-17) hosts Oklahoma (7-2, 42-4, ranked No. 2 and 3 in the two national polls). Mizzou's conference wins have come over Texas (twice), Oklahoma State (twice), and Texas Tech (once, with the other game of the series cancelled due to weather). In addition to Oklahoma, the Tigers still have to face conference powers Baylor (7-0 in league) and Texas A&M, so whether they can maintain a gaudy Big 12 record for long remains in question.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Baylor continues to roll along, with pitcher Lisa Ferguson blanking the Texas Longhorns, 6-0, in a game nationally televised from Austin by CSTV.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The CSTV (College Sports Television) cable network gives us two midweek games this week (schedule). Tonight, Utah travels to UNLV in Mountain West Conference action. Then, Wednesday night, we get to see Baylor play at Texas. Baylor certainly is one of the surprise teams -- if not the surprise team -- of the season, sitting atop the Big 12 standings with a perfect 6-0 conference record (Missouri is also undefeated in conference). The Longhorns, in their first post-Cat Osterman season, are in the middle of the pack within the Big 12. See the official Big 12 softball page in the links section on the right.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Tennessee, the nation's No. 1-ranked team, completed a three-game sweep against Georgia in Athens today, in a game televised nationally across various Fox Sports Net cable channels. As noted in this article from the Tennessee athletics website, this was the first time UGA had been swept in a three-game SEC series at home since 2001. The first two Lady Vol wins came in a Saturday doubleheader, which included a perfect game in the opener by Tennessee's Monica Abbott, albeit in a five-inning run-rule situation, as the Vols prevailed 10-0.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Late Night

Arizona has just beaten Arizona State for the second straight night, with a 1-0 score each time. Unlike last night, however, the Wildcats' run came early (in the second inning, if I recall correctly). U of A's Taryne Mowatt followed up her no-hitter last night with a two-hitter tonight (both by ASU's Kaitlin Cochran). A fact I learned from ESPN 2's telecast tonight is that ASU has never beaten U of A at the Wildcats' home facility, Hillenbrand Stadium, which opened in 1993; the Sun Devils are now 0-26 there. For game articles and box scores, you can check the two schools' team pages in the links section on the right; either later tonight or by tomorrow, stuff on tonight's game should be up.

Afternoon

The cold blast giving us "Winter in April" throughout much of the country has forced the postponement or cancellation of numerous softball games. Below the weather-map screenshot from a U.S. government page, is a sampling of headlines from university athletics websites, from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Lubbock, Texas:


Cold Wipes Out PSU Series; Sunday DH [with Ohio State] Pushed Back (Michigan)

Wildcats and Boilermakers Saturday Game Canceled (Northwestern)

Gopher Softball Games Against Iowa Cancelled (Minnesota)

Snow Forces Cancellation of Baylor-[Texas]Tech Softball Game

[Friday night, in freezing temperatures, the Bears overcame an early 7-1 deficit to beat the Red Raiders, 14-9.]

***

Arizona and Arizona State began their two-game series last night (see previous entry) and, as can be seen from the weather map above, seem all set to go forward with their nationally televised game on ESPN 2 tonight.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tonight's game against archrival Arizona State had to be doubly gratifying for University of Arizona fans. Not only did the Wildcats defeat the Sun Devils on a single in the bottom of the seventh that produced the game's only run. Also, U of A pitcher Taryne Mowatt tossed a no-hitter in the process!

As I noted in my entry immediately below, Saturday night's game between the same teams will be televised on ESPN 2.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The feature series of the weekend would appear to be Arizona State's visit to Arizona for a pair of games, one each on Friday and Saturday night.

Depending on which national poll you look at, Arizona and ASU are either the No. 5 and 7 teams, respectively, or No. 6 and 9. More important, I would argue, is that the Wildcats and Sun Devils are the top two teams (at the moment) in the powerful Pac 10 conference and this weekend's series could give either team some momentum toward winning the conference title (less so, of course, if there's a split). The Pac 10 does not have a conference tournament. A robust discussion of the upcoming ASU-U of A series is taking place on the Ultimate College Softball boards.

The Saturday game will be televised on ESPN 2, with former Texas pitcher Cat Osterman serving as color commentator. Each game starts at 7:00 pm local Arizona time. A perennial source of confusion is that Arizona spends part of the year in Pacific Time and part in Mountain Time (click for further detail). I'm on Central Time myself, here in Texas, and my TV listing puts the game at 9:00 pm, so Arizona evidently is on Pacific Time at the moment (in other words, the game should be on at 7:00 pm on the West Coast and 10:00 pm in the East).

***

ASU-Arizona is not the only game on national TV this weekend, as long as you have a pretty extensive package of cable sports channels. CSTV will televise Saturday afternoon's North Carolina at Maryland action (only the first game of their doubleheader). Also, Fox Sports Net will carry Sunday's game with No. 1 Tennessee visiting Georgia (Saturday's doubleheader between the Vols and Bulldogs will be shown regionally, on Comcast Sports Southeast).

***

In the Big 12, Baylor is atop the league standings with a 5-0 conference record (dare we call them the "Good News Bears"?). Four of the wins have come over Nebraska and Kansas (two each). However, just this past Wednesday in a game that eluded my attention, Baylor beat highly ranked Texas A&M. Baylor comes into my backyard (figuratively) to play Texas Tech (winless in conference) this weekend in Lubbock. Cold weather is expected for the weekend (including a predicted high of 35 degrees on Saturday, with possible snow showers), so the Texas Tech team page in the right-hand column should be consulted for possible scheduling changes (the Texas Tech baseball team, also at home this weekend, has announced changes for its games).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

If you had to describe this weekend's featured two-game sets in a single word, that word would be splitsville.

Texas A&M took a 9-4 victory over Oklahoma today, gaining a split of the two-game series between the Big 12 and national powers.

Over on the left coast, the University of Arizona and UCLA likewise took a game each in their two-game series, the U of A winning today, 11-2. ASU and Washington divided up wins, as well, with U-Dub prevailing 1-0 today to gain the split.

In Big 10 play, Northwestern earned a split of its two-game series with Michigan, edging the Wolverines 4-3 on Saturday. The Wildcats opted to start Lauren Delaney, but after UM got back-to-back homers from the Findlay sisters, Samantha and Angela, in the first inning, NU put in its leading hurler, Eileen Canney, and order was restored.

Finally, here's today's SEC round-up. The format in the SEC is for teams to play three-game series during a typical weekend of conference play, so splits are not possible.