It was an opening weekend of exciting softball and unexpected results. This weekend has a few games that should be no less action packed and unpredictable. As teams see how the new pieces fit and unknown talent emerges, fast-pitch fans should continue to be entertained by teams that surprise, unforeseen stars and the usual cast of dominant characters.
SEC/Big 12/ACC Challenge (2/17 – 2/19, Auburn, Alabama)
These types of events are a softball fans dream. Quality teams everywhere and great competition early and often.
#5 Alabama v. #14 Georgia Tech Friday, (2/17 5:30pm Central)
After going 4-0 in last weekend, the Tide will step up in weight class this weekend. Sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina and current SEC Player of the Week Amanda Locke are off to a good start. The Bama offense is scary. It should be a little tougher this week. Georgia Tech swam in the deep water last weekend and did better than tread water, finishing 4-1 with wins over Arizona and Nebraska. Junior pitcher Hope Rush appears to have returned to her freshman form.
#7 Oklahoma v. #14 Georgia Tech Friday, (2/17 8pm Central)
The Sooners had a perfect opening weekend in Las Vegas, though they were not really tested. Left handed pitcher Kelani Ricketts continues to dominate. Jessica Schultz has not missed a beat at the plate, pacing the explosive OU offensive attack. Georgia Tech will have a tough time winning one of these Friday night games, much less both. Expect the Yellow Jackets to build some character in the first day of the challenge.
#5 Alabama v. #7 Oklahoma Saturday, 2/18 (12:30pm Central)
The marquee game of the weekend. It might be more fitting for it to start at high noon. Fans hope for Traina against Ricketts, but history says that is unlikely. In 2009 when Washington visited Tuscaloosa along with Georgia and Baylor for a similar event, the Danielle Lawrie and Kesli Dunne faceoff never materialized. No matter who goes to the circle the game is sure to have its share of fireworks and be quite entertaining.
#7 Oklahoma v. Auburn Saturday, (2/18 3pm Central)
A potential pitcher’s duel here. If Ricketts faces senior Jenee Loree, who tossed her third career no-hitter on Saturday, it should be a low scoring affair. Coach Gasso will likely have to decide when to throw Ricketts with back-to-back ball games on Saturday afternoon.
#23 Oklahoma State v. #14 Georgia Tech Saturday, (2/18 5:30pm Central)
The Cowgirls finished up 4-0, losing only to Houston last weekend. They look to build off their 2011 College World Series appearance and the experience here should help prepare them for the gauntlet that is the Big 12 and the post season.
#5 Alabama v. #23 Oklahoma State (Sunday, 2/19 9am Central)
This will be another good test for Oklahoma State and their toughest game of the weekend. This will be the Tide’s third consecutive game against a nationally ranked team.
Other Big Games
#3 Cal v. #25 LSU (Louisville Slugger Dessert Classic, Las Vegas, NV Sunday 2/19 11:15 PT)
Cal comes off a 4-0 weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, where they vanquished Tennessee and Syracuse. With both Jolene Henderson and Valerie Arioto firing on all cylinders in the circle for the Golden Bears, they are clearly one of the best clubs in the country. LSU went 2-2 in their first weekend under new Head Coach Beth Torina. The Tigers suffered a one-run loss to #4 Michigan and got a split with Penn State. The Tigers will not beat Cal, but Coach Torina will learn much about her club.
#6 Tennessee v. #9 Texas (Red and Charlie McCombs Field, Austin, TX, Friday, 2/17 5pm Central)
This all orange affair should produce some exciting offensive fireworks. Both teams are armed with quality pitching in the Volunteers Renfroe sisters and the Longhorns All-American Blair Luna, but the sticks will be the story of this duel. Texas faced relatively light competition last week, but they completely dominated going 5-0. Texas scored 55 runs while not allowing one. Luna led the way in the circle fanning 26 in 13 innings. More impressively, five different players belted a total of eight home runs. Junior 2011 USA National Team member Taylor Hoagland mashed three of those. The team hit .470 over the five games. Senior second baseman Lexy Bennett, back from last year’s injury, collected 10 hits, five for extra bases including two bombs, drove in 11 runs and batted .667. The Volunteers battled some of the country’s best in Tempe finishing 5-1. They struggled against Cal, but beat then #1 Arizona State. Tennessee pitched three shutouts and averaged 6.5 runs per game. The Vols also hit eight home runs this weekend, with Lauren Gibson leading the way with three.