WCWS Softball Breakdown
The road to Oklahoma City has had its usual excitement. South Florida and Hofstra gave us a look at a couple of the best pitchers in the game and teams like Oregon and Arizona State made a lot of noise with their bats. But through it all we have dwindled the field of 64 down to eight and now it is time to head to OKC to crown a national champion.
California gave everybody a minor scare during the regionals by losing to Arkansas, but Jolene Henderson was too much for Arkansas later in the regional. Henderson then went on to shut down Washington, a familiar foe who had played Cal tough in the regular season. Heading into Oklahoma City, the Bears have to be considered the favorite. They were the top seed in the tournament and will stay at the top until somebody can prove otherwise. With the hitting prowess of Valerie Arioto, Jamia Reid and Frani Echavarria, among others, Cal is ready to bring home a title.
Yet, Alabama is not far behind Cal in the WCWS pecking order. The Crimson Tide boast one of the best pitchers in the nation in sophomore Jackie Traina and are in the top ten nationally in just about every offensive category in the country. Coming out of the SEC, that is extremely impressive. Alabama had little trouble at home in the regional stage and the story was pretty much the same when they hosted Michigan in the Super Regional, knocking off the Wolverines 4-1 and 4-3. This is a team that can win close games, but at this point in the tournament they will need to cut back on their mistakes in the field.
Arizona State, the #3 seed nationally, had a little more trouble reaching Oklahoma City than the top two seeds, but they did make it. After getting a scare from Syracuse in the regional, the Sun Devils lost their opener in the Super Regional to Louisiana by a score of 6-0. They rebounded very nicely from that game and their bats and pitching picked up to come back and win the series. Dallas Escobedo and Hilary Bach will need to be more consistent in the circle if the Sun Devils want to defend their title, but this team will win most games with their bats. If Katelyn Boyd, Alix Johnson, Elizabeth Caporuscio, Amber Freeman and Annie Lockwood can crack some of the best pitchers in the nation, ASU will be eyeing another title.
Oklahoma has yet to be seriously tested during the tournament. They dominated the Norman Regional and then beat Arizona in the Super Regional 6-0 and 7-1. The bats have been steady enough that they have not played in a close game. That will change in the friendly confines of Oklahoma City. Keilani Ricketts has done a lot for this team on the mound and at the plate. While there are certainly other great players on this team, like pitcher Michelle Gascoigne, catcher Jessica Shults, super freshman Lauren Chamberlain and infielder Georgia Casey, the Sooners will rely on Ricketts. There was some concern that she could wear down at the end of the year, but that has not happened yet. It may not happen at the WCWS either, in which case Oklahoma will be looking to take the short trek home with a title.
Tennessee is the last team that is coming to Oklahoma City by hosting a Regional and Super Regional. The Lady Vols however have had some difficulties on their road to the WCWS. After winning 18 straight games to end the regular season, Tennessee lost their opening game to Miami (OH) in the Knoxville Regional. They had to play from behind the entire time, but did manage to knock off Virginia Tech twice to advance. However, some of those games were very close and the Super Regional against Georgia was even closer. Tennessee won the opener 3-2, but the next day the Bulldogs evened up the series with a 1-0 victory. It all came down to the last game and Tennessee squeezed through with a 2-1 win. Unlike a team like Oklahoma who had a pretty easy go of things up to this point, the Lady Vols are well tested. Will those thrilling games have pitcher Ellen Renfroe and hitters Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson primed for a big tournament run or will those extra games and close calls lead to Tennessee running out of gas?
Oregon has scored 34 runs in six games during the tournament. The Ducks have a lot of power up and down their lineup, but things will get a little more difficult when they start facing pitchers like Jackie Traina and Keilani Ricketts. The Oregon bats led the Ducks through the Eugene Regional with little trouble and then put a clinching blow on Texas during the Austin Super Regional. This is a team that is riding high right now. They lost their first game to Texas, but came back and won two in a row. That momentum is huge, but pitchers Jessica Moore and Karissa Hovinga must play well since the hitting cannot do it all.
South Florida may be the biggest surprise team in the WCWS. They got some help due to suspensions to key Florida players during the Gainesville Regional, but that should not take away from the great pitching by Sara Nevins. The Tampa Bay Super Regional turned out to be one of the most exciting of the bunch. Hofstra and USF went to extra innings twice in superb pitching duels. The best news for the Bulls looking forward is the fact that they did not have to completely rely on Nevins during those long games. Nevins is certainly the ace of the staff, but Lindsey Richardson and Sam Greiner deserve some recognition as well. South Florida may be able to allow just a couple runs against some of the more potent offenses they see in the WCWS, but the question remains whether or not they can score enough to win.
LSU has been on the road for a while, but that has not stopped them from dominating on the mound. Rachele Fico is the obvious star. She allowed two hits and no runs in the College Station Regional opener against Texas State and followed it up with another two hit shutout against host school Texas A&M. Against a strong Missouri team in the Columbia Super Regional, Fico allowed just two runs in two games. The Tigers also have experienced senior Brittany Mack who had a great outing against Texas A&M in the Regionals. The issue has been at the plate for LSU all season and will continue to be the issue in Oklahoma City. If LSU is to pull off an upset or two, they must get more offensive production. Even if Fico or Mack allow just one run, this is an LSU team that could still easily lose.