Is Eastern Softball Really Ready?
Now that the Alabama Crimson Tide has captured college softball's coveted top prize, is it possible that enough barriers have come down for other eastern teams to follow? Joining Michigan (2005) as the only other team east of the mighty Mississippi to bring home the really tasty bacon, The Tide proved it can be done, and the Pac-10, oops-Pac 12, and the Big 12, which has nowhere near that many teams, be damned. (Note to self...you have successfully set up a segue for your next rant-The Decline of the Nuclear Family Concept of College Conferences...).
Is there an eastern Uprising afoot? There is certainly an argument to be made, even though it was a seven year itch between 'Bama's and the Wolverines accomplishments. To be fair, eastern softball prominence is still just a notion, and is only moving east. A Florida or a Georgia would seem the likely current candidate to bring a title to the Far East, as in the Eastern Time zone, which has only Michigan's title to brag about. And this just in - Ann Arbor isn't exactly a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. Whether or not the Tide has truly turned anything has yet to be proven, but the mere fact that Hofstra (quick!-in what town is Hofstra located?) travelled to softball's Holy Land and returned toting a Bruin pelt ought to tell you something about what the east is up to.
Though it's difficult to find an eastern counterpart for every perennial western power like Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oklahoma and Texas, the east comes close with Missouri, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. In the 2012 CWS, there were four teams from the East and four from the west, which Regionals and Supers don't guarantee. Though it has been brewing like the slowest of coffee pots, the last eight years have produced two crowns and eight finalists to the right of longitude 83, compared with zero and zip from 1982 through 2004.
This may be fairly common knowledge to many, but the steadfast stance that "West is Best" is like throwing flour on a grease fire - it sounds good but it’s not necessarily true.
So what IS news?
Rise of David. Where it seems the balance may be shifting is in the competitiveness of teams seemingly ready to surpass their pasts. Kentucky could be one - a so-so year last year-but an SEC program in a far better place than just a few short years ago. Florida State could rise up, North Carolina State-the list is getting longer. In addition, a plethora of rag-tag, largely ignored "mid-majors" seem poised for the next step. For every North Dakota State, there is a Hofstra and a Central Florida. If Hawaii can reach the show out of the Big West, who says a Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt) or Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun) couldn't put the pedal to the metal?
The "Davids" are playing the Goliaths more often in the regular season, and it seems to be paying off. The Hofstra Pride of Hempstead plays an absolutely stupid-hard schedule (you are welcome for the answer to the previous question) and FGCU in Ft. Myers, Florida opens with Alabama and will also play Stanford at Stanford. Case in point: FGCU upset #5 Florida in last year's tournament (ok, ok, UF played without three of their starters) and have the A-Sun's Pitcher of the year and a bushel of long balls. Isolated upset? Maybe, but even though the Gator Chomp prevailed in the rematch, a confidence boosting win can turn an unknown into one of those teams you don't want to be tied with in the fifth inning. University of South Florida has two extremely qualified pitchers, and it would be no tremendous surprise if they show up in OKC again. USC Upstate and Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun), UMass, Hofstra, North Carolina State - the list of eastern teams that could make a run starts to sound like a Johnny Cash song. Man.
"The proof is in the pudding," goes the saying, but the least ain't in the east anymore. Now all they have to do is prove it.