In Softball it Doesn't Pay to be #1

In Softball it Doesn’t Pay to be #1


It happened to Florida. Then it happened to LSU. What happened? Each school was ranked No. 1 in the weekly NFCA College poll and then was defeated following the ranking.

The Gators, who won their first NCAA softball title last year, were undefeated after 21 games and had some impressive stats. They had a team batting average of .330, while the pitching staff kept the opposition off the base paths, limiting them to a .135 BA. Eight of the Gators were batting .316 or higher and the team had made only 16 errors in the 21 games. The three pitchers, Lauren Haegler, Melanie Gourley and Aleshia Ocasio, each had an ERA of less than 1.00, which is rare in today's offense-minded world of college softball. What was even more impressive was the Gators had stayed away from injuries and were playing all phases of the game at a high level.

But a three-game series with LSU changed everything for the Gators, who won the opener then lost the next two games. LSU then beat highly ranked Oklahoma twice to vault to the top of the rankings. The wins jumped LSU two spots in the NFCA poll and one spot in the USA Softball poll, marking the first time since the program was started in 1979 and restarted in 1997 that an LSU team had been ranked No. 1 in either, much less in both polls as the same time. “There have been so many great players in this program’s history who have truly helped in building LSU softball and paving the way for this ranking and the success of this year’s team,” LSU head coach Beth Torina said. “We have a special group of young women that truly understand the team concept and have worked hard to accomplish everything they have done so far this season. We are honored by the respect we have been shown for our accomplishments to this point; however, we have a clear understanding that there is still a long way to go in the 2015 season.”

The season indeed is a long one and now-a-days no team can be taken lightly or a team can't be looking ahead. LSU wasn't guilty of that, however, but Kentucky, which surprised UCLA in the Super Regional last year, upended the Tigers winning two of three games. The 15th ranked Wildcats won the first two games, 3-1 and 5-2 before LSU won the finale, 2-0. Kentucky junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive in the three-game series and was named Co-Southeastern Conference Pitch of the Week on March 30th. This is the second SEC Pitcher of the Week honor this season for Nunley, who was also named Co-SEC Pitcher of the Week on February 9th after a strong start to the season. This is Nunley's third such honor in her career, becoming the only pitcher in school history to earn the honor three times. Nunley joins UK great Chanda Bellas, the only pitcher to be named SEC Pitcher of the Week twice in the same season. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week in 2013, now has four SEC weekly honors in her career, tying Bell for the most in program history.

Nunley was amazing for Kentucky in both a starting role and out of the bullpen against the top-ranked Tigers, who entered the series ranked fifth nationally in batting average and seventh in scoring. Overall, Nunley tossed 13.2 innings with only two earned runs allowed and 13 strikeouts. In the first game of the series, Nunley tossed a complete game, allowing only one run on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning with three strikeouts and only one walk allowed. The win was Kentucky's first over a No. 1 ranked team.

There is still a lot left to the 2015 college season but  it's important for a team to peak at the right time. Peaking too early or too late won't cut it and unfortunately that happens to some teams. Those who can peak at the right time--regionals and super regionals--will have a better chance of winning a trip to OKC and become one of the Elite Eight for 2015.

In the rankings released earlier this week, Oregon, which has been third, has taken over the No. 1 spot while LSU (32-3) is second and Florida (32-4) third. Who knows if Oregon (30-4) will hold on for the No. 1 spot for the remainder of the season, but it will be interesting to see which team can sustain its ranking and doesn't lose a series of games at the wrong time. The overall parity of college softball has certainly gotten better in the long run and the number of so called weaker teams is diminishing as schools continue to upgrade their facilities and increase their softball budgets as well as coaches' salaries to make the game better. It has taken some time, but the wait is worth it for the fans, players and all those involved in Division I softball. It's a game worth watching, either on television or in person.