Day 2 Provides Plenty of Action at Kajikawa Classic


Another day and another look in the mirror for teams opening their season at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona.

The 28-team showcase has 12 teams ranked in the College Sports Madness Top 44, but it also has some teams that are looking for a turnaround in 2018. There was much to be learned about how this season will unfold for teams of both types.

Here are some of those things about which we gained knowledge.

Despite its ranking, Arizona is not a finished product:

The No. 7 Wildcats split games on Friday, breaking open a 1-1 tie for a 4-1 win in a morning game against Northwestern, but then falling 9-4 to No. 24 Oklahoma State in a late afternoon game. That game had Mike Candrea talking to his team for a long time afterward.

“This team is still trying to find itself,” Candrea said. “They’re in that growth stage. We have lost some anchors, and we’re trying to find the players who can supply us with some consistency.”

To Candrea, whose standards are naturally high after a career full of national and world championships and gold medals, that means a whole lineup of consistent players, not just the three or four he figures he has.

He wants to see his hitters make adjustments faster than they did in Friday’s games, when the Wildcats did most of their damage late.

One thing he can count on is power. Against Oklahoma State, the Wildcats put two over the fence and missed three or four more on balls that sailed over the fence but outside the poles for long strikes. And Alyssa Palomino’s two-run homer in the sixth inning was the game-winner against Northwestern.

Vanessa Shippy will get out this season:

OK, so this is prediction based upon the Laws of Softball, rather than an observation gleaned from watching the Oklahoma State All-American on Friday. Because if it were based on Friday’s play, it would be strictly #FakeNews.

Shippy was brilliant all day, at the plate and in the field for the Cowgirls, who dropped an 8-2 decision to No. 43 Oregon State but beat No. 7 Arizona 9-4 later on.

Shippy made her case for a wild card All-Pac-12 bid by getting on base in all eight plate appearances on the day against the two schools from the elite conference. In the first game against Oregon State, she was 3 for 3 with a walk. Against Arizona, she was 2 for 2 with two walks, the second of which gave her the OSU career record for walks.

Shippy, listed as a utility player, also made some defensive gems playing third base in both games.

“She's a stud and obviously one of the best players to put on the Cowgirl uniform ever,” coach Kenny Gajewski said. “I'm just proud of her. I'm proud of the way we've used her and moved her around and she's never complained.

“She volunteers to do things, and she's just a great kid and a tremendous competitor. She's going to shatter a bunch of records before this year is done."

The walks record may sound like a nice side note for such an accomplished player, but Shippy likes it.

“That's what my whole job has been here is to get on base,” she said. “I've known that it’s been my role since day one, and I'm just glad I can do that again. To be on base for those people behind me – we have such a powerful offense this year that the more baserunners we can get on base, the better we're going to do, obviously.”

Madi Sue Montgomery provided the powerful offense behind Shippy with two home runs against Arizona for five RBI.

More pitching may allow Oregon State to be more competitive:

No. 43 Oregon State opened the season with a couple of nice wins, breaking away an early pitchers’ duel to get an 8-2 win against No. 24 Oklahoma State, then rallying late against Indiana for a 4-1 win.

The most notable aspect wasn’t that the offense came around, but the contributions of the Beavers’ two starting pitchers Friday.

First was freshman Mariah Mazon, who, though she gave up 10 hits and two walks, put up six goose eggs in seven inninigs against Oklahoma State and struck out seven, making for a nice collegiate debut.


“Very,” she said. “You have no idea. But as the game went on, I just started playing.”

Then it was junior Meehra Nelson, whose 2017 season was hampered by having back surgery for a bulging disk that compressed a nerve and made her legs go numb at times. Nelson, who said she feels mostly back to normal, kept Indiana at bay after giving up a second-inning run, finishing with a complete game and allowing the one run on five hits and two walks while striking out six.

That had to be good news to coach Laura Berg, who is trying to get her team from Pac-12 spoiler (though one that has made the NCAA tournament the past two seasons) into conference contender.

“We have a lot to prove,” Berg said. “We were picked eighth in the Pac-12. We can talk a big game, but we’ve got to do it on the field.”

Still, Berg said her young team is fun to watch play as they make adjustments on the field and has a chance to move up a notch in the conference.

And Nelson thinks she knows how.

“It’s going to take the whole pitching staff,” she said.

Indiana’s new coach is after a culture change:

It probably wasn’t the debut that Shonda Stanton, hired away from Marshall to change the fortunes of the Hoosiers, wanted.

Her team fell behind quickly to Boise State in its morning game, but after trailing as much as 6-0, the Hoosiers clawed back and came within a run on Gabbi Jenkins’ two-out, two-strikes, two-run double before leaving Jenkins stranded in a 7-6 loss.

Then in the afternoon game, it maintained a 1-0 lead into the fifth innings before defensive miscues proved costly in a 4-1 loss to Oregon State.

Still, when your new team was 23-31 and ninth place in the Big Ten last season, some signs of competitiveness on the first day have to be greeted warmly, right?

“The coach talk is that I’m proud of the fight,” Stanton said. “We talk a lot about being first up. If you give up a home run, what do you? If you have a couple bad at-bats, do you come back with the big hit?”

So from that standpoint, Indiana fought on Friday. But still …

“The real talk is that this is what we have with Indiana Hoosiers softball: We have a nice group of girls,” Stanton said. “What I need us to do is have a better mind-set. What I see as a group is girls who are OK with winning or losing. And it’s not about those results as much as the approach. ‘How can I do what we need to be successful?’ We’ve got more in us.”

For sure, the demonstrative Stanton will be pushing those players to get the extra.

Seattle can challenge in the WAC:

The Redhawks were looking to pull the first big upset of the tournament as they built a 3-1 lead on No. 38 Notre Dame, only to fall 4-3. Still, against a quality team…

We’re a quality team,” Seattle coach Geoff Hirai said. “We preach fight all the time. You’re going to make a mistake. How do you react to that? That’s a top 25 team over there, and we competed well.”

Seattle came back in its night game to beat Stanford 13-9. Madison Cathcart hit two home runs on the day for the Redhawks.

Hirai’s team came within three outs of a Western Athletic Conference championship last season but is picked to finished third this season. However, with an experienced group, Hirai is looking to move up a place, not back one.

“We just keep doing our thing and being about our culture,” Hirai said. “That’s all you can do. The wins will take care of themselves.”

Western Michigan won’t back down:

The Broncos started the tournament with a tough task: No. 29 BYU on Thursday night and No. 11 Tennessee on Friday morning. Coming off a 25-29 season, they didn’t back down from this challenge at all.

“The kids are coming out to play hard,” said Western Michigan coach Kathy Leitke, who is in her 18th season. “We can’t look at the opponent. You have to play hard every time.”

The Broncos have. They beat BYU 2-1 Thursday night behind Jordan Kurth’s four-hitter with a career-high 10 strikeouts. WMU wiped out a 1-0 deficit with two outs in the fifth on Samantha Coffel’s two-run single.

Tennessee put Anissa Sanchez and the Broncos in a 4-0 hole in a hurry on a pair of home runs in the first inning. But Western Michigan never folded, as Sanchez and Holly VanTilburg showed poise in a pair of pressure situations.

First, a diving attempt at a catch in center field came up short, but Western Michigan followed that with two throwing errors on the play, scoring a run and putting a runner on third with no one out. But Sanchez got a pair of ground outs and a pop up to strand the runner.

Later, after Tennessee loaded the bases with one out and the Volunteers’ Nos. 4 and 5 hitters, Chelsea Seggern and Scarlet McSwain, coming up, VanTilburg entered the game and got the pair on a called third strike and a popup. No damage done.

“I thought we kept our composure,” Leitke said. “We kept the game intact and gave ourselves a chance. We had some opportunities, but we really didn’t square up the ball.”

At least not like Coffel’s timely hit against BYU. But Leitke is encouraged that her team can turn the corner from losing record to winning and compete for a conference title.

“We need sound pitching and to sharpen up on defense, and then it’s timely hitting,” she said. “We’re capable of all of them.”

Nebraska is beginning a bounce-back season:

The Huskers rarely have a losing season, but 2017 was one as Nebraska went 24-29.

Don’t expect that this season. Nebraska split on the day, but it battled the whole way against ranked opponents, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to send its game with No. 29 BYU into extra innings, then rallying again from a run down to win 5-4 in eight innings.

In its night game against No. 23 Arizona State, Nebraska’s defensive miscues helped put the Huskers in a 5-0 hole, but they battled to 5-4 before falling 6-4.

“I learned they don’t quit,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said. “We had that really crazy inning where we gave up four runs on two hits. A lot went on. I’d have to replay it. But we came back and scored four. It’s mind-set over skill set.”

The fact that her Huskers kept chipping away comes from the players’ own commitment to turn it around, Revelle said.

“The difference is, from the last out of last year, our leadership group said, ‘This is going to be different this year,’ and that starts with a different mind-set,” she said.

ASU coach Trisha Ford noticed it, too.

“It’s the old saying, ‘This year is not last year,’” Ford said. “I thought they came prepared. That’s what good coaching looks like.”

Coming up Saturday:

Another full day of games, and probably the tournament’s best day is on tap. The 25 games feature seven games that pit Madness Top 44 games against each other. Those games are:

--No. 9 BYU vs. No. 43 Oregon State

--No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 34 Missouri

--No. 16 Utah vs. No. 11 Tennessee

--No. 24 Oklahoma State vs. Missouri

--No. 33 Fresno State vs. No. 7 Arizona

--Oregon State vs. No. 31 Georgia

--No. 23 Arizona State vs. No. 38 Notre Dame