Utah and Notre Dame Struggle During Day 3 of the Kajikawa Classic


It’s been said that losing is the best teacher in sports. More is learned from defeat than victory, where everyone mostly just enjoys the spoils.

It wasn’t always in defeat, but adversity certainly proved to be teaching lessons Saturday at the 28-team Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, where 12 of College Sports Madness’ Top 44 teams were in action.

Let’s look at some of the lessons learned:

Distractions? Missouri has moved on:

The Tigers were the talk of the final weeks of the preseason for the wrong reason. Coach Ehren Earleywine was fired under murky circumstances – Athletic Director Jim Sterk said it was because the university had lost confidence in Earleywine’s ability to foster a healthy environment for his players – less than two weeks before the season opener.

The school quickly appointed assistant Gina Fogue as the interim coach, but as if the coaching change weren’t enough, plane trouble in St. Louis made the Tigers arrive in Arizona late and caused the cancellation of their Thursday night opener against San Jose State.

Enough distractions? Eh, Mizzou don’t mind. The Tigers went out and won their two games Friday 3-0 against UTEP and 19-10 vs. Cal State Northridge in a game that went past midnight.

It didn’t go as well Saturday morning as No. 4 Oregon unloaded a 14-2 decision on Mizzou. And by unloaded, we mean four home runs that brought home 11 of the Ducks’ runs.

But if you dig just a little deeper, you find Missouri was largely the author of its own demise. A simple fly ball that should have been caught to open the Oregon second inning, and would have meant a 1-2-3 inning, opened the door to nine unearned runs in that inning, all coming on home runs with two outs.

If Missouri gets out of the inning without that kind of damage, the game is much more competitive. That’s the trick against Oregon, of course, but Fogue said she was pleased that her team’s effort never waned in the avalanche of runs.

That resilience – whether it be from a late coaching change, airplane trouble or a horrific inning – is the mark of this Tigers team in Fogue’s mind. The players keep moving forward, as Fogue has asked, without interruption.

“Do they have to buy into that?” Fogue said. “No, but the thing is, they did. I respect all of them for that, and I am proud of them.”

Freshman Trenity Edwards was one who showed she wasn’t quitting on the Oregon game as she hit a two-run home run to center field in the fourth inning to account for Missouri’s runs.

Edwards knows how her team is coping with all these things, be they minor hassles or major changes, that keep coming up.

“A lot of jokes,” she said. “It’s the family-made atmosphere we have here. Our team is close. We always do things together, and we comprehend things together. It’s a lot easier that way.”

Not every team is close-knit. When you have 20 or 25 competitive people together, not everyone is going to be on the same page sometimes. But at Missouri this year, it’s key.

No time for feeling sorry at Fresno State:

Playing at Arizona State this weekend could leave the Bulldogs feeling wistful for what might have been. A year after Trisha Ford left Fresno State for ASU, Morgan Howe and sisters Maddi and Kindra Hackbarth followed her to the desert. They are part of the core to the revitalized Sun Devils.

But who has time for thinking on what might have been when you are, after all, coming off a 35-win season? There’s winning to be done, even if some additional players have to be replaced, and No. 33 Fresno State is a consistent winner.

“We’re definitely working on the process,” Fresno State coach Linda Garza said. “We’re giving people an opportunity to grow. We’re focused on the Mountain West Conference.”

Coaches have picked Fresno State to finish third in the conference, but expect the Bulldogs to be there in the end. The Bulldogs have six pitchers they can go to. On Saturday, it was freshman left-hander Danielle East’s turn, and she responded with a seven-hit shutout of Stanford in eight innings.

“I bring energy, definitely a lot of energy, and movement,” East said of her role on the staff.

Indeed, she says she’s not overpowering but has spin. That showed against Stanford, where her curveball and screwball were on, and thus she controlled both sides of the plate.

That kept Stanford at bay all the way through the game and gave time for Fresno State’s offense to solve Stanford freshman Maddy Dwyer, who was working on her own shutout.

The Bulldogs finally got to her in the international tiebreaker, as the inning’s leadoff hitter, Vanessa Hernandez, blasted a pitch over the left field wall for the game’s only runs. (The international tiebreaker puts a runner on second to start the inning). Two singles later, Dwyer was done, though she had a solid outing.

“She pitched very well and kept us off balance,” Hernandez said. “I finally got my foot down and found something I could drive. And that just got us started.”

Utah must learn to finish to continue moving up in the Pac-12:

After a 1-1 Friday, Utah had a difficult Saturday, dropping a 5-0 decision to Nebraska – a game that was 1-0 going into the seventh inning – and then losing a 5-0 lead in the final three innings against No. 11 Tennessee.

That game included a three-run walk-off double from Abby Lockman when pinch runner Brooke Langston, coming from first base, was safe with the winning run only when Utah’s Kelly Martinez was called for catcher’s interference on the play.

That’s a tough day for a team ranked No. 16 in the Madness’ Top 44.

The good news, of course, is it’s only the second day of the Utes’ season. The lineup isn’t quite settled yet. Young players are gaining experience still, and some players who haven’t had much opportunity in the past are being given a longer look.

But one thing coach Amy Hogue knows is her team must learn to finish games.

“I think they realize now that it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” Hogue said. “No one really says that any more, but I do. No lead is enough. You can’t stay stagnant ever. You’ve got to fight till the very last out because if you don’t, someone else will.”

Saturday, that someone was Tennessee, which looked listless for four innings. The Volunteers may have been worn down a bit as they were playing their sixth game in three days to finish their stay in Arizona, but they woke up in time to pull the win out.

“We just need some time,” Hogue said. “We need to learn. I think we have all the pieces there.

“But the thing is, we’re learning fast.”

It won’t get easier, of course. Utah plays in the Pac-12, so a strong field like the Kajikawa Classic offers only a preview of strong opponents to come. If the Utes do learn to finish, they can make more noise in the conference.

Alexis Holloway has the stuff, but needs some time:

The nation’s top pitching recruit and the Madness’ preseason pick for national Freshman of the Year had a rough Saturday night in her second collegiate start, a day after beating Seattle in her debut and No. 38 Notre Dame’s season opener.

But No. 23 Arizona State is not Seattle. The Sun Devils are making noise in their own tournament, going toe-to-toe with Tennessee and then winning their next three, including 9-1 against Holloway and Notre Dame on Saturday night in six innings.

After giving up a single and home run to start the game, Holloway seemed to settle into a groove and got the next 10 outs with only a single and walk along the way. She moved the ball around well, and the difference in speed for her changeup was devastating at times.

But ASU adjusted and started to inch away from the Fighting Irish before defensive lapses in the sixth broke Notre Dame’s back – and devastated Holloway, who probably hasn’t been roughed up like the Sun Devils did to her in a long time.

“I probably could have gone easy on her and pulled her, but I thought it was an opportunity to gain invaluable experience that will help shape her,” Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf said.

The pitching line at the end didn’t look good: nine runs, six earned, on eight hits and six walks in 5 2/3 innings before the game ended on a wild pitch, one of three on the night for Holloway.

But it wasn’t as bad as all that, either. Gumpf said she thought – not without reason – that at least three balls were scored hits that should have been scored errors.

ASU coach Trisha Ford gave a nod to Holloway’s abilities.

“That pitcher is good,” she said. “She’s got a good up ball. She’s got a good down ball and a good change. But we stayed patient and adjusted, and she had to come to the zone.”

One thing Holloway will learn better as time goes on is the strike zone for college umpires. Gumpf said she thought Holloway grew frustrated with the zone and will mature to better handle the adversity the college game brings.

“It’s learning how you handle that,” Gumpf said.

Coming up Sunday:

The last day of the tournament has an abbreviated schedule as teams look to get out of town and get players back into classes. Some are done already.

Sunday has 16 games on the schedule. Only two pit Madness Top 44 teams against each other: No. 34 Missouri vs. No. 43 Oregon State and No. 38 Notre Dame vs. No. 33 Fresno State.

Six teams play twice, including St. Mary’s and host Arizona State, which play the last game of the tournament at 4:30 p.m. MST.