Here's this week's college softball power rankings:
Oklahoma went to Texas for three games and got a total of one hit from Lauren Chamberlain, Keilani Ricketts and Jessica Shults. The Sooners also got two wins, which is a pretty nifty trick. As good as the heart of the lineup is (and Shelby Pendley did contribute a pair of home runs to the cause in Austin), the bottom of the lineup came up big in the biggest series of the season. Brianna Turang drove in a team-high four runs and the outfield trio of Turang, Destinee Martinez and Callie Parsons combined for 14 hits and a .500 average. The rest of the lineup hit .137, albeit with 16 walks.
The Pac-12 leaders had the weekend off and still benefited thanks to Utah taking its series against formerly second-place Arizona State. The Ducks did extend their consecutive shutout streak to four games with a midweek doubleheader sweep against Portland State (they have already surpassed last season's total of nine shutouts). This week's trip to UCLA is not without some painful history. Oregon last won in Los Angeles in 2005.
There are others in the conversation, but is there a better duo anywhere in the country than Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson? In 48 games, Tennessee's two best hitters have combined for 48 stolen bases, 38 extra-base hits, 114 runs, 87 RBIs and a .464 batting average. The two of them were at it again in a sweep of Mississippi that extends the team's winning streak to 19 games. An intriguing midweek doubleheader against James Madison this week was canceled in advance because of weather forecasts, leaving the Lady Vols to prepare for a visit from Arkansas.
There are easier opponents than Longwood to bring to town to fill an off week in the conference schedule, but the Gators nonetheless made quick work of their guests. That three-game series was in addition to a midweek win against Florida State (Florida beat supposed in-state rivals Florida State, South Florida and UCF by a combined 23-2 margin on successive Wednesdays). Ace Hannah Rogers was particularly sharp against Longwood, setting up an interesting matchup this weekend against suddenly resurgent Georgia and its power-heavy lineup.
It's the time of year when it's tough to place Michigan in the context of national contenders. The Big Ten is a quietly competitive league, but it's not the Pac-12 or SEC. Iowa is one of those decent mid-table teams, but the Wolverines swept the Hawkeyes by a combined 21-9 margin. Runs are nothing new; Michigan last scored fewer than five runs on March 16. Now comes the first of two trips in three weeks to Lincoln, Neb., this time for a three-game series against Nebraska in advance of the Big Ten tournament that begins May 9.
Alabama ran the gamut in a three-game series against Mississippi State, from a one-run loss to a run-rule win to a finale in which it squandered an early 6-1 lead but rallied for a walk-off victory. Next up is the first trip back to Baton Rouge for coach Patrick Murphy since he reconsidered taking the LSU job. But before getting there, it's worth pausing to salute Courtney Conley. Limited much of the season by an undisclosed illness, she hit her first home run of the season in Saturday's game. More special still? Saturday happened to be her senior day, with the stands full of visiting Conleys.
Well, that was interesting. Arizona State clearly wasn't perfect, dropping games in three of its first four Pac-12 series, but losing the first two games at Utah -- and needing to rally late in the third game to avoid a sweep -- was a stunner. The pitching focus this week will be on Cal, which seems unlikely to have Jolene Henderson available, but it's also an area to watch for Arizona State. Opposing batters have a lower batting average against Dallas Escobedo this season than last season. She cut her walk rate and bumped up her strikeout rate this season. All good. Yet she's on the wrong end of 46 extra-base hits in 176 2/3 innings, compared to 43 in 211 innings last season.
What do we make of Texas? Yes, the Longhorns lost their biggest series of the year at home, but it would be difficult to be more competitive than they were against Oklahoma. Not only did they hand the Sooners just their third loss of the season, they loaded the bases and forced Keilani Ricketts out of the game in the bottom of the seventh of a finale they ultimately lost 5-3. It sure looked like a team with some mental toughness, which was one of the knocks on recent editions that underachieved in the postseason. The next test is avoiding a letdown at Texas Tech this week.
Georgetown visits for three games this weekend, but arguably the biggest test remaining in the regular season, weather willing, is Wednesday's trip to Kentucky. It's just the second time in a month that the Cardinals will have faced postseason-caliber competition, the first a 5-1 win against their in-state rival in Louisville on April 3. One win last week against Connecticut required extra innings, but Louisville still outscored it and Pittsburgh by a 38-8 margin in five games. Alicja Wolny drove in nine runs on the week.
It seems like the same teams keep rotating through this spot, but it's not like we haven't seen Sun Belt representation among college softball's elite. It's just that it's usually Louisiana-Lafayette. Current conference leader South Alabama becomes the newest addition to the power rankings on the strength of being one of four teams that began last week slugging at least .500 with an ERA of 1.60 or better. The other three: Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas. Brittany Fowler (1.218 OPS) and freshman Haley Fagan (Sun Belt player of the week) pace the offense, while Hannah Campbell (18-7, 0.94 ERA) and Farish Beard (19-0, 1.97 ERA) split the pitching duties.