Power Rankings: Ducks' turn at No. 1
A championship game between unbeaten teams in college basketball was a reminder that perfection, or anything close to it, isn't in the cards for softball. It has been four seasons since a team with double-digit losses last won the national title (UCLA with a 50-11 record in 2010), but every team in this week's top 10 has already matched Oklahoma's four losses from a season ago. Amid a wide-open race, a new team ascends to No. 1 this week. Results are through Monday.
1. Oregon (34-5, 8-1 Pac-12)
Oregon leaps to No. 1 on the strength of taking two of three against the UCLA team that held that spot for the past three weeks. It isn't an overwhelming case when weighed against those of the two teams that follow, but it isn't a season in which there is likely to be much certainty at No. 1. Oregon had wins out of conference against Auburn and LSU, took Florida to extra innings with its No. 2 pitcher and swept Washington to open Pac-12 play a week ago. That's a good résumé. Cheridan Hawkins and lineup depth are the team's best assets, and while it was a weekend of mixed results for Hawkins, the lineup came through behind her and the other pitchers. Courtney Ceo hit .600 against UCLA and had at least one hit in every game. Kailee Cuico drove in seven runs with a pair of home runs in the series clincher, and Janelle Lindvall drove in five runs in the opener. They have a lot of bats that can beat you.
2. Michigan (29-6, 9-0 Big Ten)
Michigan did everything it could this past weekend, sweeping three games against Ohio State and winning the last two in run-rule fashion, but the relative strength of the conference keeps the Wolverines at No. 2. Still, they look built to go far in the postseason. The Wolverines used three starting pitchers in the series against Ohio State, and given Florida's recent struggles, they may have the deepest staff in softball. It was also a good weekend for Taylor Hasselbach, who hit three home runs and drove in eight runs against the Buckeyes. A role player her first three seasons, Hasselbach has been making regular stars and hitting the cover off the ball in recent weeks.
3. Alabama (35-5, 14-1 SEC)
Here's another team with a case for claiming the No. 1 ranking. Alabama won a challenging midweek game against South Alabama, then had little difficulty sweeping three games from Arkansas to move five wins and two losses clear of any other team in SEC play. You figure Jaclyn Traina will get all the innings that matter as the season shortens, but there is an interesting push for innings as the de facto No. 2 pitcher. Freshman Sydney Littlejohn was solid in a big atmosphere against South Alabama, but junior Leslie Jury answered with an effective start against Arkansas over the weekend. If those two can keep Traina fresh down the stretch, it's all the better.
4. UCLA (34-4, 9-3 Pac-12)
The deposed No. 1 doesn't fall far out of the racing draft. The Bruins put up 17 runs in three games at Oregon, no easy feat against a team with Hawkins. And there is credit due for bouncing back from a run-rule loss in the middle game of the series to stop the sweep with a 6-1 win in the finale, a game in which Ally Carda both got the win in the circle and drove in a run at the plate. If you thought UCLA was for real before the weekend, there isn't any reason to change your mind. A trip to Fullerton, a team that can't be overlooked, is the lone game on the schedule this week.
5. Florida State (38-4, 15-2 ACC)
Make it 17 wins in a row for Florida State entering Wednesday's home game against Florida. Some of the best wins in that streak came this past week, including a victory at Florida in the first leg of that home-and-home series and a win at North Carolina on Monday that closed out a sweep of the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Seminoles haven't given up more than two runs in a game started by Lacey Waldrop since the first game of the ACC season at Virginia more than a month ago (and even then, most of the runs came after Waldrop was out of the game).
6. Arizona State (35-6, 9-3 Pac-12)
The first road trip of the Pac-12 season didn't go so well for Arizona State, which basically fell on its face at Oregon State coming off a big week at the Judi Garman Classic several weeks ago. The second trip was much less eventful. The Sun Devils rolled to three wins at California, outscoring the host 27-4 and twice needing less than seven innings to get the job done. Dallas Escobedo was, well, Dallas Escobedo, piling up 23 strikeouts in 12 innings to pick up two of the wins. Utah visits this weekend, with a brutal stretch at Washington, at Oregon and home against UCLA to close the conference portion of the schedule.
7. Tennessee (32-5, 9-3 SEC)
Coming off its sweep of Florida, Tennessee dropped two of three at LSU. Ace Ellen Renfroe took both losses, her first of the season, although she did bounce back with a shutout in the finale. Now just 3-3 on the road in conference, Tennessee heads to Texas A&M for three games this weekend. What may concern Tennessee more than the past weekend's losses is the latest adjusted RPI release that places it No. 12, with four SEC teams ahead of it. Those numbers will move all over the place in what remains of the regular season, but the Lady Vols will certainly expect to be in position to at least host a super regional as one of the top eight seeds in the NCAA tournament.
8. Arizona (32-8, 7-5 Pac-12)
It's not the defining statistic for the team, but Arizona has scored 12 or more runs in a third of its Pac-12 games to this point. This team can hit. A sweep didn't come easily at home against Stanford, but Arizona got all three wins on the strength of 35 runs scored. All the Wildcats hit at least a little in the series, but Katiyana Mauga hit a lot. The 5-foot-2 freshman drove in 11 runs against the Cardinal on the strength of four home runs, including at least one in each game. Her .929 slugging percentage leads the team by a comfortable margin, and we're talking about a team with Kellie Fox, Hallie Wilson and Chelsea Goodacre.
9. Florida (34-8, 8-7 SEC)
Put aside the skid that preceded it for a moment, and it was a good week for the Gators. There isn't any shame in losing an extra-inning game against Florida State, even in Gainesville, and a three-game sweep of Auburn is a real accomplishment this season. Now, add in the context of what came before, and the extra-inning loss against a rival and three games against Auburn decided by four runs may not convince everyone the tide has turned. Florida gets a break from SEC play this week, with Wednesday's game against Florida State followed by weekend home games against Florida A&M and NC State.
10. Washington (22-10, 2-6 Pac-12)
Washington basically had the week off, minus a run-rule win against Seattle University, and on the sideline might have been the safest place to be for the teams in contention for this final spot. That conference record looks unsightly for the Huskies, but most of it came against Oregon and UCLA, and this is still a team with wins against Michigan, Baylor and Oklahoma, and a pair of wins against Texas. The final month of the regular season is key. Washington plays its two toughest series at home, against Arizona State and Arizona, and three road series in which it should be the favorite, beginning with this week's trip to Stanford.
Next five: No. 11 Baylor, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 13 South Alabama, No. 14 Georgia, No. 15 Oklahoma.