Aggies facing tough SEC stretch
1. Oklahoma (27-1)
Let's see, what nits are there to pick? How about that Oklahoma didn't run-rule two of its five opponents at the Judi Garman Classic? No, sorry, the Sooners continue to clearly separate themselves from every other team in college softball. They beat Pacific, NC State, Arizona, Penn State and Cal State Fullerton by a combined 33-0 in California and haven't allowed a run in seven consecutive games. Three games against Louisville this weekend should be interesting, but that's relative. Sophomore Lauren Chamberlain hit three more home runs to move beyond halfway in pursuit of the NCAA career record.
2. Arizona State (29-2)
Would Arizona State be exposed as it finally stepped away from home for the first time this season? Not so much. Sun Devils ace Dallas Escobedo got the best of Texas ace Blaire Luna in a true pitching duel on the first day at the Judi Garman Classic, and outfielder Alix Johnson looked the part of All-American with two home runs, two doubles, a triple and seven RBIs on the weekend. They let one get away against Michigan, ceding a two-run advantage late, but that just proves they aren't Oklahoma. The road calls again this week as Pac-12 play begins with three games at UCLA.
3. Florida (27-3, 4-2 SEC)
The Gators continue to show a lot of resiliency. All three games against Tennessee went eight innings, but Florida came away with two wins and the series thanks in no small part to big hits from Lauren Haeger. The Gators are hitting only .287 as a team, but that means considerably less than a .420 on-base percentage for a team averaging better than seven runs per game. After an interesting midweek game against South Carolina-Upstate, Florida hosts Arkansas, a tricky opponent coming off the emotional high of the Tennessee series.
4. Texas A&M (26-2, 4-1 SEC)
After missing the abbreviated series against Missouri the previous week, the last of eight consecutive games she missed, Meagan May drove in runs in all three games in a sweep against Arkansas this past week. As if this team didn't have enough run producers. The Aggies close March with back-to-back challenging series against Tennessee and Alabama, beginning with this week's trip to Knoxville.
5. Alabama (26-3, 4-2 SEC)
The scores weren't convincing, but road wins are road wins in the SEC as the Crimson Tide swept three from South Carolina. It's been seven games since they last kept a clean sheet, although to be fair, they closed last season by giving up runs in eight consecutive games. And that seemed to work out all right. Up next is a big series in the state, if not so much for the state of softball, as struggling Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa for three games.
6. California (23-3)
At what point are we allowed to officially worry about the offense? Cal won every game Jolene Henderson started during its stay in Hawaii, following its ace to wins against Syracuse, Baylor and Hawaii. But the Golden Bears also scored just seven runs in four games, including an 8-1 loss against the same Syracuse team in a game Henderson didn't pitch. Batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage -- everything is down significantly from a season ago, and the running game has vanished without Jamia Reid.
7. Texas (27-4)
The game against Arizona State would have been a nice one to win for Texas, which has done most of its damage this season against teams ranked in the teens, not the single digits. But a 3-0 loss in which Blaire Luna struck out nine and allowed three hits is respectable. The Longhorns followed that with wins against Penn State, Washington, NC State and DePaul. A home-and-home series this weekend against Baylor kicks off Big 12 play.
8. Tennessee (23-6, 3-3 SEC)
The Lady Vols slip one spot, but you know how things work here. Lose two of three on the road against a team like Florida, when all three games go to extra innings, and defeat doesn't automatically equal drop. As expected, the four-pitcher rotation shrunk to an all-Renfroe pairing in SEC play. The bad news is a brutal early conference schedule won't relent. Texas A&M's bats come to town this week, with a trip to Georgia looming not far down the road.
9. Oregon (23-4)
It was a quiet week, with just two games against New Mexico, but Oregon made the most of it. Ace Jessica Moore pitched a one-hitter in a 10-0 win, then freshman Cheridan Hawkins matched that with 13 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings shutout innings in a 4-0 win. (Karissa Hovinga recorded the final two outs.) Sophomore Janie Takeda showed she's more than a slapper with her second home run. Considering she's hitting .500 overall, that's a scary thought. Both teams will be well rested when Pac-12 play begins with a visit from Stanford.
10. LSU (23-5, 5-1 SEC)
LSU returns to the top 10 after a series sweep against Kentucky. The Tigers scored 14 runs against more than decent Wildcats pitching. Why is that a big deal? They scored just four runs in three games against the same opponent last season, losing three one-run decisions. Nobody is going to confuse them with the Sooners or Sun Devils, but a .443 slugging percentage goes a long way when you have Rachele Fico, who picked up two more wins on the weekend.