Campbell sister act hard to top
A look back at the first full day of play in the NCAA tournament.
Five things you need to know from Friday
1. It was a heck of a day for the Campbell family. There are sister acts all across the bracket this year, and more than a few had fabulous Fridays. South Florida's Ashli and Courtney Goff had all four of their team's hits in a 1-0 extra-inning win against Georgia Southern, a game settled when Ashli scored on a walk-off squeeze play. Cal's Jolene and Danielle Henderson teamed up for a complete game (Jolene) and two home runs (Danielle) in a comfortable win against Central Michigan.
But no sisters had a better day than Hannah and Lannah Campbell, even if they were separated by a few hundred miles.
UAB junior Lannah got things started with a complete-game win against UCLA in the Louisville regional. Lannah also got the save when UAB opened the season with a win against Washington, meaning she had a hand in the only two wins the program ever had against Pac-12 teams. The Bruins scored single runs in each of the first three innings, but after the Blazers put up six in the top of the third, Lannah allowed just two hits over the final four innings.
That set the stage for Hannah, who got the ball for No. 13 South Alabama in its first ever postseason game as a seeded team. The national leader in ERA entering the tournament, she lowered that mark to 0.84 with a six-inning perfect game in a 10-0 win against Mississippi Valley State in the Mobile regional.
For the record, father Randy, a superintendent in the Mobile school system, watched Hannah pitch at home, while mother Donna and the twins' grandmother traveled to Louisville to watch Lannah.
2. The chalk is doing well ... so far. The first full day of regional play didn't provide nearly the chaos that we saw one year ago, when four seeded teams lost openers to fall into the losers bracket. Including Oregon's opener from Thursday night, all 16 national seeds opened the tournament with wins, the third time that has happened in the past four years. There were close calls for No. 11 Washington against Portland State, No. 12 Kentucky against Marshall and No. 15 Louisville against IPFW, but none of them will need to repeat what Texas and Tennessee did in winning four in a row to salvage a regional last year.
That's good news, because what Texas and Tennessee did is incredibly tough to do. Since the tournament expanded to include super regionals in 2005, seeded teams are 129-15 in opening games. But of those 15 teams that lost, only four managed to come through to the losers bracket and still reach a super regional.
3. Arizona and UCLA are in trouble. Let's start by noting that UCLA and Arizona aren't done yet. But the two most famous names in the sport are in a world of hurt. After UCLA lost to UAB and Arizona lost to Baylor, the giants are in danger of going two-and-out in the same tournament for the first time ever. How hefty is the history the Bruins and Wildcats now have to overcome? Only twice since the tournament expanded in 2005 did an unseeded team lose its opening game and then win four in a row to win a regional and advance (Cal State Fullerton in 2007 and Jacksonville State in 2009).
4. Oregon is ahead of the pack. The Ducks are one win from their fourth consecutive super regional. Host of the only regional to start play Thursday (because regional participant BYU cannot play on Sundays), Oregon more or less cruised to wins against BYU and North Carolina. Jessica Moore said this week that she feels the difference in her body this season, when she still hasn't hit 200 innings, compared to the same point a season ago, when she was well on her way to pitching more than 300 innings. Facing a North Carolina lineup with a lot of right-handed power, coach Mike White elected to start Moore for the second game in a row Friday rather than standout freshman lefty Cheridan Hawkins. Moore faced a little trouble early but never looked even remotely rattled and ended the day with her third career postseason shutout and her 100th career win at Oregon. She is 10-0 in regionals in her career.
5. Ehren Earleywine's gamble paid off. And Nicole Hudson pitched what had to be the day's most satisfying shutout to make sure it did. Missouri's coach elected not to start ace Chelsea Thomas in his team's opener against Stony Brook. Pitching Thomas on consecutive days has been a trouble spot for the Tigers down the stretch, in large part because of a forearm issue for the senior. One of the SEC's best hitters in her primary role, Hudson also entered Friday's game with a 4.75 ERA in 23 appearances as a pitcher, a role she was forced to fill after the expected No. 2 pitcher left the team. She had 10 wins in the regular season, but her job was to eat up innings and protect Thomas' arm. If she and the rest of the lineup could score enough runs in support to win, that was almost a bonus. Well, there wasn't a whole lot of support to be found against Stony Brook, as Missouri's bats went cold. But Hudson's two-hitter gave the lineup enough cover for Jenna Marston's three-run home run to be the difference in an otherwise uninspired 3-0 win. Now Thomas is fresh for Saturday's showdown with Hofstra ace Olivia Galati, another of the nation's best pitchers.
Friday's honor roll
Ashlyn Masters, South Carolina: It's a fitting last name for the player of the day. Masters staked South Carolina to a 4-1 lead against Houston with a grand slam in the third inning. Turns out, it wasn't enough. Houston rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning, leaving it to Masters to deliver a two-run double in the seventh to cement a 6-4 win.
Ashley Czechner, LSU: Like Earleywine, LSU coach Beth Torina held back her ace in the opening game of a regional. The difference was, her starting pitcher began the season as a starting pitcher. The Tigers had a tough time putting away Central Connecticut State, but not as tough of a time as the visitor had getting to Czechner. The sophomore struck out a career-high 15 batters and allowed just three hits and one earned run in seven innings.
Dallas Escobedo, Arizona State: Escobedo didn't claim one of a bevy of shutouts Friday, but Arizona State's ace was part of a much smaller club that threw no-hitters. In her case, the no-hitter was the first in Arizona State postseason history. San Jose State scored two in the first on a walk, a hit batter and an error, but Escobedo took over from there.
Kayla Bonstrom, Stanford: Other hitters had bigger numbers (Tennessee's Cheyanne Tarango and Oklahoma's Lauren Chamberlain among them after each drove in five runs in big wins), but Bonstrom gets points for both the numbers and the setting. The Pac-12 freshman of the year broke a 2-2 tie against Tulsa by hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning off Golden Hurricane ace Aimee Creger. It proved to be the final margin in a 4-2 win.
Emily Weiman, NC State: She got a big assist from a big home run off the bat of teammate Bethaney Wells (as well as a memorably bad bit of base running from James Madison), but Weiman came up big with a three-hit shutout in her first NCAA tournament start. Overshadowed all season by the Wolfpack's slugging prowess under first-year coach Shawn Rychcik, she is now 32-16 with 40 complete games.
What's ahead Saturday
Friday was fun, but the scarcity of upsets means Saturday could be spectacular as the top two teams in regionals face off in a lot of places. The winner advances to the regional final, while the loser has a second game Saturday.
No. 8 Michigan vs. California: The game in Ann Arbor looked like it might be the best in regionals when the bracket came out, and it looks even better after Cal ace Jolene Henderson threw a two-hitter against Central Michigan in which the brace on her recently injured left knee didn't seem to bother her a bit. Just as notably, Cal's offense came alive, albeit against a MAC team, with four home runs. It's a super regional matchup a week early.
No. 5 Arizona State vs. Georgia: Will Arizona State coach Clint Myers, rarely averse to using multiple pitchers, start No. 2 Mackenzie Popescue against the homer-happy Bulldogs? Or will he go back to Escobedo, whose Achilles' heel remains a propensity for giving up home runs? And will Georgia give the ball back to Morgan Montemayor, the Arizona native whose four innings of no-hit relief proved valuable in Friday's win against San Diego State?
No. 2 Florida vs. South Florida: The narrative for Florida all season has been how much different this team is from the team that imploded in the postseason a year ago and lost to South Florida ace Sara Nevins. Here's the chance to get rid of that last ghost. Gators ace Hannah Rogers got the day off in Friday's win against Hampton, but Nevins only worked three innings in her team's close call against Georgia Southern.
No. 16 Texas A&M vs. Baylor: The two teams will stage a Big 12 reunion after they won their respective games Friday by a combined 19-0 score. The last time Baylor ace Whitney Canion faced the Aggies in 2011 (she missed last season's games with an injury), she gave up three home runs and walked six in a 6-5 loss. Of course, that was one day after she struck out seven, allowed just four hits and went the distance in a 2-1 win in 11 innings.
Elsewhere: Those are hardly the only gems on the schedule. No. 9 LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette renew their intense rivalry with a rested Rachele Fico in the circle for the Tigers. ... No 11 Washington managed just two hits against Portland State but escaped with a 2-1 win Friday. Two hits probably won't get it done against Hawaii's offense. ... And after opening against an overmatched SWAC opponent, No. 13 South Alabama will get a better chance to show the rest of the country, not to mention about three times as many fans as it averaged in the regular season, why it is seeded when it faces ACC champion Florida State. South Alabama won 4-0 when the teams played in Mobile on April 10.