Super surprises may be in store
A look back at the first full day of play in the NCAA tournament.
Five things you need to know from Saturday
1. Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State and UAB are a win from surprise super regional appearances. Those are the unseeded teams that advanced to regional finals without a loss. And since UAB faces fellow unseeded entrant UCLA in the final of the Louisville Regional, we're guaranteed at least one unseeded team will advance.
The common theme, as it so often seems to be in postseason softball, is pitching. And in this case, it was ULL's Jordan Wallace, Florida State's Lacey Waldrop and UAB's Lannah Campbell pitching in hostile territory. All three came up big Saturday in true road games against teams that entered the NCAA tournament with a combined 64-10 record at home.
Wallace was brilliant against No. 9 LSU, getting her 30th win of the season by striking out 10 and allowing just two hits and one walk in seven innings. In her four most recent games, all against NCAA tournament teams, she has allowed six hits and three earned runs and struck out 41 batters in 28 innings.
Waldrop was almost as good againt No. 13 South Alabama, allowing just one earned run on five hits and striking out 10 batters. In her past four games, also all against NCAA tournament teams, she has allowed just two earned runs and struck out 34 batters in 28 innings. That's tough company to keep, and Campbell wasn't as statistically brilliant as her peers. But a day after beating UCLA, she came out of the bullpen to throw six innings of steady relief against No. 15 Louisville, all her offense needed to eventually come up with the runs for a 7-4 win.
That's probably it for any potential upsets. Hofstra still has Olivia Galati. California still has Jolene Henderson. Georgia still has its home runs. And on and on. The gut says a lot of teams on the brink of elimination still have enough to have a chance. History says otherwise. Since the tournament went to super regionals in 2005, only one unseeded team beat a seeded team twice on the final day of a regional to advance. Jacksonville State did the honors against No. 13 Tennessee in 2009 (Massachusetts will forever earn mention, as well, after it beat eventual national champion Washington once and took the second game to 15 innings in 2009).
2. Aces usually win the hand. A rare rough day for Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts notwithstanding, there is a reason the top eight seeds are in position to host super regionals. It's tough to beat what you can't score against.
Take a look at Saturday's combined pitching line for Florida's Hannah Rogers, Oregon's Jessica Moore, Texas' Blaire Luna, Arizona State's Dallas Escobedo, Missouri's Chelsea Thomas, Tennessee's Ellen Renfroe and Michigan's Sara Driesenga, the respective aces of the top seven seeds after Oklahoma: 45 IP, 24 H, 2 ER, 55 K.
Escobedo almost managed back-to-back no-hitters in Tempe, stymied only by an infield single in Saturday's win against a Georgia lineup that some had beat but few had shut down. Renfroe threw all 11 innings in a 1-0 win against NC State (leaving sister Ivy fresh, should the Lady Vols elect to go with their co-ace in the final). And Driesenga, who might not seem a natural fit in this kind of company, threw her second shutout in as many days in a win against Cal.
3. UCLA bats around and around and around. UCLA's day began with the possibility of exiting the tournament against IPFW, a four-letter school name with slightly less softball prestige. It ended with a 19-2 win in five innings against No. 15 Louisville, the most runs scored against a seeded team in the super regional era and tied for the second-most runs scored in any tournament game since 2005 (Oklahoma and North Carolina each scored 21 runs in wins in 2009). Seven Bruins drove in runs, led by freshman Allexis Bennett with five RBIs. Three Bruins hit home runs, again including Bennett, who also went 3-for-3 in the win against IPFW earlier in the day.
4. All is quiet in Austin, and that's a good thing. The regional in the Texas capital lacks drama, and that's probably fine with those involved. Texas steamrolled South Carolina by an 11-2 margin Saturday to advance to the regional final and has outscored two opponents 16-2. That's 16 runs, as in one more run than the Longhorns scored in total while winning back-to-back four-team regionals with Cat Osterman in 2005 and 2006 (not that a lot of runs were required when their opponents scored a grand total of none in those six games). For the first time in a long time, Texas gets to be one of the drama-free teams quietly taking care of business. The top four hitters in the lineup combined for 10 hits against South Carolina, and Taylor Hoagland's home run to lead off the game set the tone. Luna enters Sunday having thrown just 129 pitches in two days; she threw 465 pitches in last year's regional.
5. The noise came from College Station. The game of the day merits a split ticket, so Cali Lanphear and Nicole Morgan both get top billing. For most of its game against Baylor, Texas A&M looked likely to join the other seeded teams that lost Saturday. The Bears jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and the Aggies had nothing going against Whitney Canion. Then came the bottom of the seventh. After Emily Albus and Amber Garza reached base with one out, Lanphear drilled a three-run home run over the right-field fence. The freshman's 19th home run of the season tied the game 5-all, but that left it to Morgan, the next batter, to launch a walk-off winner over the fence. Canion had allowed 12 home runs in 197 innings entering the game. Add in Mel Dumezich's home run, and Texas A&M hit three in the span of two innings.
Saturday's honor roll
Lauren Haeger, Florida: South Florida ace Sara Nevins has given up 34 runs this season. Florida's Lauren Haeger has driven in nine of them. So much for the battle for state supremacy. Florida's sophomore hit a grand slam and a three-run double against the Bulls to pace her team's 11-1 win against the pitcher who eliminated the Gators a season ago.
Andi Williamson, Marshall: If it was Williamson's last day in the circle, she got her money's worth. Her team's upset bid against No. 12 Kentucky undone in the eighth inning a night earlier, Williamson came back Saturday afternoon and beat Notre Dame without allowing an earned run. A few hours later, the senior was back in the circle in another elimination game against Virginia Tech. And 13 innings later, she was still out there when the Hokies scratched out the winning run. The final tally for a little more than 24 hours: 460 pitches and 27 2/3 innings.
Lauren Chamberlain, Oklahoma: It was a little early in the tournament for Oklahoma to have a big late-game at-bat, but Chamberlain delivered a three-run double to break open a 10-5 win against Arkansas. She finished with five RBIs on the day and has 10 RBIs in two games in the regional.
Jolene Henderson, California: Shaky command compounded by defensive miscues early in Saturday's showdown with Michigan led to three unearned runs and a four-run deficit. Cal coach Diane Ninemire opted to pull her ace and save something for later in the day. Something turned out to be a no-hitter against Valparaiso, the fourth of her career.
Kelsey Nunley, Kentucky: It was a shaky start to its first home regional for Kentucky, extra innings required for Friday's win against Marshall, but Kentucky is one game from its second super regional appearance because freshman ace Nunley has been rock solid from the outset. How did she follow an eight-inning complete game Friday in her first NCAA tournament start? With a one-hitter against Virginia Tech.
Looking ahead to Sunday
No. 6 Missouri vs. Hofstra: As mentioned, unseeded teams face an uphill battle trying to win two games in a regional final. If there is one that could make Sunday intriguing, it might be Hofstra. The Pride in many ways sealed their own fate in Saturday's game against Missouri. They failed to score in the first inning after they loaded the bases with no outs and set up Missouri's lone run with miscommunication on an infield popup between shortstop and second base. And while Missouri might just be due to put up crooked numbers, it hasn't hit at all through two games. What makes it a potential chess match is that Thomas hasn't thrown on back-to-back days in more than a month, let alone three games in two days. The Pride might have to beat her only once in trying to beat the Tigers twice. Of course, it's Hofstra ace Olivia Galati who threw 17 innings Saturday.
No. 16 Texas A&M vs. Baylor: This one operates on somewhat the same principle as above, with Texas A&M ace Mel Dumezich a potential question mark if forced to pitch two games in one day after battling injuries late in the regular season. Saturday's dramatic loss aside, Baylor's offense has been hitting about as well in College Station as it has all season, and the Lady Bears have two viable pitchers in Whitney Canion and Heather Stearns.
The seeded teams (and UCLA) must win twice in the following regional finals:
Louisiana-Lafayette vs. No. 9 LSU
Florida State vs. No. 13 South Alabama
UAB vs. UCLA
The rest of the regional finals. In all cases, the seeded team needs just one win to advance:
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. Arkansas
No. 2 Florida vs. South Florida
No. 4 Texas vs. South Carolina
No. 5 Arizona State vs. Georgia
No. 7 Tennessee vs. TBD (NC State and James Madison to finish elimination game Sunday)
No. 8 Michigan vs. California
No. 10 Alabama vs. Western Kentucky
No. 11 Washington vs. Hawaii
No. 12 Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech
No. 14 Nebraska vs. Stanford