[ED.NOTE: Much to the disdain of the Bama softball rainbow chasing rage mob, I am back from vacation. This excursion came with a promise of minimal online activity. Though I come back refreshed and blissful, don’t expect any observations through rose-colored glasses. It will be the same ol’ straight up honesty as always. Many thanks to Josh Chatham for ably filling in.]
It seems so long ago that we were fretting about whether the 2021 season would even start. Yet, here we are down to the final eight teams. It should not be surprising that the top three favorites to win it all are also the top three in RPI Rankings:
(WCWS participants in bold)
|5||Oklahoma State||Big 12||47-10||16-2||8-3||23-5|
The reason Alabama is ranked higher than the Sooners is twofold: 1) The SEC and Pac-12 are much stronger conferences in softball than the Big XII; and 2) the Crimson Tide had a tougher non-conference slate.
No. 1 Oklahoma (50-2)
The Sooners are the big big junkyard dog in the fight. Jocelyn Alo (.487) and Tiare Jennings (.485) are neck-and-neck for the NCAA batting title. Jayda Coleman (.469) and Kinzie Hansen (.453) are right behind them. Alo leads the nation with 30 dingers plus 82 RBI. Jennings is tied for second in home runs with 25 with a national high of 84 RBI. There are just too many good hitters and stats in this lineup to name without typing up a wall of words. As a team, they are hitting an astonishing .421 almost 80 points higher than the number two team Texas who finished the season hitting .342. The OU team average is higher than all but nine individual, non-Sooners, Power team players. Okie has swatted 146 four-baggers in 52 games for an eye-popping 2.81 HR per game. The next highest total is Wichita State with 103. No other team has more than 95.
Now, here is the rub. As good as their hitting has been, the pitching has been suspect as of late. You may recall in mid-April, the Sooners fell to UGA 7-6 while the Dawgs were in the midst of a winning drought. In May, Okie beat Oklahoma State in two out of three games but gave up 18 runs in the progress. In two games against Wichita State in the Regional, the Sooners yielded a 5 and 7 runs. OU pitching has had one shutout in the last 12 outings and that one was against something called Morgan State.
The Sooners are a very scary bunch, but not invincible.
No. 2 UCLA (46-5)
What Oklahoma is to batting, the Bruins are to pitching. UCLA’s team ERA is 1.24 led by Rachel Garcia (0.95 - tops among Power pitchers) and Megan Faraimo (1.10). Faraimo and Garcia are the top two in Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio with astounding marks of 14.15 and 7.71 respectively. HOWEVER... the Bruins did not play a single regular season game against a Power team outside of PAC-12 opponents. In addition, they got a pretty easy post-season draw of Long Beach State, Fresno State, and Minnesota. Virginia Tech surprisingly upset Arizona State and the Hokies took UCLA to a third game in the Supers before succumbing. Garcia gave up 10 runs against Fresno and VaTech in the post-season. You have to wonder if she is running out of gas.
The Baby Blues have a good numbers in team average (.320), runs per game (6.24), and home runs (74), but their competition is suspect.
No. 3 Alabama (50-7)
No team is hotter than the Crimson Tide right now. No pitcher is hotter than Montana Fouts (25-3, 1.49 ERA, 314 K). Alabama is on an 18-game win streak with the Bama ace recording 90 strikeouts in the last seven. Lexi Kilfoyl (13-3, 1.57 ERA) finally made her first start against a Power foe since April 10 and held Kentucky to one run in the Super Regional final.
Alabama has a trend-busting style of manufacturing runs via speed and daring. However, sometimes those moves become blunders. Coach Patrick Murphy is not afraid to gamble with his base runners with a “make them throw you out” attitude. However in the WCWS, those teams that still remain are likely to be pretty sound defensive teams. Luckily for Alabama, Bailey Hemphill has reverted to her MVP form of 2019. Speed demon Alexis Mack continues to be the straw that stirs this drink.
[STRANGE BUT TRUE: Bama infielder Bailey Dowling, who was injured way back in mid-March, is still third on the team in home runs and RBI.]
No. 5 Oklahoma State (47-10)
boysgirlsladieswomenpersons have a bad case of little brothersister-idis, stuck in the looming shadow of the behemoth that is the 4-time national champs Sooners. Since 2016, Kenny Gajewski has built a powerhouse in Stillwater out of a dormant program but can’t seem to get over the hump. This year’s WCWS is the second in a row that has included OSU. But of course, they end up in Oklahoma’s half of the bracket.
The last nine times Okie Lite faced Okie:
05/04/19 Norman L, 0-3
05/05/19 Stillwater L, 1-7
05/06/19 Stillwater L, 1-6
05/31/19 Neutral L, 1-6 - Women’s College World Series
2020 games cancelled
05/07/21 Stillwater W, 6-4
05/08/21 Stillwater L, 4-6
05/09/21 Stillwater L, 8-11
05/15/21 Neutral L, 2-10 - Big 12 Tournament
I don’t like their chances.
No. 10 Florida State (44-10-1)
Despite the heroics of Duke and Clemson, the Seminoles are still the class of the ACC. After a disappointing loss to the Dookies in the ACC Tournament Semifinal, FSU has gotten new life behind hurlers Kathryn Sandercock (24-2, 1.09 ERA), hardluck Caylan Arnold (10-6, 1.66 ERA), and Danielle Watson (10-1, 2.20 ERA). Sydney Sherrill (.313, 28 RBI) leads the offense... what offense they have. She is the only ‘Noles regular with a batting average over .300. The team BA is an anemic .262. FSU has somehow survived the post-season with only 16 runs in five games (3.2 per game) and six of the runs came against lowly Kennesaw State.
No. 11 Arizona (41-13)
The Wildcats might be one of the sneaky-scariest team left in the bracket. ‘Zona scored 31 runs in a three game romp through the Tuscon Regional - twice putting up a dozen on Ole Miss. For an encore, they tamed 6-seed Arkansas 10-4 and 4-1 on the Hogs’ home field.
USA Olympic catcher Dejah Mulipola (21 HR, 63 RBI), Sharlize Palacios (18 HR, 57 RBI), and Jessie Harper (15 HR, 48 RBI) are no strangers to the home run trot. In the circle, Arizona relies on super-senior Alyssa Denham (19-8, 1.88 ERA), but she has been knocked around a bit as of late.
Arizona has participated in 24 Women’s College World Series and hold eight national championship trophies, but none since 2007. They were runner-ups in 2010.
I don’t know if Bulldogs coach Lu Harris-Champer gave her team deer antler spray or ostrich urine or what, but give me some of that! The last softball fans saw of UGA, they looked like a team six feet under having lost seven in a row and 13 of 15 concluding in a flat three-hit 0-3 loss in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Then, they were awarded a Regional and something changed. The unseeded Dawgs run-ruled WKU and took a pair of one-run games over No. 13 Duke. In the Gainesville Super Regional, they continuted to amaze by dominating the Gators in a pair of shutout victories in which four Bulldogs hit five home runs to move on to OKC.
The number one reason UGA has won five straight is ace Mary Wilson Avant (20-10, 2.69 ERA, 194 K) who seems like a new pitcher. She has pitched all but 5.0 innings over the streak and has not yielded a run in her last four appearances.
OF Jaiden Fields has gotten hot, collecting hits in 5 or her last 7 at bats with two home runs and four runs scored.
Can UGA continue their hot streak? Color me pessimistic. It was a nice ride but I expect them to make an early exit.
James Madison (39-2)
What the what? I knew the Dukes were a pesky bunch heading into the Knoxville Regional but who would have figured JMU would go this far? The funny thing is, they started this post-season with a 10 inning one-run win over Liberty that they probably should have lost. After taking down Tennessee and taking the rematch with Liberty, it was on to COMO where J-Mad defeated Mizzou in two out of three games.
Super senior Kate Gordon holds a ton of school records and has 18 round-trippers and 55 RBI this season to go with a .368 batting average. Another super senior, Odicci Alexander (1.14 ERA), does most of the heavy-lifting in the circle. Her record is 16-1 but her one defeat came last weekend when Mizzou roughed her up for 6 runs and knocked her out of the game after 1.2 innings.
The JMU record looks impressive but Virginia is the only Power team they played during the regular season. The two losses came to Elon and Mizz. They could make some noise in the loser bracket but there is no way they get past the Sooners.
I am sorry to report that the prime time games will be called by Beth Mowins. She is joined by Jessica Mendoza and Michele Smith with Holly Rowe roaming around the stadium.
The lucky dogs with the day games get Kevin Brown, Amanda Scarborough, and on-field reporter Jalyn Johnson.
- James Madison vs. Oklahoma 11am CT ESPN
- Georgia vs. Oklahoma State 1:30pm CT ESPN
- Arizona vs. Alabama 6pm CT ESPN
- Florida State vs. UCLA 8:30pm CT ESPN