By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Five Big 12 Conference teams - the most in league history in a single season - are among the 16 teams still competing for the NCAA Division I Softball Championship. Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M all advanced to this weekend's Super Regionals.
Two Big 12 teams will host Super Regionals. Oklahoma State won the first regional title in school history and will play host Houston in Stillwater. No. 5 seed Missouri advanced to its fourth consecutive Super Regional and will play host to Washington.
No. 16 seed Texas A&M will play at No. 1 seed Arizona State. No. 9 seed Oklahoma will play at No. 8 seed Arizona and No. 11 seed Baylor will play at No. 6 seed Georgia.
Texas, the No. 3 seed overall, couldn't take advantage of its home field. The Longhorns lost to Houston (the eventual regional champion) 1-0 and then lost to Louisiana-Lafayette, 5-3, in an elimination game.
Texas Tech was no-hit in its opener in the Tucson Regional, losing to New Mexico State 9-0. The Lady Raiders bounced back to beat Harvard and New Mexico State before being eliminated by Arizona, the host, school, 10-2.
Nebraska had a similar experience in the Stanford Regional. The Huskers lost to Fresno State, 1-0, in the opener. Nebraska bounced back to defeat Pacific and Fresno State (combined score of 16-1 in those two games) before losing to host Stanford, 4-1, Sunday.
Oklahoma State makes history
For the Cowgirls, reaching the first Super Regional in school history required more than just a little drama.
Facing Tennessee on its home field, Oklahoma State scored first and built a 3-0 lead through three innings. The Lady Vols, though, rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Oklahoma State loaded the bases. Freshman Tarah Ettinger pinch hit for No. 9 hitter Kelsey Anchors. Ettinger drilled a full-count pitch into right center. All three runners scored - the last on a Tennessee error - to give the Cowgirls a 6-4 lead heading into the top of the ninth.
The Lady Vols got their first two hitters aboard with no outs. A ground out and a sacrifice fly produced two outs and one run. With the tying run at second, Lauren Gibson singled to left but OSU's Tamara Brown threw a strike to the plate and catcher Ashley Boyd applied the tag to end the game.
"I thought we had her, but I didn't have the best of views,'' Brown said.
Missouri wins fourth consecutive regional title
It wasn't easy for the fifth-seeded Tigers. A 2-1 loss to DePaul Saturday night meant that Missouri had to beat the Blue Demons twice Sunday to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals for the third consecutive year.
Senior Rhea Taylor sparked the offense with a home run in each game and sophomore pitcher Chelseas Thomas took care of the pitching as the Tigers defeated DePaul 7-3 and 8-0.
"I didn't want it to be the last time I played," said Taylor, who went five-for-eight with four runs and six RBI in the two victories. "I said to myself, you just need to stop thinking and do what you do."
Thomas, a sophomore who missed most of last season with an arm injury, won both games. In the clincher, she pitched a six-inning no-hitter - her fourth of the season and eighth of her career. Thomas took a perfect game into the bottom of the fifth inning, when she issued a two out, full count walk. She worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning to close it out.
"The amazing thing is that Chelsea was 62-65 mph," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "That's very atypical of her, she is mostly upper 60s or low 70s. She did not have good velocity today and I don't think she had good velocity (Saturday), to be honest. But, the drop ball got a lot of ground balls and the change-up was effective."
Ashley Fleming's two-out, two-run homer in the first inning gave Missouri a boost in the second game and they kept pouring it on to force an early end to the contest.
"When you have a pitcher like Chelsea Thomas you are in every game," DePaul coach Eugene Lenti said. "Then you have excellent hitters, you have some really special players out there. They are a veteran team and they are well coached. There really are no weaknesses in that squad."
Texas A&M streaks into Super Regional
The 16th-seeded Aggies extended their winning streak to 10 games and their home winning streak to 27 as they swept to the regional title with three triumphs. In Sunday's clincher, Texas A&M got a game-tying homer from Meagan May in the top of the seventh then scored two runs in the top of the ninth to edge LSU, 3-1.
"We just have a lot more depth [this season]," Texas A&M coach Jo Evans said. "We have a lot more talent. This year, we have that huge roster, and initially it was challenging because we had to have people learn their role and not think so much about playing time. But once we got settled into that and really understood what our lineup was going to be, we really just turned into a real team."
LSU scored in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead. But sophomore pitcher Mel Dumezich kept the Tigers at bay for the rest of the game.
In the top of the ninth, Brittany Walker was safe on a bunt when the LSU second baseman dropped the throw at first while colliding with Walker. After a walk, freshman Amber Garza and senior Rhi Kliesing had run-scoring singles to give the Aggies a 3-1 lead.
"(The LSU pitcher) got ahead of me and I just told myself to not tighten up, just relax, just put the ball in play," Garza said. "Like I said yesterday, all of our teammates are really fast, so I knew if I put the ball in the outfield, they're going to score."
Dumezich (30-8) worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. He allowed four hits and struck out seven.
Grand Canion: Baylor rides pitcher to regional title
Baylor's Whitney Canion fired her third consecutive shutout as the Lady Bears defeated East Carolina 1-0 Sunday to win the College Park Regional in the NCAA Division I Softball Championship.
No. 11 seed Bayor (43-12) will travel to Athens, Ga., to face No. 6 seed Georgia (50-12) in the Super Regional Round.
Canion (27-9) came within one out of a no-hitter against the Pirates. She finished allowing one hit, striking out seven and walking five as she fired her seventh complete-game shutout of the season. The regional marked the first time she has thrown three consecutive shutouts.
Holly Holl's go-ahead double to score Megan Turk in the top of the sixth for the Lady Bears' only run. Turk led off the inning with a single up the middle and was sacrificed to second by Dani Leal.
"We had the hearts of champions today and that is what it took," Baylor coach Glenn Moore said. "This team plays with one heartbeat and it was a complete team effort to win the title."
OU's "other pitcher" comes through
Faced with an elimination game, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso had to make a difficult decision. Ace pitcher Keilani Ricketts had pitched nine innings in Oklahoma's 4-3 loss to Tulsa.
"Keilani was really gassed after that first game," Gasso said.
Instead of starting Ricketts in the circle, Gasso elected to go with sophomore southpaw Michelle Gascoigne. The loss Sunday had dropped Ricketts' record to 27-13 while Gasgoigne entered the game with an 8-3 record.
She's now 9-3 after blanking the Golden Hurricane 5-0 as ninth-seeded Oklahoma survived and advanced. Gascoigne allowed six hits, struck out nine and walked four, but stranded nine Tulsa runners.
"I felt in control from the first inning, hitting my spots and getting the ball over the plate," Gascoigne told the Norman Transcript.
The Sooners scored all five of their runs in the third inning. Haley Nix's two-out single plated the first run. Brittany Williams and Chana'e Jones followed with run-scoring singles with the final two runs produced by a Tulsa throwing error.
"It was a tough day," Gasso said. "I am proud of this team and the way they came back in the second game. They stayed together, they were determined and they persevered. I am extremely excited about Michelle Gascoigne and her performance, because she really took a lot off Keilani."