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June 01, 2011
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

With half of the eight-team field, fans of Big 12 Conference softball will have plenty to cheer about Thursday when the Women’s College World Series starts at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

In Bracket One, Big 12 teams Oklahoma State and Baylor will play at 2:30 p.m. in Thursday’s second game of the day. The other two Big 12 teams are in Bracket Two and will play the last two games of the day. Oklahoma takes on top seed Arizona State at 6 p.m. and Missouri faces Florida at 8:30 p.m.

The two four-team brackets play a double-elimination format to determine a survivor in each. The two pool winners meet in a two-out-of-three championship series that starts Monday.

Here’s a capsule break down of the eight WCWS teams.

Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 51-9
WCWS appearances, titles: 7, 0.
You need to know: Sophomore Kayla Braud is hitting .440 with 58 steals (the most I the NCAA). Junior Cassie Reilly-Boccia leads the team ith 43 RBI. Alabama has a one-two punch in the circle with senior Kelsi Dunne (27-4, 1.15 ERA) and freshman Jackie Traina (19-5, 1.28 ERA). Alabama had four home games at the end of April cancelled after tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa on April 27. The Crimson Tide hosted the Super Regional and beat Stanford in three games to reach the WCWS.

Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 53-6.
WCWS appearances, titles: 9, 1.
You need to know: Junior Katelyn Boyd is hitting .444 with 17 home runs, 60 RBI and 74 runs scored. Senior catcher Kaylyn Castillo checks in with a .357 batting average, eight home runs and 35 runs scored. Freshman pitcher Dallas Escobedo (30-3, 1.32 ERA) has pitched 206.1 of ASU’s 366.2 innings this season. Arizona State’s sparkling won-loss record includes a sweep at in-state rival Arizona in late April. The Sun Devils had never swept the Wildcats.

Baylor Bears
Record: 45-13.
WCWS appearances, titles: 2, 0.
You need to know: Sophomore outfielder Kathy Shelton is Baylor’s top hitter at .356. She also had 33 stolen bases. Senior shortstop Dani Leal leads the team with 38 RBI and his hitting .342. The Lady Bears have stolen 114 bases in 137 attempts. Whitney Canion is 28-9 with a 1.16 ERA. She has 301 strikeouts this season and is the school’s career leader. Baylor has won 14 of its last 19 games. Two of the five losses came against Oklahoma State, the team the Lady Bears face in their WCWS opener.

California Golden Bears
Record: 44-11.
WCWS appearances, titles: 11, 1.
You need to know: Freshman shortstop Britt Vonk is hitting .412 with 45 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. Junior outfielder Jamia Reid (.409, team-leading 30 steals) and junior third baseman Jace Williams (.387, team-leading 41 RBI) are also top players in the lineup. Sophomore Jolene Henderson (39-8, 0.87 ERA, 313 strikeouts) has pitched 314.1 of her team’s 364.0 innings. The Bears closed the regular season winning 15 of their last 17 games. That included a sweep of defending national champion UCLA – Cal’s first sweep of the Bruins since 1998.

Florida Gators
Record: 52-10.
WCWS appearances, titles: 4th, 0.
You need to know: Junior centerfielder Michelle Moultrie is hitting .431 with 28 stolen bases. Senior first baseman Megan Bush (.345, 20 home runs), senior outfielder Kelsey Bruder (.386, 17 home runs, 14 doubles) and sophomore Brittany Schutte (.322, 20 home runs) also have potent bats. Freshman Hannah Rogers (33-6, 1.59 ERA) is the Gators’ top pitcher. Florida’s 110 home runs are the most of any WCWS team. Gators coach Tim Walton played baseball at Oklahoma and was an assistant for the Sooners from 1999-2002.

Missouri Tigers
Record: 52-8.
WCWS appearances, titles: 6, 0.
You need to know: Senior outfielder Rhea Taylor lead the Tigers in hitting at .371 and also is tops in steals (43), hits (69) and runs (52). Junior Ashley Fleming (.358, team-best 16 doubles, 14 home runs, 62 RBI) and Nicole Hudson (.343, 13 doubles, 13 home runs) provide most of Missouri’s power. Sophomore pitcher Chelsea Thomas (31-6, ---- ERA) has bounced back after missing most of last season with a stress fracture in her pitching arm. The Tigers enjoyed a 24-game winning streak that ended at Baylor. Missouri won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title thanks to a Baylor victory over Texas.

Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 43-17.
WCWS appearances, titles: 6, 1.
You need to know: The Sooners won the national championship and returned to the WCWS each of the next four years. This is their first trip back since 2004. Chana’e Jones tops Oklahoma with a .359 average. Freshmen Destinee Martinez and Brittany Williams have been outstanding. Martinez is hitting .356 on the year with a team-high 79 hits. Williams has 12 homers and 39 RBI. Jessica Shults, the team’s top home run hitter with 19, hasn’t played in the NCAAs because of an illnes.. Pitcher Keilani Ricketts (29-13, 1.44 ERA) is also one of the team’s top power threats.

Oklahoma State Cowgirls
Record: 42-18.
WCWS appearances, titles: 7, 0.
You need to know: Oklahoma State is making its first WCWS appearance since 1998. This is the first time that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have both made the event in the same year. Junior Chelsea Garcia is hitting .339 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI. Alysia Hamilton is the tam’s leading hitter at .400 along with 17 doubles and 39 RBI. Senior Mariah Gearhart has scored 52 runs and has 36 stolen bases. Sophomore pitcher Kat Espinosa has a 23-8 record. The Cowgirls lost their last six games in Big 12 Conference play and finished with an 8-10 league record.
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