National Champs' Secret Weapon

Oklahoma Sooners' Offense was Unsung MVP in Title Run

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

OKLAHOMA CITY Oklahoma just won the 2013 NCAA national title in softball. Everyone knows that superstar pitcher Keilani Ricketts was a big reason why. Ricketts turned in a record-setting season and was one of the most dominant pitchers to ever play college softball. But Ricketts was far from the only reason the Sooners won the national title. There was another part of Oklahoma's team that was equally as impressive and equally as important.

Oklahoma's unsung MVP was its offense.
Not many people know it, and it didn't get much press, but Oklahoma was as dominant from the plate as it was from the circle. Oklahoma's offense hit for a combined .334 batting average, had a combined 94 home runs, 523 hits, 444 RBI and 447 total runs. They also stole 69 bases.

The numbers are hard to understand until you realize that Oklahoma only played 61 games. That means every time the Sooners laced up their cleats their offense could be expected to put up 8.5 hits, 1.5 home runs, 1 stolen base, and put up 7.3 runs! 7.3 runs per game! And many of Oklahoma's games this season ended after 5 innings because of slaughter rule.

That is a remarkably effective offense. The Sooners may not have even needed an ace pitcher to win the title this year...though I'm sure they wouldn't want to find out!
There were three standout hitters on the Sooners' offense this year. The first and foremost was sophomore Lauren Chamberlain. She was an absolute machine.  Chamberlain hit for a .458 average and an NCAA-leading 30 home runs. She also had a .613 on-base percentage, 57 runs, and 14 stolen bases. She has a very rare combination of abilities in hitting for average, hitting for power, and stealing bases. A very special athlete.

Chamberlain also came up with a lot of crucial hits in the playoffs and was instrumental in the Sooners' final victory. Oklahoma had the undisputed best pitcher in the NCAA this year, but they also probably had the best hitter in the NCAA too in Lauren Chamberlain.
The team also got great production numbers from senior Brianna Turang. Turang didn't put up spectacular power numbers and didn't steal many bases, but her ability to hit for average was a big part of Oklahoma's offense.

Turang ended the season with a .404 average, .456 on base percentage, 55 hits, 50 runs, and 17 RBI. The true value of a hitter is in their ability to end an at-bat without recording an out, and with her great batting average and on-base percentage Turang managed to do that extremely well.
The last member of the Sooner offense worth mentioning is Keilani Ricketts. You may think it is cheating to include Ricketts in a list that is supposed to illustrate the accomplishments of Sooner players other than their star pitcher. But to leave Ricketts off of this list would be unfair because she was a big part of the offense too. Ricketts finished the season with a .379 batting average, a .534 on base percentage, 15 home runs, 58 hits, 68 RBI, and 44 runs.

Keilani's offensive production was so impressive that, with how well she pitched in most of her games, her own offensive production would have been all the team needed to win. She was almost a one-person team!

Think I'm crazy? Check out these numbers: Ricketts's ERA in 2013 was 1.23. That means that, on average, Keilani allowed 1.23 runs each game. In 2013 Keilani scored 44 runs. That means she scored 0.72 runs per game. That means the combined rest of the Sooner offense only needed to score 0.51 runs each game to win. Let Keilani pitch and count on 8 hitters to account for 0.51 runs and you got yourself a victory!  Not bad eh?
In 2013 Oklahoma pitching was the media darling and was a huge reason the Sooners won the 2013 NCAA title. But equally impressive was the Oklahoma offense. Oklahoma's offense was the team's unsung MVP. Read more.


Sooners Become 'America's Team'

Overcome Regional Tragedy to Win National ChampionshipAgain


OKLAHOMA CITY After millions of Americans had shared in the sorrow of Oklahoma’s two devastating EF5 tornadoes in two weeks, it was somehow fitting that the Oklahoma Sooners would win the 2013 Women’s College World Series—and in their home state.

Sydney Angle, a youth softball player and one of the tornado victims, served as inspiration for the team according to head coach Patty Gasso.

The nation’s top pitching duo—seniors Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne—led the way in the final game, blanking Tennessee 4-0 to take the title. Gascoigne got the start, her first since May 11th against Oklahoma State. She struck out 12 and allowed just three hits in her ninth shutout of the year.

The decision to hold Ricketts, who had been a pitching sensation all season and had started every other postseason game in the circle, was controversial but proved to be a wise one.

With her pitching load lightened, Ricketts lit up the scoreboard offensively, smashing a three-run homer to the bleachers in right field in the third inning and adding an RBI in the top of the seventh. It was Ricketts' 50th career home run and 15th of the season.

By virtue of its latest NCAA championship Oklahoma has laid claim to being the most dominant team in college softball, winning the national title for the second time in three years—and coming extremely close to a third title last year against Alabama.

The Sooners also elevated themselves into the history books by becoming only one of five teams to win the coveted World Series’ crown more than once.

Oklahoma will have a big hole to fill next season with the departure of both Ricketts and Gascoigne. But its inspiring first-place finish in the face of regional tragedy has created momentum for years to come. Read more.


You Go, Utes!

Utah's Softball Team is a Force to be Reckoned With in the Pac-12

By TSC Contributor JOSH ALLEN

LOMBARD Utah's softball program has officially come of age this season.

When the University of Utah joined the prestigious Pacific-10 Conference on July 1, 2011, the softball team knew it had its work cut out for it. After all, the Pac-10 (renamed the Pac-12 after the addition of Utah and Colorado) had absolutely dominated Division I softball nationally for decades. Utah, the naysayers said, was hardly cut from the same cloth.

Amidst the snickers and jokes the Utes struggled through their inaugural Pac-12 season “playing with the big girls,” compiling a disappointing 2-22 conference record. But the team began the 2013 season with renewed sense of energy, commitment and confidence—and it’s paying off.

Earlier this month the Utes won their first Pac-12 series—not against one of the conference “also-rans” but against perennial softball powerhouse UCLA, winner of the third-most national softball championships after Pac-12 rivals Arizona and Arizona State.

In fact, Utah had beaten Arizona itself two weeks earlier by the very respectable score of 8-4 in the last game of its three-game home stand; and had taken Arizona to the ropes for eleven innings in game #2 before eventually falling 6-5.

Against the Bruins the Utes dropped the first contest 6-4 but then stormed back, winning 7-4 in the nightcap and then 8-3 the following day. In that game, nine different players combined for 14 hits, which was a season high in conference play. The weekend also marked the first time the Utes had won consecutive conference games since joining the Pac-12.

Though infielder Kate Dickman went just 1-for-3 in the finale, she was certainly the star in the two earlier games. The sophomore connected on two home runs and two triples while tallying six RBIs to help the Utes split the first two games of the series. One of her homers was of the inside-the-park variety.

Utes head coach Amy Hogue had preached about the importance of the team limiting its opponent’s multiple-run innings while scoring multiple runs itself, and it was starting to happen.

Suddenly the softball world was taking notice of the little team that could.

The UCLA victory seemed to energize the ballclub, winning five of its next nine ballgames including a lopsided 11-2 victory over Oregon State and—get this—another Pac-12 series win over perennial softball powerhouse Arizona State, then-ranked #2/3 in the nation. In fact, ASU had to come back in the finale 6-4 to avoid a series sweep by Utah.

Sophomore Mariah Ramirez led the Utes on the final day, going 4-for-6 with an RBI and pitching 9.0 innings with a 3.89 RBI. Freshman third baseman Kristen Stewart hit three RBI, including her fourth home run of the year.

Utah's strong performance proved the earlier series win over UCLA was not a fluke and has elevated the program, according to head coach Hogue.

The Utes' momentum continued to build as they dominated Southern Utah on the road three days later, winning 14-2 in five innings in game one and 11-6 in game two of a doubleheader in Cedar City. Sophomore Marissa Menderhall went 5-for-5 with six RBI on the day.

Utah will meet a major challenge this weekend as it heads west to face #17/15 Stanford in a three-game set. The team then returns to Salt Lake City to face Washington in a three-game homestand before finishing out the regular season at BYU.

The University of Utah softball team has made its presence known this year in the Pac-12, and has sent notice that it is a force to be reckoned with in the conference.

You go, Utes! Read more.


Are the Ducks for Real?

Oregon Captures First-Ever Pac-12 Title & Jumps in National Polls

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

EUGENE Are the Oregon Ducks for real?  The team just won its first-ever Pac-12 regular season softball title and jumped to #2 & #3 in the USA Softball and NCFA polls.  Oklahoma is still the undisputed #1 team with Arizona State, Florida and Tennessee rounding out the top 5.

These are historic accomplishments for the Ducks' softball program.  The University of Oregon has long been a strong school in athletics (especially in football) but has never been a major contender for the NCAA title in softball.  Is this the year they finally break through?
The Ducks' most potent weapon is a duo of pitchers who have performed remarkably well this year.  The first is senior Jessica Moore.  This season Moore has pitched 159 innings and earned a 24-3 record with a 1.53 ERA and 157 strikeouts.  The second weapon is freshman pitcher Cheridian Hawkins.  This season Hawkins has pitched 121 innings and earned a 17-4 record with a 1.56 ERA and 192 strikeouts.

Oregon's coach is going to have a tough decision on who to give the majority of starts to in the postseason.  Moore has pitched very well this season and is a senior, so she is the more likely choice.  But Hawkins has pitched equally as well and has a higher strikeout total.  Normally the pitchers that do the best in the playoffs have a very high strikeout-per-inning ratio and Hawkins fits that mold better.
The Ducks also have some pretty impressive hitters to go along with their two ace pitchers.  Oregon has three players hitting over .400 (Alexa Peterson, Janie Takeda and Alyssa Gillespie) and 5 other players hitting over .500.  The Ducks also have four players with double-digit home run totals this year (Alexa Peterson, Kaylan Howard, Kailee Cuico and Janelle Lindvall).  Alexa Peterson is on both lists.  She is currently .464 and has 10 home runs.  Wow!
Whether it is Oregon's two quality pitchers or its stable full of great hitters, there is no doubt that Oregon has what it takes to go all the way this year.  Oregon is definitely for real.  Read more.


Best Pac-12 Stadium: Arizona State

ASU Tops the List of Best Pac-12 Softball Stadiums

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD The Pac-12 is the preeminent conference in college softball. The Pac-12 has won 24 of 30 Women’s College World Series championships, and its teams consistently rank in the top 10 nationally. As you might expect, the conference has some pretty incredible softball stadiums. These venues rank as some of the most impressive locations to play softball in the world. Here is my list of the top 9:

9.  University of Utah
Utah only joined the Pac-12 last year, and is new to the world of highly competitive world-class softball. Utah is also not particularly known for softball, so I am not surprised that their stadium is the least inspiring in the Pac-12. The stadium only has two small grand stands and is not in a very impressive part of the campus. The outfield also looks to be in need of repair. But there is good news for Utah softball fans; the school is planning to build a massive new softball stadium that has the potential to rank as one of the conference's best. A great stadium might help the team lure in better recruits and may allow Utah to rise from the bottom of the Pac-12 standings to be one of the conference's best. I was able to pull a picture from the Utah's website that looks really slick. The website did not give any information on when the structure is planned to be completed, but when it does I'm sure it will be fantastic.

8.  University of Oregon
In 2012 the University of Oregon Ducks had one of its most successful softball seasons ever. It finished #3 in the Pac-12 standings and earned a berth in the WCWS. Oregon is a program on the rise, but as of right now its stadium's stature does not match its program's stature.  The stadium is in a beautiful location and the view from home plate gives a very appropriate Pacific Northwest feel with lots of greenery. The stadium has a nice array of grandstands but they are still pretty small. In fact, many fans find that they have a better view by sitting in the surrounding parking lot.  Details like that give the stadium more of a high school feel than elite college feel. A very nice stadium, but it does not stack up well against some of the other more "professional" looking stadiums in the Pac-12.

7.  Oregon State
Oregon State is another Pac-12 program not particularly known for elite softball. The Beavers are rarely in the race for a Pac-12 crown or in the national softball conversation like many of their Pac-12 rivals are. But when it comes to stadiums Oregon State has a lot going for it. The stadium is beautifully manicured and has some very impressive grandstands and a professional looking press box. The warm-up area for the pitchers is also very nice looking; I like the alternating grass & dirt look rather than the less inspiring all dirt look of both Oregon and Utah. Oregon and Oregon State are ferocious competitors in everything, and Oregon tends to end on up the winning end of most of their matches, but when it comes to softball fields Oregon State has the edge.

6.  Stanford
Next on the list is Stanford. Stanford has never won a WCWS title but it is consistently one of the better teams in the Pac-12. Stanford also boasts one of college softball's most decorated alumnae in Olympian Jessica Mendoza. Stanford's field ranks at #6 on the list because it has professional grandstands with fairly robust seating capacity, and it occupies prime real estate on the university grounds very close to several other sports facilities.  Stanford also chose to place some of the softball support facilities (pitchers warm-up area and batting cage) towards the corner of the field away from the grandstands. I like this feature because when these structures are closer to the stands, it tends to distract from the viewing experience.

5.  Cal
The Pac-12 stadiums in the top half of the countdown are a full level above those in the bottom half. And Cal is no exception. My favorite part of Cal's field is that it is heavily wooded around the perimeter. The trees surrounding are gorgeous and majestic and give the venue a very unique and intimate feel. It's almost like the stadium was dropped into the woods from above. Cal also has a different spectator set up than the other Pac 12 fields. The majority of the seating capacity is set up in the outfield rather than centered around home plate. Leave it to the folks at Cal Berkeley to do something totally different than any other field in the conference.

4.  UCLA
Venerable UCLA. With 12 WCWS titles, no other softball program is as accomplished as the Bruins’. UCLA's stadium is not centrally located on UCLA's campus, but is still located on a gorgeous piece of property next door to some multi-million dollar homes. UCLA is similar to Cal in that it is nestled in a wooded area that gives an isolated feel, eliminating distractions and helping fans focus on the game. UCLA also has several enclosed outbuildings surrounding the field that I expect contain batting cages, storage, and other softball facilities. One of my favorite parts of UCLA's field is the retired numbers of past UCLA greats ringing the field.  All in all a very impressive facility.

3.  Washington
I came very close to naming Washington's stadium the best in the conference. That’s not because the stadium itself is very impressive. The grandstands and surrounding facilities better resemble Oregon and Oregon State and some of the other stadiums lower on the list. And there is not very much seating capacity compared to even some of the smaller schools. But where Washington reigns supreme is in its location. The view from the stands is absolutely incredible, being so close to the water with those beautiful mountains in the distance. If I lived closer to Washington I might go to games there just for the view.

2.  Arizona
Now we get to the big boys. Arizona State and Arizona both have incredible world-class stadiums, and picking a favorite between them was very difficult. There are many things I like about Arizona's field. The first is the grandstands. Arizona has large seating sections both centered around home plate and in the outfield.  No other Pac-12 stadium has that. The home plate seating section is also the second largest in the Pac-12. The seating section directly behind home plate is taller than the surrounding sections, which gives a great viewing angle for the game and gives the grandstands a really sharp and visually interesting look. This is easily one of the best venues in the world.

1.  Arizona State
We finally arrive at the #1 stadium in the Pac-12. There are lots of beautiful stadiums in the conference but Arizona State takes the cake. This is the standard by which all softball fields should be judged. There are several reasons why this stadium is #1. The first is the two-tiered grandstand. The two-tiered look both gives a high seating capacity and, perhaps more importantly, looks imposing and professional. You can tell the team is well supported by the size of those stands. I also really like that there are also two walls around the outside so fans can walk along the outfield fence to get a different view of the game while still being inside the facility. My favorite little detail is the ring of palm trees lining the field.  Nothing says Arizona desert like a slew of palm trees. I also really like the location. It is centrally located on campus close to many other sports complexes. Arizona State does it right! Read more.

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