This past weekend in NCAA college softball proved that no one is safe atop the mountain this season. And, the race to the Women's College World Series is wide open.
1. The Curse of No. 1 ReturnsSo, who wants to be No. 1 in the country this season? Last week, top-ranked Oregon saw their record-tying unbeaten streak snapped. This week, Arizona assumed the top spot and promptly lost their first game since February.
But that's not all from the Top 4 teams in the country.
- No. 1 Arizona lost not once, but twice on the road against Utah. After winning the first game of the series on Thursday night, the Wildcats' bats suddenly went quiet in losses on Friday and Saturday.
- No. 2 Florida State lost 1-0 to Florida in their epic Wednesday night showdown. Then, FSU shockingly lost their next game against unranked South Carolina 7-2 on Friday. There had to be hangover from losing the hyped game to in-state rival Florida, especially for star pitcher Jessica Burroughs, who uncharacteristically gave up four runs in only three innings. The Seminoles rebounded with a 3-1 win on Saturday to salvage a two-game series split against the SEC opponent, but the former No. 1 team suddenly looks vulnerable.
- No. 3 Florida beat FSU on Wednesday, then shut out Kentucky on Friday. But, the Gators lost 5-1 to the Wildcats on Saturday. Florida followed with only two runs on Sunday, but it was good enough for a 2-0 win. It appears that Florida's inconsistent hitting is starting to be a factor late in the season.
- No. 4 Oregon is suddenly facing adversity. Oregon dropped two more Pac-12 games this weekend, both at home against Washington. After starting the season with 35 straight wins, Oregon has now lost four of six games. The Ducks need to respond quickly!
Texas A&M was poised to get in the conversation for No. 1, but the Aggies' winning streak ended Sunday on the road against Arkansas.
So, what about Minnesota? The Golden Gophers are on a tear with a 38-3 record and just swept Northwestern over the weekend to take sole possession of first place in the Big 10 conference.
Plus, preseason No. 1 Oklahoma is suddenly rounding into postseason form riding a 15-game winning streak. Are the Sooners ready to get back in the conversation?
It's clear that whichever team takes the top spot needs to be careful this season. The curse is real.
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2. Barnhill Mows Em' DownAfter Florida lost to Kentucky on Saturday, ace pitcher Kelly Barnhill was tasked to mow down nearly every batter who dared to step in the box.
Barnhill did much more than that, as she threw a no-hitter on the road in Lexington on Sunday afternoon. It was her second career no-no after delivering one in May 2016.
She nearly had a perfect game on Sunday, but she allowed a walk in the bottom of the sixth inning to end her quest for perfection.
Barnhill, apparently highly motivated after giving up the perfect game, found another gear to finish the game. She recorded the last five outs with a strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, and, yes, another strikeout to settle for a no-hitter. Her total for the day: 15 strikeouts.
Barnhill is now 18-0 on the season with a miniscule, almost incomprehensible 0.19 ERA.
The Gators' ace pitcher has allowed a grand total of eight runs this season, but only three of those runs have been earned. She has only allowed seven extra base hits this entire season. And, zero home runs.
Barnhill and the Gators' trademark defense are the two main reasons why Florida is a threat for the WCWS this season. But, as evidenced by what happened Saturday when they only scored one run in a loss, their offense remains a concern.
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3. Smack-12Chaos at the top of the Pac-12 Conference has us wondering who will actually win the conference.
No. 1 Arizona suffered their first conference losses over the weekend when they dropped two games to Utah. Meanwhile, former No. 1 Oregon now has four conference losses.
Sitting in between Zona and the Ducks are the Utah Utes. The Utes have responded nicely since being swept by Oregon at the end of March. And now they have a chance to actually win the conference.
But, Washington is looming as the final Pac-12 foe for Utah to close the regular season. The Huskies hit a rough patch early in the conference. Then, they shocked everyone when they traveled to Eugene and won the weekend series against Oregon.
There's a lot of softball left to play before determining which of these four top teams wins the regular season conference title:
- Arizona: 13-2 in conference
- Utah: 10-3 in conference
- Oregon: 10-4 in conference
- Washington: 8-7 in conference
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4. Tennessee Extends Win StreakOkay, Tennessee, we officially see you. SEC teams cannot sleep on the Volunteers, especially after they continued their long winning streak by winning the first two games of their series against Top 10 Alabama.
Tennessee has one more game Monday night against Alabama to maintain their winning streak, but this is a very impressive team right now.
The Vols have won 18 games in a row and are currently tied with Texas A&M for second place in the conference. If they beat Alabama on Monday, they're alone in second behind Florida. If they lose, they fall to third just ahead of Auburn.
Oh, and their next three series are against LSU, Florida, and A&M.
Unless Tennessee falters down the stretch, this team looks legit. Their pitching is strong and their hitting is clutch. On Saturday, the Vols came from behind to win 3-2 with a walk-off hit by Chelsea Seggern.
Then on Sunday, Brooke Vines hit a walk-off two run home run to turn a 0-0 pitcher's duel into a 2-0 win for Tennessee.
Two walk-off wins in two nights against Alabama is impressive. Even more impressive is Tennessee ace Matty Moss, who is now 20-1 on the season. She kept Alabama off the board by working around four hits and three walks during the game.
And now Tennessee owns the nation's longest winning streak. Can they complete the sweep against Alabama on Monday night?
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5. Big 12 Knockout Round is ComingIn the Big 12, three teams have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. And, those teams are about to play each other to determine the regular season winner.
Oklahoma rolled through Kansas to advance to 9-0 in the conference, Baylor remains 8-1 after not playing this weekend, and Oklahoma State is 8-1 after losing to Iowa State on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Cowgirls, they gave the Cyclones their first conference win of the season.
Now, these three teams are lined up for an epic conclusion to the conference schedule, starting this weekend in Norman.
Weekend of April 21: Baylor at Oklahoma
Weekend of April 28: Ok. State at Baylor
Weekend of May 3: OU at OSU to close regular season
We're about to find out how good these teams are. And, see if a team other than Oklahoma is ready to make national noise in the NCAA Tournament.
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6. UCLA - Hey, What Happon?No. 2 Florida State losing to unranked South Carolina was not the only wacky event of the weekend.
Top 10 UCLA traveled to unranked Oregon State and lost their weekend series. This came one weekend after the Bruins ended Oregon's unbeaten streak and won two out of three games against the Ducks.
Trouble started Thursday when UCLA was blown out 8-0 in five innings. The Bruins rebounded on Friday with a 7-5 win. But, UCLA gave up a late lead in Saturday's game and lost 8-5 on a walkoff home run by OSU's Natalie Hampton.
What was the common factor in both losses for UCLA? Freshman Rachel Garcia appears to have hit the freshman wall.
Garcia was so dominant in two wins against Oregon, but the Ducks finally got to her in the third game of the series. Garcia then had a tough weekend against Oregon State, including giving up the walkoff home run on Saturday.
Garcia did get the win on Friday, but she gave up 10 total runs in three games. She has a chance to respond in UCLA's next big Pac-12 series against Cal this weekend.
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7. Two Grand Slams in the Same Game!D.J. Sanders of Louisiana-Lafayette is one of the best hitters in college softball. So, it's no surprise that she hit a grand slam over the weekend.
But, she followed that up with a second grand slam in the same game!
The result was the Ragin' Cajuns beat Texas State 12-4 in the second game of a Friday doubleheader.
Sanders gave Louisiana a 5-1 lead in the second inning with her first grand slam. Then, she connected with another grand slam in the fifth inning to blow the game wide open.
Sanders' final line was 2-4, two Home Run Grand Slams, 8 RBI, two runs scored, and one walk.
On the season, Sanders now has 23 home runs and 60 RBI. She has the most home runs in college softball this season and her huge weekend put her near the top of the RBI leaderboard.
Unfortunately, though, Louisiana lost the last game of the series against Texas State, 2-1. It was their first Sun Belt Conference loss of the season and first overall loss since dropping a one-run game against Baylor in March.
The Ragin' Cajuns might not be in an elite conference, but they are an elite team that can is capable of a lot of damage in the postseason, especially off the bat of D.J. Sanders.
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By James Caldwell
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