Alabama grabbed the top spot in both the NFCA/USA Today and the ESPN.com/USA Softball top 25 polls after an impressive start to Southeastern Conference play. The Crimson Tide opened with a home doubleheader sweep of Auburn, winning 6-1 and 8-2 on March 16. In the first inning of the first game of the in-state rivalry, Alabama senior pitcher Kelsi Dunne recorded her 1,000th career strikeout.
The Crimson Tide followed with a three-game SEC series against then-No. 1 Georgia. The first game of the series on Friday evening drew nearly 3,000 fans to Rhoads Stadium to watch Alabama capture a 2-1 victory against the Bulldogs in a pitchers duel. Sophomore third baseman Courtney Conley provided both runs for the Tide with an RBI double in the third inning and a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth.
Saturday’s contest marked the debut of ESPN’s softball coverage for the 2011 season. Alabama’s fans showed up in record numbers, packing 3,261 fans into the stadium to watch the Tide post a 6-4 win. Freshman Jackie Trania earned the victory and padded her resume for SEC Pitcher of the Week honors. Trania pitched six-plus innings, allowing four runs, three earned, on four hits and seven strikeouts before giving way to a save for Dunne. Conley continued her home run streak, blasting a 1-2 pitch in the second inning for an early 3-0 lead. Senior Whitney Larsen also posted a home run later in the inning to push the lead to 6-0. Georgia staged a comeback, but couldn’t close the gap.
Alabama completed the sweep with a 9-5 win on Sunday, giving the Crimson Tide the inside track to the top spot in both Division I polls.
Need to Know
• Central (Iowa) pitcher Kiley Lythberg was selected as the NFCA Division III National Player of the Week for March 15-22. Lythberg helped the 10th-ranked Dutch to a 10-0 week, extending their streak to 14 consecutive victories. In the circle, Lythberg went 4-0 with a 0.84 ERA in five s tarts. She allowed three runs in 25 IP with 12 hits and five walks, striking out 23. She also hit .440 for the week as Central’s designated player, driving in seven runs.
• Jessica McFadden of Barton earned NFCA Division II Player of the Week honors after stealing 22 bases on 23 tries. At the plate, McFadden went 22 for 38 (.579) at the plate with 17 runs scored, four RBI, four walks and a double. In the second game of a doubleheader against Shaw on Saturday, McFadden set an NCAA all-division record, stealing eight bases on eight attempts in the game.
• Kutztown head coach Judy Lawes won her 700th career game on Thursday, March 17, with a doubleheader sweep of the University of the Sciences, 7-0 and 2-0. In her 24th season as head coach, Lawes is the 15th Division II head coach to reach 700 victories, and has a winning record in every season at KU.
• Dowling junior Jessie Stavola earned NFCA Division II Pitcher of the Week honors after turning in a 3-0 record with one save in 20.2 innings of work. She allowed no runs and just four hits, walking three and striking out 47 of the 68 batters she faced (69.1 percent).
• Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso won her 800th career Division I game on Saturday morning with a 7-6 eight-inning win against then-No. 4 Washington. Gasso is 800-257-2 in 17 years at OU.
• Texas pitcher Blaire Luna earned USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Week and NFCA Division I National Player of the Week honors, going 3-0 at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., last week. She did not allow a run and surrendered just five hits, giving up four walks and striking out 30. Luna struck out at least nine batters in each of her three appearances and recorded the first perfect game of her career against then-No. 4 Washington, handing the Huskies their first loss of the season. She finished the week with a 0.00 ERA, allowing just nine base runners (five hits and four walks) in 19.0 IP as the Longhorns captured the Judi Garman Classic title.
• Georgia’s Alisa Goler became Georgia’s all-time career home run leader when she hit her 48th round-tripper against South Carolina.
• Quincy’s Torie Bunzell struck out 54 batters over five games, allowing two runs on six hits.
• Chelsea Methot of Mercy hit .706, going 12 for 17 last week, driving in 12 runs.
• Stephanie Medina of South Florida went 9 for 11 on the week with 10 RBI and three runs scored while junior teammate Brittany Bowles went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in the circle, allowing three hits and one run, striking out 10.
• Shauna Hetrick of Saint Vincent earned conference pitcher of the week honors with a 2-0 record plus a save in a 4-0 week for Saint Vincent. Hetrick had an 0.00 ERA in 9.0 IP.
• Jacksonville State’s Abby Stepp led the Gamecocks to a 5-0 week, hitting .786 with 12 RBI and three home runs.
• In the second game of a doubleheader against Mississippi State, Florida’s Kelsey Bruder went 4 for 4 with four runs scored, six RBI, a double, a home run and a stolen base. The Gators won 18-1 in five innings.
• Long Beach State freshman Erin Jones-Wesley earned Big West Pitcher of the Week honors, going 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA in 15.0 IP last week.
• Arizona senior Brittany Lastrapes hit .577 in seven games last week including her 60th career double, setting an Arizona career record.
• Paige Affleck pitched three wins against ranked opponents last week, allowing just three earned runs.