Defense, youth shine on opening day
Notes: Bush homers as Florida pounds ERA leader Thomas
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Nothing against monkeys, but Alabama coach Patrick Murphy is pretty glad to have that one out of his dugout.
After carrying the burden of not winning its opening game in each of the program’s first six appearances at the Women’s College World Series, Murphy’s Crimson Tide pushed the little furry guy to the curb with a 1-0 victory against seventh-seeded Cal on Thursday.
“That’s a big ’ole monkey off our back. It’s a long time coming,” Murphy said. “It was a great win. In the World Series and postseason you have to have great pitching and great defense, and you have to come up with a timely hit and today we got all three. … that’s a recipe for success in [the] postseason.”
All three areas were highlighted by plays from first- or second-year players, a common theme on the first day of the WCWS.
One of the pressure-packed situations fell on the shoulders of freshman pitcher Jackie Traina, who entered in the top of the seventh inning with a one-run lead. Not only was the game on the line, but senior Kelsi Dunne had a one-hitter going after striking out 11.
Murphy had little hesitation in using the newcomer, who picked up her third save of the year with a 1-2-3 frame including two strikeouts.
“Being a freshman is a good thing in my mind because sometimes I think she doesn’t really have an idea of what is going on, which is good,” Murphy said. “She goes out and throws hard, plays and loves the game.”
The same can be said for Kaila Hunt, the freshman who poked a 2-2 pitch down the leftfield line to bring home the only run of the game. Hunt admitted to feeling the pressure of the situation, but still managed to push the Crimson Tide into the winners’ bracket game on Friday.
“All week we had talked about not talking this game up. It’s just another game that we are playing, just on a bigger stage,” Hunt said. “We talked about being fearless, not being afraid of anybody. Of course I had some butterflies going up there, but I got them flying in the right direction as we like to say.”
Alabama wasn’t the only team with good young players on display.
Sophomore Kelsi Kettler continued her hot hitting streak, scoring the only run of the contest in the eighth inning. Kettler’s blast was only good enough because of the performance in the circle by Whitney Canion, who gave up only three hits while striking out 10.
“Whitney (Canion) kept giving us chances to score,” said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. “That’s the way the World Series is supposed to be; you come up with a big hit and find a way to win it.”
Even with young players all throughout the lineup.
Play of the day
Take your pick. There were a number of outstanding plays, but one of the defensive gems in the Baylor-Oklahoma State contest had to be the winner on Day 1.
Saving a run in the top of the third inning, BU rightfielder Megan Turk made a heads up play after dropping a hard line drive that she had to dive forward to get--and if she had caught it on the first try, it would have been a highlight of its own. Turk got up quickly and launched the ball to first baseman Holly Holl and the redshirt freshman hit catcher Kelsi Kettler with a perfect relay to tag out OSU's Ari Morrison trying to score from first for your average 9-3-2 putout.
Not to be outdone, the Cowgirls made a run-saving play at the plate in the bottom of the fifth when third baseman Mariah Gearhart made a perfect throw to home where catcher Ashley Boyd laid a perfect sweeping tag on Makenzie Robertson. That play kept the score 0-0 and set up the game-winning home run in the eighth.
They said it
“This is a good game. You sit there and you replay the whole game, and I think both defenses made some great plays; [they kept] us from scoring, and we made plays to keep them from scoring. It finally came down to one swing of the bat and they got it.” – Oklahoma State coach Rich Wieligman following the Cowgirls' heartbreaking walk-off loss in eight innings
Making up for lost time
The Baylor-Oklahoma State pitcher’s duel ended quickly as catcher Kelcie Kettler lifted a shot just down the leftfield line, stopping the 1-0 contest in a blink of the eye. The roundtripper was just her second of the season, with her first homer coming against Arizona in mid-March. Kettler joined the regular rotation last weekend when starting freshman catcher Clare Hosack was injured while batting against Georgia in the Super Regional. Coach Glenn Moore said of Kettler, “She has been our most valuable player in the last three games.” Understatement of the week?
Despite a full day of strong outings in the circle, Alabama’s Kelsi Dunne put up the most prominent pitching line of Day 1. The senior struck out 11, the most of any pitcher Thursday, while allowing just one over the minimum in her 6.0 innings. She gave up a grounder to shortstop on a 3-2 pitch to the second batter of the day and then retired the next 17 hitters she faced.
Freshman Hannah Rogers of Florida also gets a nod in this department for her composure after coming in in the third with two runners on and promptly walked Nicole Hudson to load the bases. Rogers worked her way out of it like a veteran, punching out the next batter on a called third strike before inducing a lazy pop fly to left field.
Around the bases
Alabama came into the WCWS with a nation-leading 152 stolen bases. While team leader sophomore Kayla Braud was thrown out for the first time in the postseason in the fifth, sophomore Keima Davis stepped up by stealing second and third before scoring the winning run on Kaila Hunt’s single down the left field line. Davis now has four stolen bases in the postseason (six games) after recording just 10 in the first 47 contests of the year.
If only it was a 'W'
Oklahoma's Mandy Nix posted one of the best lines in a box score of a game that didn't include Florida, as she finished 3 for 3 at the plate with an RBI. Her long double to the wall in right center--which hit just below top of the yellow fence line--looked to give OU a little momentum as it cut Arizona State's lead in half at 2-1. The strong personal effort was of little comfort as the Sun Devils came back with another run in the bottom of the frame before holding on for the 3-1 victory.
Other notable performances
• Arizona State's Mandy Urfer went 1 for 3 but pushed across two crucial RBIs to help the Sun Devils ease by Oklahoma. Her RBI total equaled the combined mark of the first two games of the day.
• Florida's first five in the batting order combined to go 5 for 12 with five runs and five RBIs.
• Baylor's Whitney Canion allowed just three hits with two walks in 8.0 innings, striking out 10 in the Bears' win. She tossed 119 pitches on the day, including 82 for strikes.
|Baylor vs. Alabama||7 p.m.|
|Florida vs. Arizona State||9:30 p.m.|
Not in the numbers
The Big 12 made up half the field in Oklahoma City, but the league only had one team advance to the winners' bracket. The SEC came out as the big winner on the day as Alabama won its first WCWS opening game in seven tries and Florida busted out the big bats in a 6-2 victory against Missouri. The losing margin for the Tigers was their second-largest of the year, following only the 9-2 setback against North Texas.
Missouri's Chelsea Thomas came into the week leading the country with an 0.83 earned-run average. Florida didn't take the bait. The Gators jumped all over Thomas and the Tigers, posting two runs in the first and three more in the third capped by senior Megan Bush's blast to near the top of the left field bleachers. The home run was Bush's school-record 21st of the season and helped UF post six earned runs on eight hits against Thomas. The total earned runs were three more than her previous high of three set on five occasions.
What to watch for Friday
Baylor vs. Alabama – Two 1-0 run games on opening day are in the books and it could be more of the same on the second day with Alabama’s Kelsi Dunne and Baylor’s Whitney Canion in the circle. Take note of how the Crimson Tide try to use their aggressiveness on the base paths against BU catcher Kelsi Kettler, who took over full-time duties behind the dish just last week.
Florida vs. Arizona State -- The Sun Devils showed why they were the top seed in the field. They make it look like they have just a little more pitching, hitting and defense than everyone else. Expect more of the same in what could be a slugfest between ASU and the Gators, who scored more runs (6) than six of the other WCWS teams combined on the opening day.