Familiarity on the field in OKC
Notes: Cal’s roadtrip reaches two weeks since last being home
OKLAHOMA CITY – There will be a familiar feeling around ASA Hall of Fame Stadium this week as the Women’s College World Series gets under way, and not just because all the squads are mainstays at the sport’s premiere event. Actually, the familiarity will stem from the fact they know all the others so well from their play on the field.
The eight-team field consists of four Big 12 squads, two Pac-10 teams and a pair from the Southeastern Conference. Those last two – Alabama and Florida – are among the likely favorites going into the event, along with top-seeded Arizona State.
The tough regular-season scheduling will have all of the teams prepared.
A quick look down Arizona State’s schedule shows the Sun Devils defeating Oklahoma State (1-0) and Oklahoma (4-3) on the opening weekend of the season. They also took two of three from fellow WCWS foe Cal in Pac-10 play and last weekend knocked off a Big 12 squad (Texas A&M in two one-run wins) in the Super Regional just to get to this point.
Playing the Sooners again – and the potential crowds they could bring – will not change the Sun Devils’ outlook.
“I’m guessing people are going to feel sorry for us because [ASU fans] are so thinly populated here. I figure we’ll get the sympathy vote and get a few fans,” Arizona State coach Clint Myers quipped at the pre-tournament press conference Wednesday.
Missouri and Cal squared off this season in a non-conference title won 1-0 by the Golden Bears. MU also dropped a game to Alabama 3-1 in late February.
No matter who the Tigers play, coach Ehren Earleywine is still looking for the same thing as every other weekend this year.
“Whether we win or lose this week, we just want to play like we are capable of playing,” Earleywhine said. “If we lose we lose, but the last couple of years [in the WCWS] that has been our frustration because we have felt that we haven’t played like we are capable of playing.”
It seems pretty likely that whichever teams make it to the championship series next week, they will have to go through at least one Big 12 squad to get there. The league was expected to fare better this season, but with eight teams making NCAA tournament play and four advancing to the final week of the season, its outreached expectations.
That’s okay with the players though.
Missouri’s Chelsea Thomas and Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts seemed especially ready to embrace the moment with the teams they know so well. While talking at the first media session of the day, the two appeared destined for political stardom with their senator-esque responses about how they plan to root for the other conference teams.
“I was rooting for all the Big 12 schools this year,” Thomas said. “I thought that was really cool that the majority of our conference got to go to a regional. It’s kind of cool that we kind of have a half Big 12 tournament, half World Series going on, since our Big 12 tournament got canceled.”
It’s true the Big 12 extended its regular-season slate of games and went without a league championship tournament. That difficulty is now making the reward even greater for the teams still alive.
“It’s exciting that half of the teams here are from the Big 12. It just makes us feel better about having to struggle through the Big 12 this year,” Ricketts said. “We want the Big 12 to show up. We will be wanting them to do well.”
When Baylor and Oklahoma State stepped to the microphone in the second session, the continued show of respect went up a notch, possibly because they know they have to play each other on the first day of the WCWS, just adding to the list of familiar faces.
Five Things to Know
• There could be record crowds this week in the famed softball park as local fans from Stillwater and Norman descend on WCWS for the first time together. Oklahoma State is making its first appearance on the sport’s most grand stage since 1998 while rival Oklahoma is back for the first time since 2006. They have never played in the same WCWS. Sessions 3 and 5 on Friday and Saturday – the most likely times OU and OSU could be playing – are already sold out.
• Pitchers – both newcomers and veterans – are likely to play a prominent role in the outcome of this tournament. Sophomore Jolene Henderson of Cal is second in the country in ERA at 0.87 behind only Chelsea Thomas (Missouri, Jr., 0.83). Stephanie Brombacher (Florida, Sr., 1.09), Kelsi Dunne (Alabama, Sr., 1.15), Jackie Traina (Alabama, Fr., 1.28), Whitney Canion (Baylor, So., 1.28), Dallas Escobedo (Arizona State, Fr., 1.37) and Keilani Ricketts (Oklahoma, So., 1.44) also each rank in the top 30 nationally in ERA.
• Alabama has become a national player in the past 15 years, winning seven Southeastern Conference championships while running to 13 consecutive NCAA tournament bids. While they haven’t won a national title – no SEC team ever has – the Crimson Tide will try to scratch off one other thing from the to-do list first: win their WCWS opener. In their previous six trips to Oklahoma City, the Tide have yet to advance to the second game in the winners’ bracket, posting an 0-6 mark.
• Baylor may have some concerns after laying claim to the farthest distance traveled trophy. The Bears have not competed in their home stadium since May 8, and in the meantime have logged 4,942 miles during the postseason. That total includes traveling to the regional in College Park, Md., and the super regional in Athens, Ga., before heading to Oklahoma City.
• Cal also earns a road warriors crown as the Golden Bears have not been home to California since leaving May 18 to start regional play. The Bears have stayed in four hotels in the past two weeks, including more than a week in Kentucky while playing at the Louisville Regional and Lexington Super Regional. During their time in the Bluegrass State, the squad took some downtime to head over to Churchill Downs where it had a team picture in the Winner’s Circle.