Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama will win its first softball championship this week because it has experience, mental toughness and a good balance in all phases of the game.

Sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina became the first Alabama pitcher in history with 40 wins on Sunday, thanks to her victory in the circle against Cal. She also hit one of the team’s three home runs in the game, contributing to the Crimson Tide’s power numbers.

With speedy junior outfielder Kayla Braud at the top of the lineup, it’s easy to forget that the Crimson Tide have more home runs in this WCWS, six, than any other team through Sunday’s games. Braud leads every hitter in WCWS play with a .545 batting average (6-for-11, 3R, 1-2B, 1 SB).

Defensively, Alabama has just two errors in Oklahoma City and leads all teams with a .976 fielding percentage.

Finally, to understand the mental toughness of this 2012 Alabama softball team, you have to remember what this senior class has been through.

As freshmen and juniors, they suffered heartbreaking losses to Florida in the Sunday semifinals at the WCWS. As sophomores, they didn’t make it to Oklahoma City, thanks to a Hawai’i walk-off home run in the deciding game of Super Regionals. One year ago, their head coach left for LSU, then changed his mind and came back to Tuscaloosa a few days later.

Last year, UA head coach Patrick Murphy sent then-freshman Traina out for mop-up duty against the Gators. He told her to take a good look around and get used to the WCWS arena. She would be there again.

Murphy was right. Traina is pitching at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium again this year, but this time it isn’t just mop-up duty.

“I went out there and I sad ‘Look, we’re going to be back here many times, hopefully, with you in the circle, so you might as well get used to the surroundings,” remembered Murphy. “She’s had every game, every pitch this week, and I think her conditioning is ready for it. She’s a Naples, Fla., kid, so she’s used to the heat. I think the hotter it gets, the better she gets.”

With temperatures rising, both literally and figuratively, with expected record-breaking hometown crowds cheering for Oklahoma, the Crimson Tide is ready for the cooker. 

                               --Amy Hughes, NCAA.com

Oklahoma Sooners

Making a pick in a championship series is not always easy business. Alabama is good, really good. It knocked off top-seeded California and No. 3 seed Arizona State in consecutive wins in Oklahoma City, effectively proving it could play for the Pac-12 title.

But is it the team most likely to win the Women’s College World Series championship series?

I have to say no. The stats geek inside me won’t let me choose anyone other than Oklahoma.

Before the series started, I studied the numbers and the Sooners came out on top. They were in a league of their own in the eight-team field simply because they not only do it all, but they do it at the highest level.

Oklahoma paces the nation in pitching. National player of the year Keilani Ricketts leads a staff that has a 1.14 ERA through 61 games. Ricketts is among the national leaders with a 0.99 ERA and has a 36-7 record. She has struck out 433, including 29 in the past two games and 40 overall at the WCWS. Her 1.00 ERA in WCWS play comes with allowing just 13 hits – three for extra bases – in three games.

In the finale of the Normal Super Regional, she struck out 13, including nine in a row at one point. To say she’s nearly unbeatable at this point of the season is an understatement.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say she gives up a few runs again, like she did Sunday in a 5-3 victory against defending champion Arizona State. No worries. The offense will be there to pick up the slack.

Oh, and did I mention Ricketts plays a hand on that side as well?

As the No. 4 hitter in the lineup, Ricketts is tied for the lead with three RBI in the WCWS and has the only triple, one that scored a run in OU’s 3-0 victory against the Golden Bears on Friday. For the season she hits .399 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI.

The rest of her lineup isn’t made up of slouches either. OU leads the nation with 98 home runs and is hitting .318 as a squad.

The bottom line is this: the best team on the field will always be the one with Keilani Ricketts on it, and by that logic, Oklahoma gets my vote – although maybe in a three-game series – to win its second national title this week.

                               --Jerry Trickie, NCAA.com