OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s widely known that chicks — and dudes — dig the long ball.
But ask any coach this week at the 2012 Women’s College World Series and they will tell you about the importance of the table-setters, those speedy, left-handed hitting slappers who drive infields bonkers.
A quick check of the WCWS statistics and you see plenty of the above-described pitchers’ nemesis among the offensive leaders. Yes, the fire-balling and free-swinging tandem of Keilani Ricketts and Jackie Traina have taken most of the headlines, but the championship formula most certainly includes players like Destinee Martinez, Brianna Turang, Kayla Braud, and Jennifer Fenton, all four among the top 10 in batting average this week.
|WOMEN’S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES|
|Game 2: Alabama 8, Oklahoma 6|
Getting to Know
• LSU | UC | USF | OU | UO | ASU | UT | UA
• Tide far from giving up
• WCWS the best medicine for Shults
• Alabama stands tall at WCWS
• Oklahoma’s powerful punch
• LSU’s long, winding road
• Two better than one for Bears
• How a Kiwi changed the Ducks
• Bulls following plan to the letter
• Previewing the Women’s College World Series
Cases in point:
• Tuesday night’s second inning will be remembered for Traina’s bases-loaded double, a shot to left center which put Alabama up 4-1. But earlier in the inning, already with two outs, Fenton, who is 7-for-19 in the tournament, bounced a high chopper that the Sooners were unable to handle, leading to an error. Two batters later Traina broke the game open.
• In the fourth inning a Fenton bunt — with Sooner third baseman Javen Henson virtually in her lap — was laid down perfectly and put runners at first and second, Braud, who is also 7-for-19 in the tourney, reached when she was hit by a Ricketts pitch. A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly later it was 5-1 in the Tide’s favor.
“We just wanted to get the momentum going our way,” Fenton said. “That’s all we wanted to do. In the first inning, we came out and wanted to attack them, set the tone for the rest of the game, even though Kaila [Hunt] and I didn’t get it on. We saw a lot of pitches and were able to fight, get a lot of pitches and have Keilani [Ricketts] pitch a lot of pitches in the first inning.
“You could tell in our face, we were not going to go down easy.”
Braud, despite scoring, was 0-for-4 and struck out three times on Tuesday.
“I will say that Kayla had the best three strikeout performance I’ve ever seen,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “If you could see her eyes in the first inning, they looked like A.J. McCarron and the BCS Championship Game. She was — she led us [Tuesday night] at the plate. Like Jen said, they were 1-for-9, but they saw a lot of pitches, fouled off a lot of pitches and made [Ricketts] work really hard.”
The top hitter for the week is Martinez, who is 9-for-17. Entering Tuesday’s second game of the best-of-three championship series, Martinez was hitting a cool .500 for the week with seven hits in 14 at-bats. In Monday night’s win, Martinez and fellow slapper Turang teamed to score all four of OU’s runs. In the second game of the series, Martinez and Turang had four of the Sooners’ nine hits.
Another of the dangers slappers provide reared its head in the seventh inning. With Alabama holding an 8-1 lead, Martinez and Turang both tripled over the heads of a drawn in outfield during a five-run, last-ditch rally.
“Brianna and I know our roles on the team,” said Martinez, who moved her tournament average to .529. “Our job is to get on base for Lauren [Chamberlain], Keilani [Ricketts] and Jen [Shults]. It’s important for us to get on base because when you have so many great hitters in the lineup it puts so much pressure on pitchers and the infield.”
Like many slappers, Martinez, a sophomore from Corona, Calif., started hitting softballs from the right side at an early age. But coaches, parents, and all involved, thought she should take advantage of her speed and switch to the left side. It’s a recipe that almost every roster in the country includes.
“Destinee Martinez is one of the main players in this series right now,” Sooner head coach Patty Gasso said after Monday night’s victory. “There is no doubt about it. She really — her job in the two hole is to get the bat in the hands of Chamberlain, Ricketts and Shults. And she’s doing that like I’ve never seen. If she’s on and gives those guys the bats, we’ve got some good stuff happening. She’s doing exactly what we’re asking her to do.”
Braud and Fenton are certainly doing their jobs for the Tide.
“It’s been pretty clear this postseason that if Jen [Fenton] and I get on, things happen,” said Braud after Thursday’s win against Tennessee. “And that’s our goal every single game is we set the table. You have speed on base, and literally you can hit it anywhere and Jen and I are going to score.”
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Michelle Smith, one of softball’s all-time best left-handed pitchers, and current ESPN analyst, knows a thing or two about facing slap hitters.
“It’s not necessarily just the slap, but the great bat control they have to go with that speed,” Smith said. “The table-setters, the one’s that get on base are the ones that are going to allow teams to score runs. And any time you can put a defense in motion, force them to make a play; that puts so much pressure on them. There is no time to really have a thought, you have to react quickly and that can lead to mistakes in the field.
“The chaos they can create is always helpful to the offense and trouble for infielders.”
Martinez, facing the right-handed Traina in the best-of-three championship series, knows the difficulty of facing a left-hander the quality of Ricketts.
“It’s tough, facing a left-hander like Keilani [Ricketts],” she said. “You have to really zone in on the ball and really know the strike zone. Depending on the situation, you are going to look for certain pitches. Down-and-away is good, depending on the field, and sometimes the off-speed stuff can be difficult to time.”
“For Keilani [Ricketts] it is an advantage because she has that lefty-lefty matchup,” Smith said. “For Alabama the key is to figure it out; they made some adjustments [Tuesday], getting their toes on the white line and for some of the kids it helped them. Braud and Fenton still had quite a few strikeouts, but they got on base a couple of times and they caused their usual havoc because of their speed.
“It really depends on the field as to what pitch works best against [slappers]. You have to keep them honest with that inside pitch, and the off-speed stuff can also give them problems.”
With one game remaining in the 2012 college softball season it is obvious one of the keys to victory will be keeping certain players off the base-paths.
Easier said than done.