Top-10 softball teams duke it out
Also: Big Ten power houses in wrestling gear up for championship
Five of the nation’s top-10 women’s softball teams hail from the Southeastern Conference, so what better way to get league play started than to have the best-of-the-best duke it out.
After suffering its first loss of the year to No. 4 Florida on Wednesday, No. 1 Alabama will look to get back on the winning streak when it travels to No. 8 Tennessee for a three-game series beginning Friday.
The last time the two teams met was in Oklahoma City at the Women’s College World Series last year. Alabama beat the Lady Vols 5-3 and went on to win the national title, but Tennessee claimed the previous two regular-season contests against the Tide.
Alabama (22-1) is batting .342 as a team, led by Haylie McKleney, who is hitting an eye-popping .549 with 19 RBI and three homers. The Tide’s pitching has also hit the mark, compiling a 1.25 ERA with eight shutouts and striking out 178 batters in 151.0 innings pitched. Jackie Trainer tops the staff with a 10-1 record, 1.27 ERA and 99K.
Tennessee (19-3) will counter with a .346 batting average paced by third baseman Raven Chavanne, who is hitting .471 with 17 stolen bases. The Lady Vols’ pitching staff has posted a 1.15 ERA with 11 shutouts, headed by the sisterly tandem of Ellen (7-1, 0.80 ERA, 67K) and Ivey Renfroe (6-1, 0.91 ERA, 48K).
When Texas A&M travels to Missouri, it will be a meeting between the two newest SEC members. However, the two programs are hardly strangers. The former Big 12 foes have played every season since 1996 as the Aggies lead the all-time series 35-25. It is also the first top-10 matchup at University Field since 2011 when No. 8 Mizzou hosted No. 3 Texas for a two-game series from May 7-8, 2011.
The Aggies dropped its first game of the season against No. 14 Michigan last weekend, but are heading to Columbia, Mo. with a stellar 22-1 mark. The pitching staff has compiled a 1.28 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 148.0 innings pitched, and senior Mel Dumezich is a huge part of the Aggies’ success in the circle. Dumezich (15-0) holds a 0.96 ERA through 19 appearances, including 15 starts and 10 complete games, and has thrown three no-hitters during the last two weeks. At the plate, the
Aggies lead the SEC with 38 home runs, including nine by Nicole Morgan, who is batting .400 with 31 RBI.
The Tigers (9-1) have only played 10 games, but did earn a 12-inning victory 4-3 against Florida in the Mary Nutter Classic.
Senior Nicole Hudson is batting .500 with six home runs and 14 RBI. From the circle, two-time All-American Chelsea Thomas, who struck out 19 batters against the Gators, is 3-0 with a 0.25 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28.0 innings pitched.
• As the end of the men’s basketball regular season approaches, there will be a plethora of great games on the tube this weekend. Starting off on Saturday, there is a trio of Big East games that will decide the league champion. Syracuse and Georgetown tip off at 12 p.m., on ESPN, while Marquette plays St. John’s at 2 p.m. on ESPN2. Notre Dame and Louisville follow at 4 p.m. on CBS in a rematch of a five-overtime game that the Irish won earlier this season. Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette are currently in a three-way for first place in the league standings at 13-4.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the biggest rivalries in the nation will be on display when No. 3 Duke travels a few miles down Tobacco Road to visit North Carolina on Saturday at 9 p.m. Duke won the earlier match-up this season 73-68, but the Tar Heels are on a roll and winners of six in a row.
Finally, on Sunday, the Indiana-Michigan contest will decide whether the Hoosiers can win the outright Big Ten title, or will share it with at least the Wolverines, and possibly more league squads. The game will air on CBS at 4 p.m.
• As Division I women’s basketball conference tournaments get underway this weekend, No. 8 Penn State will be trying to win its first Big Ten tournament since 1996. The Nittany Lions have already claimed their consecutive Big Ten regular season title led by Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas, who is averaging 20.5 points per game. PSU opens action in the quarterfinals on Friday against the winner of Minnesota-Ohio State at 7 p.m. The contest will air live on the Big Ten Network.
• The No. 1 St. Cloud State wrestling team heads to the Division II Championship with nine qualifiers as the Huskies seek their first team title. The championship will be a part of this year’s NCAA Division II Winter Championships Festival at the CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala., on March 8-9. The Huskies finished second in the team standings in 2011 and 2012.
Two Huskies are seeded No. 1 in their respective weight classes for the championship. Senior Shamus O’Grady returns to nationals for the fourth consecutive season, but is competing at 184 pounds for the first time. He finished fourth at 174 pounds in 2012 and 2011, and was sixth in 2010. The top-ranked O’Grady heads into the tournament with a 36-1 record.
• After winning the Division II Super 3 Regional, senior Jacob Kahnke enters the championship as the nation’s No. 1 wrestler at 285 pounds. He has posted an 18-0 mark with seven falls this season, and was the NCAA runner-up in 2011 and 2012 in the weight class.
• The No. 4 Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team will be vying for its’ first Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title as they continue their best season in program history. The Mavericks are 26-1 after handling Regis 74-50 on Tuesday, advancing to the tournament semifinals against Fort Lewis on Saturday. The top-seeded Mavericks will serve as hosts of the RMAC tournament. The Mavericks rank seventh nationally in field goal percentage at a 44.8 clip, and are eighth in scoring defense, holding foes to 52.9 points per game.
• The No. 17 Wisconsin-Parkside men’s basketball team won its’ first Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division title this season – a marked feat after going 1-17 in conference play a year ago. This season, the Rangers finished 14-4 – a 13-game improvement which is the biggest single-season turnaround since the GLVC began in 1978. On Thursday, the Rangers will look to raise the bar as they attempt to claim the league’s tournament trophy when they face seventh-seeded Kentucky Wesleyan in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Deaconess Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. The Rangers will also be looking to snap a two-game losing streak that followed a nine-game winning streak when they play the Panthers. UWP is led by GLVC Player of the Jeremy Saffold, who is averaging 19.0 points per game. The Rangers have never won a GLVC tournament title.
• The Big Ten Championships will be heaven on earth for wrestling fans this weekend as the field boasts four teams ranked in the nation’s top six by InterMat – No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Minnesota, No. 4 Iowa and No. 6 Ohio State. Penn State, the two-time defending league champions, will go for a third consecutive trophy at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall on Saturday and Sunday. The Nittany Lions posted a 13-1 record in dual meets with their only loss coming at Iowa (22-16). Penn State notched five shutouts on the season – a school-record – including three in Big Ten action.
Penn State wrestlers earned three No. 1 seeds, with 165-pounder David Taylor, 184-pounder Ed Ruth and 197-pounder Quentin Wright earning top billing in their weight classes, while Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State each have two top-ranked wrestlers. The Hawkeyes’ Matt McDonough (125 pounds) and Derek St. John (157), the Gophers’ Logan Storley (174) and Tony Nelson (285) and the Buckeyes’ Logan Stieber (133) and Hunter Stieber (141) have each earned top seeds. Taylor, Ruth, McDonough, St. John, Nelson and Logan Steiber are all defending league champions in their weight class.
• The No. 2 Kansas women’s squad will have 11 entries for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., as the Jayhawks look to claim their first national championship. The Jayhawks finished in a program-best second place at last year’s meet after qualifying seven athletes. Kansas will be led by seniors Andrea Geubelle and Francine Simpson, who are the top two seeds in the long jump. Geubelle will also try to defend her NCAA indoor triple jump title as she enters this year's national meet at No. 2.
• Two of the top teams in Division III women’s basketball will tangle on Friday when Tufts visits Amherst in Sectional action on Friday. This will be the first NCAA tournament meeting between the two NESCAC rivals. Amherst (28-1) handed the Jumbos (25-2) their first loss of the season, winning 54-48 on Feb. 2. Tufts hopes to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2008 and snap Amherst’s four-year streak of advancing to the NCAA semifinals. The Lord Jeffs have gotten past the semifinal round once in program history, when they won the 2011 national title.
• Fresh off scoring its first-ever NCAA postseason victory, the Concordia-Texas men’s basketball team will travel to face Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament on Saturday. Concordia enters the contest on a nine-game winning streak, which is a Division III school record, as they meet UMHB for the fourth time this season. The Crusaders came out on top in the two regular season meetings, but Concordia knocked off UMHB 80-76 in the American Southwest Conference tournament finale on Feb. 24 to earn the league’s automatic berth. UMHB will be playing in its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament and earned a first-round bye last week. Concordia ranks second nationally in scoring offense, averaging 94.1 points per game.
|UCLA vs. USC|
|Series wins since 2005||19||9|
• The No. 7 UCLA baseball team enters the weekend on a six-game winning streak, but the Bruins will host a trio of challenging non-conference games at Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend when No. 26 Notre Dame, No. 14 Oklahoma and cross-town rival USC come to visit. The Bruins and the Fighting Irish have met only twice on the baseball diamond, splitting the series 1-1, while Oklahoma holds a slight edge in the all-time series against UCLA, leading 7-6. In addition, the Bruins have gone 19-9 against USC since 2005 and have not lost a season series to the Trojans during that stretch.
• The No. 4 Boston University women’s hockey team will continue its’ quest for a second Hockey East Conference title in a row and third in the last four years, when the Terriers meet Providence in the semifinals in Hyannis, Mass., on Saturday. This is the sixth consecutive season the Terriers have advanced to the Hockey East semifinals, and are winners in seven of their last eight conference tournament contests. No. 2 Boston College and New Hampshire will be in the other semifinal, and the winners will face off on Sunday.
• The No. 4 LSU women’s gymnastics team will close out its home schedule with the biggest meet of the year when the Tigers host defending NCAA Champion No. 5 Alabama on Friday at 8 p.m. LSU boasts its’ highest ranking since March 16, 2009, entering the meet. The Tigers will be looking to avenge an earlier season road loss to the defending Crimson Tide.
• After scoring a Big 12-record 50 points in a 90-68 victory against Kansas State on Monday, Baylor senior Brittany Griner moved into second place on the NCAA career scoring list with 3,123 points, putting the all-time record within her grasp. Griner is just 270 points shy of tying Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles, who scored 3,393 points from 1997-2001. If Baylor runs the table throughout the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, and Griner averages 30 points per game, she has a shot of matching Stiles’ mark. The Lady Bears will face the winner of Kansas State-Texas on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on FSN.
• The No. 1 USC women’s water polo team is perfect on the year, sporting a 13-0 mark heading into the Trojans’ first home match of the season on Saturday. The Trojans, who own their first No. 1 ranking since winning the 2010 NCAA title, will host No. 4 Arizona State for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matchup at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center at 4 p.m. The Sun Devils are fresh off an upset of No. 3 UCLA, beating the Bruins 7-6 on March 2 for the first time in their 12-year history.
• In only the program’s third year of existence, the St. Norbert women’s hockey team will be making its first NCAA Division III Championship appearance. The Green Knights earned the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association’s automatic bid by defeating UW-River Falls 3-2 in overtime to win the O’Brien Cup Playoffs championship. Of course, the trip will be a challenging one when the Green Knights visit perennial national power Plattsburgh State on Saturday at 4 p.m. The No. 1 Cardinals are fresh off winning their third Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) West title and own a 25-0-2 record. Plattsburgh will be making its consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and ninth overall, but the Cardinals have not won the national title since claiming back-to-back trophies in 2007 and 2008.
• The Quinnipiac women’s basketball team is riding high. Winners of 18 consecutive games, the Bobcats became just the fourth team to complete a perfect Northeast Conference regular season on Monday night, as they improved to 18-0 with a 73-54 victory against St. Francis-Brooklyn. With the win, Quinnipiac improved to 27-2 overall, which also gives them the NEC record for most wins in a single season. Their 18-game winning streak – the fourth-longest in the nation – will be challenged by eighth-seeded Bryant on Sunday in the quarterfinals of the Northeast Conference tournament. Bryant is eligible for the postseason for the first time as a Division I member.
• The Colorado School of Mines softball team jumped two spots to No. 10 in the NFCA Division II top 25 for the Orediggers’ highest ranking in school history thanks to a 10-game winning streak and the best start in season history (17-2-1). The Orediggers will look to keep it going when they host Adams State for a four-game series on Sunday and Monday.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy