March 11, 2009

By Kyle Kensing
Special to

Two double-digit win streaks came to a halt this weekend, while another extended to 24.

Washington and Alabama split a pair of games in Tuscaloosa, Ala. to snap each other’s consecutive run of wins. In the process, the Tide were ousted from the top spot in the polls, ending a four-week span at No. 1. But it wasn’t the Huskies taking over – Alabama’s SEC foe Florida broke through after holding onto No. 2 for the duration of the Tide’s top ranking.

Florida opened conference play with a road sweep of South Carolina. The weekend tilt gave the Gators their ninth, tenth and eleventh straight wins.    

But another climber in recent polls boasts a streak more than double that. Stanford now sits at No. 4 after roaring through its own Louisville Slugger Classic to extend its win streak to 24. The home tournament saw Stanford outscore the opposition 32-1 over the course of seven games. Stanford hurler Missy Penna garnered a second Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week recognition on the season for her efforts.

That makes it a month since the Cardinal last lost, falling short in a 1-0 defeat on Feb. 6 against Oklahoma State at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.  

On Deck Circle

The pre-season tournament schedule is winding to a close. Western teams like Arizona and Stanford wrap up tournament play this weekend: the No. 12 Wildcats are at Cal State Fullerton, with a match-up against No. 10 Michigan Sunday. The fourth-ranked Cardinal are again at home hosting their own tournament, the Stanford Invitational.

Meanwhile, SEC play heats up in a league Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy called “dangerous” earlier this season, as Murphy’s Crimson Tide face Mississippi State. The Bulldogs just missed the latest polls, finishing as the first team out with 24 votes.

The highlight of conference play is top-ranked Florida welcoming the eighth ranked Georgia Bulldogs to Gainesville, Fla. for a pair of games on Wednesday. Georgia climbed three spots in the latest rankings and is 15-2 overall.

Georgia’s climb up the polls has been a steady, season-long process. The Bulldogs have moved up 14 spots, and that climb would surely continue with a series win against the top ranked Gators.

Reigning SEC Player of the Week Kristin Schnake has been swinging a hot bat and posed a threat on the base threats. She stole four bases last weekend alone and is seven-for-seven this season. Alisa Goler has been a consistent lynchpin of the Bulldog offense, batting .551 with nine home runs and 37 RBI – all team highs.

Schnake and Goler will be the two premiere challenges to Florida’s dominant starting pitcher Stacey Nelson. Nelson has allowed just six earned runs in 86 innings and has held opponents to a paltry .153 batting average against her.

On the Move

Georgia isn’t the only squad making its way up the polls. The Big 10’s Northwestern Wildcats trail only Michigan as that conference’s highest-ranked team, courtesy of a strong showing at Oklahoma City.

The Wildcats took two from then-eighth-ranked Tennessee and split two games with Oklahoma. For their efforts, Northwestern jumped from 16 to 13.

An individual Wildcat was also recognized for the big weekend: Tammy Williams picked up National Player of the Week honors after scoring five runs, hitting .557 while reaching base in two-thirds of her plate appearances.

Louisville made the largest single gain in the polls, from 22 to 17, courtesy of a defeat of Michigan. The Cardinals’ ranking is the best in program history, surpassing the previous UL high of 18.

The two programs that have accounted for the last three national championships, Arizona and Arizona State, made minimal gains – both moved up just a single spot. However, after slow starts (by program standards, the Wildcats and Sun Devils have each caught fire of late and are riding win streaks. It will be another month before those two hook up, however.