May 26, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

Arizona is returning to the Women’s College World Series for the 21st time in the last 22 years on the strength of one of the most potent offenses in the nation, headlined by junior catcher Stacie Chambers.

The Wildcats top the nation with a .344 batting average – the program’s best mark since 1998 – and also pace Division I with 8.18 runs per game, 2.2 home runs per game and a .642 slugging percentage.

Chambers has ripped 31 home runs this season to lead the nation – the second-most in Division I history – while her 96 RBI come in at No. 5 on the NCAA single-season chart.

Ninth-seeded Arizona, winner of eight NCAA titles, faces top-seeded Florida on May 28 at 8 p.m.

POWER BALL:  Although Arizona and Chambers may be the top home run-hitting team, Georgia has put together a respectable power-hitting squad led by sophomore Alisa Goler’s school-record 23 round-trippers.

The Bulldogs, who are making their first trip to the Women’s College World Series, have blasted a school-record 78 home runs this year, becoming only the third team in Southeastern Conference history to hit 70 or more homers.  Twelve different players have belted a home run this year, including three with double-digit totals – Goler (23), sophomore Taylor Schlopy (13) and sophomore Megan Wiggins (10).

Goler enters the WCWS as the national leader in slugging percentage (1.026), and is the only player in the eight-team record that boasts more total bases (157) than at bats (153).  The third baseman from Frankfort, Ill., also has set school records with 40 extra-base hits and 79 RBI this season.

The Bulldogs open WCWS play against Washington May 28.

GATOR BAIT: Top-ranked Florida will be making its second straight trip to Oklahoma City after sweeping California in the Gainesville Super Regional behind the stellar pitching of senior Stacey Nelson.

The native of Los Alamitos, Calif., continues to lead the nation with a 0.41 earned run average, and is paired with Stephanie Brombracher (0.77 ERA) to form the toughest pitching staff in the nation.  Nelson is a finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award, which is set to be announced on May 26.  Arizona State’s Kaitlin Cochran (NCAA leader in on-base percentage) and Washington’s Danielle Lawrie (NCAA leader in strikeouts) are the other two finalists.

Nelson is the first Florida pitcher to post 1,000 career strikeouts and holds 19 single-season and career pitching records at the school, including single-season shutouts with 20 this year.

HOT, HOT, HOT: Michigan heads to the Women’s College World Series for the ninth time in program history, and first time since winning the NCAA title in 2005.  The Wolverines will face Alabama May 28 at 6 p.m. CT.

U-M has won 26 of its last 27 games, and went 5-0 in NCAA tournament play after outscoring opponents 32-7 over the last two weekends.  The Wolverines are batting .347 with a .604 slugging percentage in the postseason, and are led by left-handed pitcher Nikki Nemiz, who turned in a .533 average with four extra-base hits and five RBI.  Freshman outfielder Bree Evans and sophomore first baseman Dorian Shaw have also batted .400 or better in the last five games.