The 2016 Women's College World Series begins Thursday in Oklahoma City with the final eight teams competing for the national championship. Here's 10 storylines to keep an eye on:
The opening day features four games with two of the last four national champions squaring off in primetime. The 2013 Women’s College World Series winner Oklahoma meets Alabama, the 2012 champions, in the 6 p.m. slot on Thursday. The Crimson Tide, in OKC for the 11th time, lost in the 2014 best-of-three championship series and face a Sooner program making its 10th WCWS appearance.
Florida State and Georgia open the week with tradition-rich UCLA meeting an Auburn team under the tutelage of veteran head coach Clint Myers. The nightcap features the young arms of LSU with their rabid fans in tow squaring off with Michigan and the best player in college softball, Sierra Romero, who was part of a Wolverine team that lost in the best-of-three title series in 2015.
There will be no three-peat for Florida. Tim Walton’s Gators were knocked out in dramatic fashion by Georgia in last weekend’s Super Regionals.
RELATED: Interactive bracket
Fans, players, coaches … and the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium grounds crew … hope the wild June weather of Oklahoma does not have a starring role. The double-elimination tournament culminates in a best-of-three championships series starting Monday evening.
By the numbers
The eight teams competing in the 2016 Women’s College World Series have combined to win 15 championships. Eleven of them belong to Pac-12 power UCLA with Oklahoma owning two and Michigan and Alabama one each. The Bruins, in 26 WCWS appearances, are 95-31 – the other seven squads are a combined 68-85 in 46 WCWS. Only UCLA, Oklahoma, at 17-14, and Georgia, at 5-4, are over .500 in WCWS games. Auburn has played the fewest WCWS games, going 2-2 in their only appearance in 2015.
Michigan’s Sierra Romero, a senior from Murrieta, Calif., is the 2016 USA Softball Player of the Year for good reason. The shortstop brings a .465 batting average, a .916 slugging percentage, 19 home runs, and 78 RBI. The shortstop has led the Wolverines to three WCWS appearances over the last four seasons and will leave collegiate softball as one of its best all-time. She will be the first four-time NFCA All-American in UM history and her 300 career runs scored are tops in NCAA history. Romero’s 304 RBI rank fourth in NCAA history and her 82 career home runs are eighth.
The 2016 field includes plenty of hurlers who don’t mind striking out opponents. Ohio’s Savannah Jo Dorsey and her NCAA-leading 336 are safe, but a few tossing in OKC this week rank among the country’s best. Michigan’s Megan Betsa (287) ranks sixth with Alabama’s Alexis Osorio (263) sitting at No. 11. Oklahoma lefty Paige Parker (244) and Florida State’s Jessica Burroughs (227) are also among the top 20.
Young and salty
LSU (50-16) brings a 1.83 team earned run average to Oklahoma City and a good young pitching staff. Rookie Sydney Smith (above, 13-3) has a .95 ERA in 95.1 innings, with sophomores Allie Walljasper (11-5, 1.74) and Carley Hoover (20-8, 2.29) combining for 31 victories and 206.1 innings this season. Hoover has struck out 214 in 37 appearances this season, a year after fanning 174 as a freshman and teaming with Walljasper to lead the Tigers to the WCWS.
The University of Oklahoma, 2013 WCWS champions, swept Louisiana-Lafayette in a Super Regional at Norman. The two wins pushed the Sooners’ win streak to 27 entering Thursday night’s showdown with Alabama, the 2012 WCWS champions with two victories over Oklahoma in the best-of-three final series. OU (52-7) has won 34 of its last 35 games and brings a nation-leading .360 team batting average into this week.
Dawgs riding high
Pinch-hitter Kaylee Puailoa’s seventh-inning 2-run, walk-off home run gave Georgia a 3-2 victory and series sweep over two-time defending WCWS king Florida in last week’s Super Regionals. The Bulldogs (45-18) faced a winner-take-all contest a week earlier against Oklahoma State where Tina Iosefa’s 2-run homer, her NCAA-leading 23rd of the season, highlighted a 6-0 win to send Georgia to Super Regionals. This week marks just the third trip to the WCWS for Georgia and their first since 2010.
At the right time
A big part of Auburn’s first trip to the WCWS in 2015, Haley Fagan missed the entire regular season in 2016 after October knee surgery. The shortstop returned for the 2016 postseason and was a large part in helping the Tiger return to Oklahoma City. After dropping the opener against Pac-12 power Arizona, Fagan’s 2-run double sparked a 4-1 Tiger win, then a home run put Auburn up 5-0 in the 6-1 clincher.
Just win baby
Clint Myers led Arizona State to a pair of national titles in 2008 and 2011. Seven of his eight Sun Devil squads advanced to Oklahoma City and the WCWS. His second team at Auburn, in 2015, punched its ticket to OKC and last weekend the Tigers beat a familiar foe of Myers, the Arizona Wildcats, in the best-of-three Super Regional. Of Myers’s 11 Division I teams between ASU and Auburn, only three times has there not been at least 50 wins in a season.
At Central Arizona, Myers, a native of Bismarck, N.D., led the baseball team to the 2002 NJCAA baseball title; the softball team won six NJCAA trophies under his guidance.
Been there, done that
With its Super Regional conquest in Eugene, Oregon, last week, UCLA advanced to the WCWS for the 26th time in program history. The Bruins won the 2010 WCWS title, the program’s 11th, and moved its streak to 17 straight seasons of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. UCLA won 8 of the first 11 WCWS titles, beginning in 1982.