The latest NFCA coaches poll was released on Tuesday after another wild weekend in college softball. Here are five takeaways from the latest poll:
Sooners still on top
The Oklahoma Sooners put up another series of impressive performances against Iowa State over the weekend to hold on to their No. 1 ranking and extend their winning streak to 35 games, the longest winning streak in the country this year. Oklahoma’s most recent game against the Cyclones ended after just five innings with the Sooners shutting out Iowa State 14-0. With a 45-2 record on the year and three consecutive weeks as the No. 1 team in the country, Oklahoma is the squad to beat as the softball season inches closer to conference championship time.
NFCA STANDINGS: The full Division I softball rankings
UCLA, like Oklahoma, swept its series over the weekend, taking down Utah in three games by a combined 22-1 score. The Bruins held the Utes scoreless in the first and third game and ended both the second and third game after just five innings. UCLA takes on Stanford next in a Pac-12 conference series while Oklahoma will battle in-state opponent Oklahoma State starting on Friday. Though these two top teams have now led the NFCA poll for three weeks in a row, there’s more to the standings than consistency at the top.
Depth in the circle continues to propel UCLA
UCLA record speaks for itself, and despite being knocked off the top spot after a previous loss to Oregon, the Bruins haven’t slowed down. Much of UCLA’s success can be attributed to the successful pitching from the team, and this weekend’s games demonstrated that it’s not just talent, but depth that keeps the Bruins winning. Freshman pitcher Megan Faraimo sits second nationally for her strikeout-to-walk ration, just behind Northwestern’s Danielle Williams, and teammate Rachel Garcia is just a few spots down at No. 5 in the country for this statistic. Garcia is also fourth in the nation for strikeouts per seven innings. Both pitchers, along with their teammate Holly Azevdeo combined for the three wins over the weekend against Utah.
Garcia kicked things off for the Bruins with her sixth complete-game shutout of the year to propel her team to a 3-0 win over the Utes. Faraimo followed in the second game and earned her 14th win of the season by striking out seven battlers in UCLA’s short five-inning battle with the Utes. Rounding out the pitching success for the Bruins was Holly Azevedo who pitched all five innings of the final contest against the Utes, striking out three batters and limiting Utah to just four hits.
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This trio has proven its success this year, but they are going to need to combine together for two more series wins against Stanford and Washington before heading into NCAA regionals looking to keep their championship hopes alive.
Kentucky, Minnesota rise; Auburn, Texas Tech drop
The Kentucky Wildcats will be a team to watch as the season winds down with the No. 21 ranked-team having picked up a series win against Auburn last weekend and then adding another ranked series win over then-No. 3 Alabama. The Wildcats edged out the Crimson Tide in a low-scoring 4-1 affair to start the series before dropping the second game, 3-1. The final contest resulted in just five total runs across both teams, but Kentucky sealed the deal with an RBI from Alex Martens to give the team the 3-2 win and end the longest game in program history. Kentucky will continue its streak of ranked games with a series against No. 13 Texas Tech next, while Alabama will take on LSU for its own ranked battle.
30-second recap for those who missed out on today’s 13-inning win 😎👊🏻🥎 pic.twitter.com/iNREhPqlij— Kentucky Softball (@UKsoftball) April 29, 2019
The top-five win against the Crimson Tide moved the Wildcats up two spots, an earned jump after just moving up just one spot last week despite the victories over Auburn.
The Tigers, for their part, rebounded after the series loss last weekend against Kentucky to pick up a win against then- No. 7 Florida on Saturday 2-1. Pitcher Chardonnay Harris held down the defense for the Tigers to strike out 17 battles and fend off the Gator hitters, but the win wasn't enough to keep Auburn moving up in the polls. The Tigers dropped down from No. 17 to No. 23, the biggest drop in the poll this week.
Texas Tech also fell four spots after losing a series sweep to Oklahoma State. No. 16 Minnesota recorded an opposite result in a series sweep of Iowa, giving up just one run in three games to move up three spots.
On the other side of the country, the Arizona Wildcats eclipsed the 40-win mark with two wins over California, but the loss in Game Two of the series cost them a spot in the standings. The nine-inning thriller on April 27 ultimately went Cal’s way after a triple from Amani Bradley and a hit from Lauren Espalin, delivering Arizona its first Pac-12 loss of the season. Arizona will look for redemption, and a spot back in the Top-5 with wins over Washington this weekend before wrapping up the regular season against No. 2 UCLA May 9-11. The Huskies, for their part, did not play a game last week and maintained its 39-9 overall record and 14-4 conference record. Alabama's loss also moved Washington into the third spot. The top-10 battle between the two Pac-12 powerhouses of Arizona and Washington will have conference standings implications and could shift momentum heading into the postseason.
Caption this... pic.twitter.com/U8qKlgtfIW— Cal Softball (@CalSB) April 28, 2019
Georgia picked up a small series upset win over South Carolina, moving up one spot in the poll and sending the Gamecocks down to No. 16, but in the same conference, Arkansas also suffered a two-spot drop after losing a 2-1 series against unranked Texas A&M. The Razorbacks gave up the first game 3-1 before battling back and taking the second game in shutout fashion 3-0 after extra innings. Yesterday, the Aggies picked up the Game Three win 4-1 with two runs in the third and sixth innings.
Tennessee dropped out of the top-10 this week after a series loss to Ole Miss, a team that just one week ago picked up a loss against unranked Mississippi State . The then-No. 17 Rebels earned wins against the Vols in the first games before dropping the final contest 2-1 in extra innings.
The then-No. 11 Longhorns rolled through Kansas this weekend and picked up three wins along the way, a necessary results after dropping all three games last weekend to No. 1 Oklahoma. The victory moved Texas into the top 10 and wins against Baylor this weekend will be vital for Texas if the team wants to stay there.
Top-ranked teams to watch as the regular season wraps up
Despite not having the same depth of schedule as some of its SEC and Pac-12 competitors, No. 8 Louisiana continues to put up stellar performances against its Big Sky challengers, most recently having stopped Coastal Carolina in three games by a combined 20-4 score. The Ragin’ Cajuns shut out the Chanticleers 8-0 in the final contest after just five innings, completing the sweep and bringing Louisiana’s overall season record to 46-4.
Then-No .6 Florida State had no problems against unranked Duke, handling the Blue Devils with a combined 19-3 score in the series to maintain its solid position as the top of the ACC conference.
The Seminoles are one of two schools in the country to have FIVE different players with at least 10 home runs this season! #ATM #DNAE— Florida State Softball 🥎 (@FSU_Softball) April 29, 2019
Cali Harrod - 13
Sydney Sherrill - 13
Dani Morgan - 11
Carsyn Gordon - 11
Elizabeth Mason - 10 pic.twitter.com/0CIyVpfcyp
Oklahoma State continues to shine as a top-15 Big 12 program that just picked up a weekend sweep of No. 13 Texas Tech in competitive games that ended 3-2, 8-7 and 6-5. With a 37-11 record in a stacked conference, the Cowgirls have been flying under the radar as the third Big 12 team in the standings, but the big test is still to come. Oklahoma State takes on Oregon this weekend in an inter-state top-15 battle. A loss would likely dethrone Oklahoma from the top spot while a series win could vault the Cowgirls into the Top 10.
More action will ensue next week that could shake up the standings, but for now, it's the Sooners leading the way with UCLA not far behind.