Tournament sweeps, home run records and record attendance were among the 12 things that stood out on Sunday, Feb. 23rd:
1. Anyone following the sport closely over the last decade has seen the increasing parity. From more financial investment by schools to increased talent to better recruiting to improved scouting to more media attention, the reasons are plentiful. There have been a host of early “upsets” this season that has made ranking teams a head-spinning endeavor. After three weekends, Division I softball is left with just two unbeaten teams and they are both in the Pac-12: No. 1 UCLA (15-0) and No. 12 Oregon (14-0). Oregon’s closest result was a 1-0 victory over Nevada on Feb. 8th, while UCLA needed two walk-off wins in eight innings on Saturday night and rallied in the final inning to beat Florida State 3-2 last weekend. No. 3 Texas (15-1) and No. 11 Michigan (10-3) suffered their first losses on Saturday (the first of three straight for Michigan) while SIUE (6-1) lost for the first time on Sunday UNLV. UCLA hosts Texas in a mega-matchup Thursday night 9 p.m. ET.
2. There was no place like home to help Alabama (9-5) get back on track. The Tide opened their home slate at Rhoads Stadium by sweeping five games at the Easton Bama Bash. Four of Alabama’s victories ended by run rule as the Tide beat Wichita State, Penn State (two games) and Louisville (two games) by a collective score of 51-8. Alabama trailed Penn State 5-0 after a half inning on Saturday, but ended up run-ruling the Nittany Lions 14-6 in six innings. Skylar Wallace, who ended Sunday’s win over Louisville in the fifth inning with a three-run home run, was named tournament MVP while Montana Fouts, Maddie Morgan and KB Sides were all-tournament selections.
3. Falling behind didn’t faze Baylor (13-2). The Bears staged multiple rallies to sweep the Baylor Invitational. Baylor came back to beat Texas State and Minnesota on Saturday with walk-off 2-1 wins, and capped the tournament by scoring the final four runs in a 5-4 win over Illinois. Freshman Aliyah Pritchett hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to give Baylor the lead over the Illini while also allowing no runs, no hits and recording four strikeouts in 3.0 innings of relief. Baylor has won 11 straight games at home, the program’s longest home winning streak to start a season since 2011.
4. Wisconsin was finally rewarded with a quality win for its strong performance at the Mary Nutter Classic. The Badgers upset No. 2 Oklahoma 4-3 to cap the tournament on Sunday. Wisconsin dropped close losses to No. 5 Washington and No. 1 UCLA in the first two days in Cathedral City. The Badgers pushed UCLA to extra innings on Saturday before losing 3-1 in 8 innings. Junior Haley Hestekin held the Bruins scoreless until the fifth and threw 79 strikes in 118 pitches. Wisconsin returned to the field the next morning and capitalized on Oklahoma’s mistakes to beat the Sooners.
MARY NUTTER COLLEGIATE CLASSIC: Full results
5. Kelley “Clutch” Lynch came through again for Washington (15-1). The freshman started and ended the Mary Nutter Classic with walk-off home runs. Lynch belted a solo home run on Sunday in a 3-2 victory over Northwestern to cap Washington’s perfect run through the tournament. The two-way star helped the Huskies beat Wisconsin 5-3 in their opening game of the tournament with a walk-off two-run home run in the seventh. Washington has won 19-straight games at Mary Nutter.
6. Dartmouth punctuated a no-hitter with a walk-off. Sophomores Brooke Plonka and Madie Augusto combined for a no-hitter and Loghan Thomas hit a walk-off double as the Big Green beat North Carolina A&T 2-1 in eight innings to close out the Charleston Classic. Plonka struck out five batters in 3.2 innings and Augusto went the final 4.2 innings, yielding an unearned run in the fifth.
7. Before Iowa State’s final game against Boston College at the Gamecock Invitational on Sunday, senior Sami Williams was honored by South Carolina in a classy gesture by the host team. Williams became Iowa State’s all-time home run leader by hitting the 42nd and 43rd of her career on Saturday. The 2019 Big 12 Softball Student-Athlete of the Year surpassed the previous record of 42 set by Iowa State’s Tori Torrescano (2010-13). Williams finished 7-for-11 with five runs scored and eight RBIs in Iowa State’s four tournament games.
8. Teams from the state of North Dakota bring out the best in Megan Gray. The Lipscomb senior struck out a career-high 17 batters in a 7-1 win over North Dakota State to close out the Texas Invitational. Gray’s previous career high in strikeouts was 13 in a victory over North Dakota last year. Gray gave up five hits and walked none.
9. Kennesaw State (13-1) is off to the best start in the program’s Division I history. The Owls extended their win streak to seven straight by sweeping five games at their own Bobbie Bailey Memorial Tournament. KSU beat Rhode Island and Marshall twice and East Tennessee State once by a combined score of 42-10.
10. Liberty’s Amber Bishop hit home runs in three-straight at-bats on Sunday at the Carolina Invitational. Bishop hit home runs in her last two at-bats in a win over Michigan and added another in her first at-bat in a win over Elon. Bishop has tied Ashley Williams for the program record with 249 career hits.
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11. The U.S. Olympic team played three games at Mary Nutter as part of its Stand Beside Her Tour. Team USA beat San Diego 14-0 and beat Utah 9-0 in five innings, with Cat Osterman throwing a no-hitter while striking out 13 against the Utes. On Sunday, UCLA put an early scare into Team USA. The Bruins became the first team to take a lead on Team USA during the tour when freshman Maya Brady hit a two-run home run for a 3-1 Bruins advantage. But Monica Abbott entered the circle and struck out 14 batters in six innings of scoreless relief to lead Team USA to a 9-3 win that completed the first leg of the tour. Team USA returns to action on March 8 in Irvine, Calif.
12. If it wasn’t obvious from the fans packed around the fields each day, the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic was a crowd pleaser. The estimated attendance for the four-day event was a record 32,000 fans – 5,000 more than the event’s previous high.
Bonus: Cal State Fullerton’s Trish Parks pulls the string to get out of a bases loaded jam. The Titan’s upset No. 17 Arizona State in the final game of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.