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Saturday previews: Georgia-Mizzou, Bama-Arizona

5/30/2009

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It doesn't take long for the endless optimism of the opening ceremonies to transform into cold reality at the Women's College World Series. Tuesday night, fireworks greeted eight teams dreaming of a championship. By the end of the day Saturday (weather permitting), only half that number will remain in Oklahoma City.

Elimination day gets underway with two win-or-else games Saturday afternoon.

Missouri vs. No. 6 Georgia (ESPN/ESPN360, noon ET)

The Bulldogs have shown surprising resiliency for a team that's composed almost entirely of underclassmen playing for a program with a mixed postseason pedigree.

They dropped a 2-0 decision against Washington on March 7 and bounced back to run-rule Baylor later that day and exact revenge on the Huskies the next day. They dropped both games of a doubleheader against Florida on March 11 to open conference play in the SEC and bounced back to beat LSU three days later. They were swept in a three-game series at Alabama in early April, the last two by a combined three runs, and came back to beat Georgia Tech three days later.

And they trailed in both games of a super regional against Ohio State, only to rally for wins both times.

So bouncing back from a 3-1 loss against Washington in the opening game of the Women's College World Series on Thursday doesn't exactly shape up as an impossible challenge.

Senior Christie Hamilton and sophomore Sarah McCloud have alternated starts to this point in the postseason. But playing for the first time with a full day off between games, it will be interesting to see if coach Lu Harris-Champer puts her team's fate in the hands of the senior.

There are some notable similarities between Missouri and both North Carolina and Ohio State, earlier conquests for the Bulldogs -- all three teams led their respective leagues in walks and have lineups with several power threats.

Ironically, given the coach Ehren Earleywine's complaints about a hard field after his team's loss against Arizona State on Thursday, the biggest difference may be Missouri's ability to get things going with its running game. That should set up a nice battle between the Tigers, with speedsters such as Rhea Taylor, and a Georgia team that led the SEC in fewest sacrifices against and ranked second in fewest stolen bases against.

No. 9 Arizona vs. No. 4 Alabama ( ESPN/ESPN360, 2 p.m. ET)

For a team that would love to escape its World Series history, Alabama faces a very familiar challenge in Saturday's elimination game against Arizona. It's the second year in a row the two teams have met following disappointing opening-day setbacks.

Pitching decisions will be one of the stories leading into the game. Arizona coach Mike Candrea went with Lindsey Sisk in Thursday's game against Florida, bypassing de facto top choice Sarah Akamine in hopes of confounding the Gators and riding the momentum of Sisk's surprising performance in a super regional finale against Stanford. Neither angle proved successful, as the Gators hit two early home runs before Akamine came in and threw five-plus inning of shutout relief (then again, if Candrea hadn't played his gut by turning to Sisk against Stanford, his team might not have been in Oklahoma City at all).

Presumably Akamine will get the start this time, but it's conceivable that her control (132 strikeouts, 33 walks in 182.1 innings) may work to her detriment against an Alabama team that should be aggressive after an off day to digest missed opportunities.

Alabama coach Pat Murphy faces a quandary of his own, choosing between Dunne and Charlotte Morgan. One year ago, Dunne walked eight and hit three batters in an opening loss against Arizona State but got the ball two days later against Arizona. The Wildcats managed just five hits against Dunne that day, including a collective 0-for-8 from K'Lee Arredondo, Jenae Leles, Sam Banister and Lauren Schutzler (Brittany Lastrapes and Stacie Chambers did manage singles).

But after another game in which Dunne struggled to adapt to an uninviting strike zone, and knowing it's going to take two wins Saturday regardless, might Murphy turn things over to Morgan against a Wildcats team that can turn two walks into a three-run home run more easily than any other team?