Friday's WCWS slate boasts strong matchups
OKLAHOMA CITY -- If an NBA playoff series doesn't really begin until the road team wins a game, the Women's College World Series doesn't really begin until a team loses a lead.
Florida's 3-0 win against Arizona on Thursday night capped an opening day at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium that was long on blue skies and short on both the drama and the threat of thunderstorms that tend to accompany the start of play. It wasn't a bad day of softball -- it would take more than some perfunctory late innings to change that -- but it also wasn't anything that's likely to linger in the memories of those unassociated with the four winning teams.
Georgia couldn't quite stay even long enough, or get a lead of its own, to put Washington and Danielle Lawrie under pressure.
Arizona State sucked the life out of Missouri's momentum with a barrage of singles and small-ball runs in the first two innings.
Alabama's listless play turned a potential clash of titans against Michigan into a one-sided romp for the Wolverines.
And despite five innings of shutout relief from Sarah Akamine, Arizona couldn't get nearly enough going against a dominant Stacey Nelson to overcome an early 3-0 deficit.
"I really felt throughout the game that we were just a couple of baserunners from getting something going," Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. "But this is what the College World Series is all about, you know. You get games like this. Florida, definitely, we knew was a very good team, and Nelson did a good job, and I tip my hat to them."
And so it's on to Friday's games.
No. 10 Arizona State vs. No. 3 Washington, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
It doesn't get any easier for Lawrie. Georgia couldn't seize control Thursday, but it made life more difficult than its one run against the Washington ace might indicate. Extending at-bats and making good contact, including one drive to within inches of a home run, the Bulldogs looked like a team that knew what to expect -- as you might expect from one of the only teams to beat Lawrie this season.
Another of those teams awaits Friday night. Arizona State beat Washington 9-2 in late April in Tempe, chasing Lawrie after the ace allowed a season-high six earned runs on eight hits in four innings. The Huskies pitched to Arizona State's Kaitlin Cochran, and in this instance, Cochran got the best of her fellow USA Softball Player of the Year finalist with a home run. And beyond that game, the Sun Devils were able to push Lawrie in all three games between the teams this season. In its two defeats at the hands of Washington, Arizona State still managed to collect 20 hits and five earned runs against Lawrie.
The bad news for fans of the Sun Devils is that despite putting up the day's high score with seven runs against Missouri, Arizona State's power game isn't in top form. And stringing together singles against Lawrie is a tough road to success.
"I am getting used to singles right now," Myers said. "For some reason, we haven't been hitting long balls lately. But with the mentality of what we are trying to do at the plate, we are trying to stay on top. We hit nine pop-ups, eight with runners in scoring position [against Missouri], and great teams don't do that."
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 1 Florida, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Wolverines coach Carol Hutchins has long insisted her teams don't worry all that much about an opponent's strengths and weaknesses, instead choosing to expend their energy on making sure Michigan does what it does well.
Simply for the sake of sanity, that's not a bad idea for anyone scheduled to play Florida these days.
The Gators put together a win against Michigan earlier this season that looked remarkably like their win against Arizona on Thursday. Nelson shut down a good lineup, striking out nine and allowing just three hits, while her offense chased starter Nikki Nemitz with four quick runs and then failed to do much more against Jordan Taylor.
That last part is one reason Hutchins' pitching decision is so intriguing. She's a long-term advocate of a two-pitcher system, and followed through on that by starting Taylor in the second game of last week's super regional against Baylor. Against Alabama, Nemitz looked like the kind of pitcher a team could ride for a lot of games in Oklahoma City, but Taylor offers a much different style, bringing movement from a variety of looks.
If Hutchins and her staff saw something in the first game that convinced them that Taylor's success and Nemitz's lack thereof was more than coincidence, the former could get the call.