Category archive: Oregon State Beavers
Brandice Balschmiter has moved on after a standout career at Massachusetts (although sophomore Sara Plourde is off to a strong start in her place for the Minutewomen), but the A-10 still had strong representation in Cathedral City. In what might have been the best pitching performance of the tournament, Fordham sophomore Jen Mineau opened her team's five-game run by striking out 15 in a shutout win against Texas A&M.
The Rams also beat Oregon State and UNLV to leave the weekend with three wins and a 6-3 record overall. In the three wins in California, Mineau struck out 39 batters in 21 innings and surrendered just 11 hits and one earned run (she also pitched limited innings in losses against Cal and San Diego State, with only the Bears doing much damage). For the season, she has 75 strikeouts in just 39 innings.
So outstanding though the Texas A&M performance was, it was also business as usual in some ways. And while she's not Balschmiter just yet, Mineau is on the rise.
"Pretty much this season, that's just how she's been," Fordham coach Bridget Orchard said, noting the work Mineau had put in during conditioning and weight training. "We kind of knew that coming in -- when she was working out in our offseason, she was throwing like that. Her ball's really just been hopping and moving. So we really kind of expected it almost out her. We weren't surprised. I think a lot of people of were surprised at a lot of her strikeouts, but that's the way she's been throwing. This season she's really been able to get the ball moving and keep batters off balance."
Mineau should get a couple of more shots at big-time offenses, most notably against George Tech next weekend but also against Florida Gulf Coast this weekend. And with Massachusetts scheduled to come to Fordham the first weekend in April (the conference tournament will be in Amherst, Mass. this season), the A-10 race should have more drama than it did during most of Balschmiter's reign.
One key will be what kind of run support the Rams can provide for Mineau. Given the quality of competition, scoring 14 runs in five games in Cathedral City isn't bad. But the only team in the A-10 other than Massachusetts to slug better than .400 last season. Fordham still finished a distant second to the Minutewomen in the category.
Even there, Mineau's improvement from good to ace might have some spillover effect.
"We play great behind her as well," Orchard said. "And I think we hit when she's pitching -- we hit a lot better because I think we know if we can get her a run, one or two runs, we're going to win a ball game."
With Ohio State trailing 7-3 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning against Oregon State (the Buckeyes had trailed 7-2 to begin the inning), sophomore Alicia Herron tied the game with a grand slam that elicited a roar heard around the complex. An inning later, Leah Ledford's RBI single provided the eventual winning margin.
That comeback, coincidentally against the only team Ohio State played all weekend that hadn't received votes in the previous week's Top 25, seemed to provide a pivot point for the Buckeyes. Instead of standing at 1-2 in their first three games and winless for the day after an earlier loss to Tennessee, they took the momentum and closed their stay in the desert by beating Cal State Fullerton and UCLA the next day.
If the previous week's three losses against Alabama suggested Ohio State had some work to do to recapture the magic of last year's run to within two games of the Women's College World Series, the games in Cathedral City suggested it can be done.
It's all part of the juggling act for a team looking to build on last season's success without living in it.
"That's so tough because every season is its own season; it's a whole new world," Ohio State coach Linda Kalafatis said. "And yet you want to take in the lessons that you learned, the experiences that you learned. We're old enough, we've got enough returners, that we can use [the super regional appearance], I think, in a positive way without comparing."
While Ohio State is battling some injury issues at the moment, knee injuries have affected pitchers Melanie Nichols and Lindsay Bodeker, there's a lot to like about a team that returned nine position players who started at least 35 games last season.
Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
Auburn: I'll come clean; I wrote off Auburn before the weekend. Sporting a losing record as they prepared for games at Tennessee and home against Georgia, the Tigers were on the precipice of postseason extinction. But after winning both games -- their first all season against top-50 RPI opponents -- they aren't just near the bubble, they're potentially on the right side of it. But they must close the regular season with a win at Alabama next weekend or risk finishing with a losing record in the event of a first-round SEC tournament loss.
Miami: The Hurricanes desperately needed at least four points out of home games against NC State and North Carolina. They managed just that in the unlikeliest manner, beating No. 2 North Carolina 1-0 on Sunday after tying NC State 1-1 on Thursday. It may not be enough. The RPI (43) is strong enough to warrant bubble consideration, but with an 8-8-1 overall record and games remaining at Virginia and Virginia Tech before the ACC tournament, staying at .500 or better will be a chore. But they gave themselves a chance with their fourth win against a top-35 RPI foe.
Oregon State: After watching Stanford take down a very good Washington side by three goals Sunday in Seattle, I'm more convinced than ever that the Pac-10 deserves the attention that could be headed its way with nine teams ranked in the RPI top 35. That said, Oregon State needed Friday's 2-1 win on the road against USC to lend some legitimacy to a record built on a so-so schedule (previously highlighted by wins against Denver and Loyola Marymount and a tie at San Diego State). Take six points from their final four games, and the remade Beavers shouldn't need to worry when the bracket comes out.
San Diego: The toughest team for me to slot at the moment, the Toreros are going to have to leapfrog some teams with better RPI numbers to make the field. They do have a neutral-site win against Rutgers and a tie against UCLA to their credit (they also have ugly losses against Kansas and USC, for what that's worth in the sniff test). But sweeping Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine this weekend, combined with an earlier win against Santa Clara, puts them in the thick of things at the very least.
Virginia: Last season brought the strangeness of an NCAA tournament without mainstays Connecticut and Santa Clara. Virginia looked like the vulnerable traditional power this fall, but while the Cavaliers aren't out of the woods yet, their chances are distinctly more favorable after earning four points with a draw against Wake Forest and a win against Duke. Earlier draws against Arizona State, Maryland and West Virginia plus a win against Hofstra weren't going to get it done, but the profile is now much improved.
Five Teams That Didn't Help The Cause
Minnesota: Tied 1-1 at Michigan; lost 2-1 at Michigan State
California: Lost 1-0 at Washington; lost 2-1 (OT) at Washington State
Colorado: Lost 2-0 at Texas A&M; lost 1-0 (2OT) at Texas
Illinois: Lost 3-0 vs. Ohio State; lost 6-0 at Penn State
South Florida: Lost 1-0 (2OT) at St. John's; lost 3-2 at Syracuse
Ohio State 6, Wisconsin 5 (11 innings)
The Buckeyes rolled to a 10-0 run-rule win in the opener of Saturday's doubleheader on the road, but they trailed 5-1 in the top of the seventh of the nightcap. Then Courtney Pruner's two-run home run cut the deficit to 5-3, and after hits from Rebecca Schultz and Leah Ledford, a two-out wild pitch eventually brought home the tying run.
Aside from good drama, the win, which came via another RBI from Schultz, set the running order as the Big Ten makes the turn for home. The Buckeyes aren't free and clear on the rail, beginning a tough closing stretch with a doubleheader at home against Purdue on Wednesday before trips to Northwestern and Michigan, but they control their own fate. Sweep Purdue and Penn State at home and split with the preseason favorites on the road, and the worst that could happen would be a tie atop the standings at 17-3.
Washington 7, Oregon State 1
Despite going 3-for-3 on the road against Oregon and Oregon State, the most important win of the weekend from Washington's perspective probably came just up the road from Corvallis and Eugene in Portland. But we'll get to that in a minute.
This result mattered because it capped off a winless weekend for the Beavers and dropped them to 22-22 overall with 11 games to play. Given the relatively soft state of the NCAA tournament bubble this season, Oregon State probably can count on an at-large bid if it comes up with a 28-27 record. But even if it gets two wins at UC Davis in Thursday's doubleheader -- no given -- that still would necessitate getting four more wins against the top six teams in the Pac-10. A task that got tougher with this weekend's lost homestand.
Portland State 4, Sacramento State 2
The third win of the weekend at home against Sacramento State, combined with Loyola Marymount's rough weekend against San Diego, put Portland State a game in front of the Lions in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference race. That's great news in Portland (perhaps not good enough to erase the sting of Yao Ming against the Trail Blazers), but it's also good news for folks a few hours north on Interstate 5.
If Portland State makes the NCAA tournament, it puts a non-Pac-10 team in the field that's within driving range of the University of Washington. And assuming the Huskies submit a bid to host regionals, that makes it far more likely they could advance to Oklahoma City without leaving Seattle to do it.
Hawaii 6, San Jose State 5
After dropping the opener of a three-game series at San Jose State, the visiting Rainbow Wahine held on for a one-run win in the second game and clinched the series with an 11-4 win in the finale. The weekend leaves Hawaii tied with Fresno State for second in the WAC, half a game behind league leader Nevada, and able to close out the conference regular season with six games at home. At 22-21 and with a chance to earn the top seed in the conference tournament, it's a big climb for a team that opened the season 3-11.
Watching Bob Coolen's team beat Ohio State and push Alabama to the wire at the Cathedral City Classic, it was easy to come away impressed in spite of the rough early record. Even now, there are a handful of numbers that jump out -- mostly Amanda Tauali'i's .770 slugging percentage and freshman Stephanie Ricketts' 1.99 ERA -- but this remains a team whose accomplishments are more than the sum of its numbers.
Hofstra 6, Georgia State 1
Sunday's win gave the Pride the best-of-three series against Georgia State and sole possession of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. With just two three-game series remaining for each of the league's teams, that puts the Pride in position to potentially host the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed (they travel to Drexel next weekend and host Delaware to close the regular season).
That's a big deal for a team that has owned this conference over the years but has been pushed by new arrival Georgia State in recent years. Hofstra is 91-9 in its past 100 home games against conference teams. There's also some relevance in the present to accompany that historical dominance; senior ace Kayleigh Lotti is 38-1 in her past 39 starts against Colonial opponents. The one loss? Georgia State last year, of course.
File the Panthers and Pride rivalry under "to be continued." But if it turns out that it's continued on Long Island instead of in Georgia, it's advantage Hofstra.
You know you had a good weekend when you threw seven innings of four-hit ball, striking out nine without allowing a walk or an earned run, and it's not the eye-catching part of your series line. Alabama's Charlotte Morgan put up that effort Saturday against Arkansas, earning win No. 11 in the circle (she got No. 12 Sunday in relief), but it was what she did to pitchers that might earn her national player of the week accolades. Morgan hit a pair of home runs in three games against the Razorbacks and finished the series 7-for-9 with seven RBIs.
The only catch, no pun intended, is Morgan might get a challenge from teammate Ashley Holcombe on a weekend in which Alabama's bats came alive. Always worth the price of admission for her defense behind the plate, Holcombe added eight RBIs on six hits.