Category archive: UNLV Rebels

UCLA powers through the weekend

April, 26, 2009
Thoughts on five key results from the weekend.

UCLA 10, Arizona State 4
Gathering the Pac-10's top four teams in the desert for six games seemed like a great way to create anticipation but an even better way to produce mixed results. The former was there in abundance, but the latter was decidedly absent after UCLA's loud statement.

The Bruins swept all three of their games, winning once at Arizona and twice at Arizona State, by holding the two most prolific offenses in the country to six runs. Megan Langenfeld earned all three wins, and there's more to come on her unique roles with this team later this week.

UCLA piled up 21 runs (including a pair of home runs from Langenfeld when she wasn't busy pitching). Compare that to the first time the Bruins played the Arizona schools, when they managed 21 hits and five runs in losing two of three games at home.

Now, 21 hits in three games is far from anemic, but the onslaught that produced 31 hits away from home this weekend may corroborate something both Langenfeld and coach Kelly Inouye-Perez talked about Thursday before heading out on the road. The Bruins are loaded with pure talent, but the focus this season is on the mental approach, making adjustments and knowing what to expect from the opposing pitcher ahead of time.

"There's no question on whether this group can hit," Inouye-Perez said Thursday. "They could hit before they got here, and they're even better, I believe, for working with [UCLA assistant] Lisa Fernandez. But when you talk about attention to detail, it gives you an edge as a hitter. So if there's something you can take, if there's a tendency you can notice, if there's a placement in the box that can help give you an advantage, then those are the things that can only help your game.

"So early in a ballgame, that's one of our goals. One of our goals is to be able to expose the weakness of our opponent so that we can score early and often."

With only one road game remaining, at Washington this Wednesday, and a series still to come at home against seventh-place Oregon State and last-place Oregon, the conference title -- and likely the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament -- is UCLA's to lose.

Hawaii 11, New Mexico State 3
This isn't shaping up as a year of major drama on the NCAA tournament bubble, but there is one glaring exception looming out in the Pacific Ocean. With an RPI buried in triple digits entering the weekend, Hawaii is fighting an uphill battle. But it shouldn't be.

Consider what the Rainbow Wahine have working in their favor.

Quality neutral-site wins out of conference against Oklahoma, Ohio State and fellow potential bubble candidate Oregon State (if the Beavers get to .500).

A 3-3 record against the top two teams in conference, Nevada and Fresno State, including a pair of road wins at Fresno State.

A strong closing kick that stands at 11-2 in the past 13 games, with only a home series against Boise State, in its first season of softball, remaining before the WAC tournament.

Quality losses are the evidence that the jury is instructed to ignore -- they don't count but there's no use pretending they don't exist. And if you're trying to do the eyeball test on Hawaii, one-run losses against Alabama and Tennessee help establish a team's pedigree.

If Hawaii takes care of its business against Boise State and avoids going two-and-out at the conference tournament, it deserves to be in the NCAA tournament. And if RPI is the best argument someone has to counter that, they need to find a better argument.

Georgia Tech 3, North Carolina 2
Jen Yee's walk-off blast against North Carolina on Sunday gave Georgia Tech a sweep of the weekend's three-game series (and they had the broom to prove it in the postgame celebration). From an ACC perspective, the sweep gives the Yellow Jackets control of the regular-season race; they need just two wins next weekend at Maryland.

But perhaps of equal importance in the long run, the wins represented an impressive turnaround for a team that took a beating in two midweek home games against Alabama.

Given that reality of the losses against Alabama, it's impressive that Sharon Perkins' team maintained its focus and not only swept a North Carolina team riding a 23-game winning streak but did it by overcoming a late game-tying home run by the Tar Heels in Sunday's finale.

UNLV 7, Colorado State 6
Will Ashli Holland's grand slam go down as the blast that saved UNLV's season?

Losers of eight of their past 10 entering a weekend trip to Colorado State and New Mexico, the Rebels found themselves trailing 6-1 entering the sixth inning of the opener against the Rams. A loss would have dropped them to 2-7 in the Mountain West, and even with a strong RPI and early wins against Cal Poly, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Long Beach State, that would have been a pretty glaring demerit against postseason play.

Holland's blast and two more wins against New Mexico eased those concerns.

Alabama 6, Auburn 0
And surprisingly enough, that score is not because of the no-hit, 14-strikeout gem thrown by Alabama's Kelsi Dunne. (Although, is there a better advertisement for the upcoming SEC tournament than Dunne and Florida's Stacey Nelson throwing no-hitters on the same afternoon?)

With three games left for each, Auburn has a one-game lead on Mississippi for eighth place in the SEC. Only the top eight teams go to Knoxville for the conference tournament. So would Auburn, with an RPI of 29 entering the Alabama series, receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, even if it misses the SEC tournament?

A look at softball's weekend ahead

April, 22, 2009
In three weeks, every game will matter. For now, here are 10 weekend series with extra heft.

Illinois-Chicago at Cleveland State
(Three games)

The top three seeds in the Horizon League get a pass on the first set of games in the double-elimination conference tournament, so as enticing as this is, the series between the conference's current top two teams isn't going to settle anything. (Third-place Wright State also visits fourth-place Loyola this weekend.) Cleveland State ace Amanda Macenko has nearly 100 more strikeouts than any other pitcher in the league.

Maryland at Virginia Tech
(Three games)

Does the ACC get a fourth team into the NCAA tournament? Virginia Tech is 7-8 in the league but five games under .500 overall with nine to play before the ACC tournament. Mathematically, the Hokies could lose one or two more. Realistically, they need them all. Maryland has more to work with. The Terrapins have stopped hitting in league play (.314 slugging percentage), but sophomore Kerry Hickey has a 1.90 ERA despite three starts and a relief appearance against North Carolina and Florida State.

UNLV at Colorado State
(One game)

Friday's game in Fort Collins is part of a bigger weekend for both teams. UNLV has a reasonably strong at-large profile for the NCAA tournament, but at 2-6 in conference play, that profile can't really afford a loss at Colorado State or New Mexico the following two days. Meanwhile, Colorado State is 4-3 in the league but is buried in the RPI. Yet if the Rams could somehow sweep the weekend at home against UNLV and San Diego State, the Mountain West would get much more interesting.

No. 7 Northwestern at Illinois
(Two games)

Jenna Hall has been gone for a few years, but folks in Champaign-Urbana should still be familiar with the intentional walk. And as the Illini look for at least one win that would go a long way toward cementing their NCAA tournament at-large profile, they may want to use the free pass against Northwestern's Adrienne Monka. The freshman earned NFCA Player of the Week honors last week and is slugging .919 this season. Then again, whom are you pitching to instead? Erin Dyer went 5-for-8 with a pair of home runs against Illinois last season.

Cal State Fullerton at Long Beach State
(Three games)

The second-best home team in the Big West hosts the league's most successful road team, a week after Long Beach separated itself as the lone challenger to Fullerton and Cal Poly. Pitching ruled last season's series, with just 11 runs scored as Fullerton took two of three, but with the exception of Brooke Turner, it'll be new faces in the circle this time around. Ari Cervantes has been excellent for Fullerton in league play (1.72 ERA), and first baseman K.C. Craddick is hitting .448 against the Big West, compared to .130 out of conference.

No. 13 North Carolina at No. 20 Georgia Tech
(Three games)

We're back to the ACC, where Georgia Tech looks to make up some or all of a 2½-game deficit behind first-place North Carolina. Add in Wednesday's doubleheader against Alabama, and it's a make-or-break week for the Yellow Jackets in terms of claiming a seed in the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech has beaten North Carolina twice in the teams' past eight meetings. During that span, the Yellow Jackets have pushed across just 10 earned runs in 45 innings against current Tar Heels Lisa Norris and Danielle Spaulding.

No. 15 Tennessee at No. 11 Georgia
(Three games)

Strictly speaking, there's not a lot on the line here beyond conference tournament seeding. But with Alabama looming next week, Tennessee could use a road win or two to feel better about a potential NCAA tournament seed. Likewise, a strong closing push for the Bulldogs would help ensure a potential super regional in Athens. And after scoring seven runs in seven games against Washington, Florida and Alabama, it's another chance for the Bulldogs to prove that their otherwise prolific offensive numbers are indeed legit.

No. 14 Oklahoma at No. 10 Missouri
(Two games)

Two of the highest-profile programs unwilling to post their statistics online (making them more secretive than Nick Saban and Charlie Weis) meet in Columbia. The three runs Texas Tech scored in a 10-3 loss against Missouri last week marked only the third time in 15 games that an opponent scored more than two. Both teams are justifiably known for offense, but might this be the week that Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine's pitching depth and innovative bullpen philosophy gain a deserved spotlight?

No. 2 UCLA at No. 8 Arizona State
(Two games)

As usual in the Pac-10, UCLA and Washington swap places for single games Friday. Arizona State freshman Hillary Bach seems to be taking the Pac-10 learning curve with all four wheels on the ground. She's one of only three pitchers with an ERA of less than 3.00 in league play (2.42), joining UCLA's do-everything starter-reliever-slugger Megan Langenfeld and Washington's Danielle Lawrie. And while everyone's line is what it is for a reason, it's worth noting she has a 0.94 ERA in her six conference starts that didn't involve Arizona.

No. 3 Washington at No. 9 Arizona
(Two games)

It's the best offense in the nation against the best pitcher in the nation in a pair of games that will go a long way toward determining whether the conference title is done and dusted for the Wildcats or up for grabs in the final two weekends. What else needs to be said?