Gators, ASU highlight packed weekend

March, 13, 2009
Checking in on some of the weekend's most compelling plots in college softball:

Florida hits the road for the second consecutive weekend in conference play with three games at Mississippi, but the Gators used the middle of the week to good effect with a doubleheader sweep of Georgia at home Wednesday,15-0 and 4-0. The Bulldogs managed just two hits and one walk in 12 innings against Stacey Nelson and Stephanie Brombacher.

Those two wins made it three consecutive shutouts for the Gators, a streak worth noting after they had allowed at least one run in each of their previous six games. Considering they won all six of those games and outscored opponents 39-10 in doing so, a stray run or two isn't likely to cause many sleepless nights in Gainesville. But when you're talking about a national championship favorite, nits get picked, and the team's longest stretch without a shutout last season was seven games (at just about the same point in the season). The flip side is a shutout in the opener against Ole Miss would mean a fourth consecutive clean slate, something that the Gators never did last season.

• Elsewhere, LSU visits Georgia. A win against Washington on a neutral field last weekend hinted at the Bulldogs' upside, but balance that against the losses at Florida. Georgia went 1-11 against Alabama, Florida, LSU and Tennessee last season and scored only 19 runs in those 11 losses. With this season's series against Alabama coming in Tuscaloosa and the Tennessee series coming late in April, this three-game weekend set is an important chance to show the Bulldogs can hold serve at home against a team that conventional wisdom suggests they've passed in the conference pecking order.

We're still a couple of weeks away from conference play getting underway in the Pac-10, not that it's too early to start anticipating trips to the Bay Area for UCLA and Washington in what should be a heck of a first weekend. But with Arizona, Arizona State and Washington all in action at the Judi Garman Classic, which kicked off Thursday, it's still a busy weekend -- even with Stanford and UCLA off.

Arizona State probably has the toughest weekend of the three at the Garman, playing DePaul and Michigan, while Arizona and Washington face the Wolverines but don't get a look at the Blue Demons. It's also just the second trip away from Tempe for the defending champions (they beat Fullerton 6-3 on the road Thursday).

I was a little skeptical of talk out of Tempe that the Sun Devils might be better on offense this season than they were en route to the championship, but early evidence suggests it's a fair debate. Seven Sun Devils already have at least three home runs, including freshman Katelyn Boyd, who might be a better hitter than anyone the team lost after last season, as bold as that may sound.

But while Arizona State played a tough five-game set at the Cathedral City Classic, the rest of the schedule hasn't included a lot of postseason-caliber pitching (although they did get six hits and five runs off Iowa's Brittany Weil). So with the potential of facing either Jordan Taylor or Nikki Nemitz for Michigan, Becca Heteniak for DePaul, Molly Hill for Nebraska and even Brittney Bargar for Notre Dame, this weekend is a good opportunity for Arizona State's offense to show exactly how much potential is there.

Big 12
Speaking of Nebraska, Hill picked up a shutout win against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday night at the Garman, but news that Robin Mackin won't pitch this season is a tough blow for the Huskers as they look to the start of conference play next weekend.

Oklahoma joins Nebraska out in Fullerton, Calif., at the Garman. And the Sooners' loss to Notre Dame on Thursday ensured that the Huskers' win against Louisiana-Lafayette wouldn't be the opening day's biggest upset. Coming on the heels of last weekend's disappointing 1-3 record against Northwestern and Tennessee in games played in Norman, Okla., and Oklahoma City, the loss against the Fighting Irish sets up intriguing games against DePaul and Louisiana-Lafayette for the Sooners.

But as many good games as those two teams will play this weekend in Fullerton, I'm equally interested to see how Missouri fares against in a pair of games against North Carolina in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Both teams have good one-two punches in the circle -- Missouri with freshman Chelsea Thomas and senior Stacy Delaney, and North Carolina with Danielle Spaulding and Lisa Norris -- so both games should offer meaningful results.

And from the better-late-than-never file, this past week's award winners:

Pitcher: Danielle Spaulding, North Carolina
Player: Sarah Tacke, Virginia Tech

Big 12
Pitcher: Chelsea Thomas, Missouri
Player: Alysia Hamilton, Oklahoma State

Big East
Pitcher: Kristen Wadwell, Louisville
Player: Brianna Jorgensborg, Notre Dame

Big Ten
Player: Tammy Williams, Northwestern
Pitcher: Nikki Nemitz, Michigan, and Suzie Rzegocki, Purdue (shared)

Big West
Player: Melissa Pura, Cal Poly
Pitcher: Anna Cahn, Cal Poly

Conference USA
Player: Brooke Smart, Tulsa
Pitcher: Jordan Kinard, Tulsa

Missouri Valley
Player: Kelly Papesh, Northern Iowa
Pitcher: Tara Oltman, Creighton

Mountain West
Player: Jessica Purcell, BYU
Pitcher: Bailey Micetich, San Diego State

Player: Jenae Leles, Arizona
Pitcher: Missy Penna, Stanford

Pitcher: Kelsi Dunne, Alabama
Player: Kristin Schnake, Georgia

Hitter: Heather Mosser, McNeese State
Pitcher: Bethany Stefinsky, McNeese State

Player: Christina Capobianco, Boise State
Pitcher: Katie Holverson, Nevada

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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