Softball regionals off to interesting start

May, 16, 2009
AHMERST, Mass. -- It didn't rain on the first day of the regional in Amherst, Mass. In retrospect, perhaps that should have been the first indication that something was amiss.

If not turned upside down, the NCAA tournament bracket was at least shaken like the proverbial Polaroid picture.

Bradley entered with a losing record and left with a win against No. 15 DePaul.

Texas State showed no mercy in run-ruling No. 12 Northwestern in five innings.

No. 7 Oklahoma remains locked in a 0-0 tie with North Dakota State in a game that will resume Saturday in the 10th inning -- and with the Sooners looking for just their second hit.

Oklahoma State got its third shutout in four games -- but just its fifth in the past 28 games -- to knock off No. 16 Florida State.

Hey ya, indeed.

• Bradley's stunner against DePaul may go down in the history books as a bigger upset than it was on the day, if that makes any sense.

It took Friday's win just to get Bradley to .500 on the season. After finishing sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference during the regular season, Bradley secured the league's automatic bid by beating the first-, second- and third-place finishers in the span of about 48 hours in the conference tournament. But senior pitcher Ashley Birdsong pitched all 21 innings in those games, and she's the reason the game was a bigger upset in the big picture than perhaps it was on the field at Missouri.

If those two played 10 times, DePaul would likely win nine against a team that hit just .222 on the season. But with a pitcher like Birdsong, who beat Northwestern with 14 strikeouts last season and quietly put together four stellar years, the odds on any given day probably feel a lot closer to 50-50.

Now the Braves get another break, playing either Illinois or Missouri in a winner's-bracket game Saturday, minutes after those teams play out a postponed game from Friday.

• Full credit to Texas State, which in its demolition of Northwestern exacted a sweet measure of revenge for being left out of the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Bobcats were far and away the most patient team in the Southland Conference this season, drawing better than three walks per game and leading the league in on-base percentage despite hitting a modest .263, good for just fourth in the league.

That was a profile that spelled ready-made disaster for Northwestern and struggling ace Lauren Delaney.

Delaney has thrown a lot of innings with a lot of grit in her first three seasons in Evanston, the past two as essentially the team's only option in the circle because of injuries and inexperience elsewhere. But something clearly isn't working right now. She walked 11 in five innings against Texas State and is on the verge of a 200-walk season with another 50-plus hit batters.

I didn't see the game, so I have no idea whether the Wildcats were ripping line drives into gloves and launching shots to the warning track. But since a 7-6 loss in the opener of a pivotal two-game set against Ohio State in late April, they've scored just six runs in four games (and even that's mostly because of five runs in two games against Wisconsin). At a time when Delaney needs all the run support she can get, everything just seems to be going wrong.

You can't really say Saturday's elimination game against Louisiana-Lafayette is a gut-check game -- because a team could play a great game against Lafayette's pitching and still come away with a loss -- but a two-and-out stay in regionals would be a shocking end to a season that seemed to hold championship possibilities.

• Putting aside upsets for a minute, here are four folks who shone particularly brightly Friday.

Christie Hamilton, Georgia: Hamilton moved the Bulldogs to within a game of a super regional by shutting out a North Carolina team that scored 21 runs in its opening game.

Hillary Bach, Arizona State: It wasn't quite a page out of Katie Burkhart's book with just two strikeouts, but Bach's five-hit shutout probably looked plenty sparkling to the Sun Devils. Whatever Bach's ceiling is, her ability to handle a full load in the Pac-10 as a freshman -- especially with this year's hit-happy league -- says a lot about her toughness.

Sanoe Kekahuna, California: Arizona's Stacie Chambers launched another home run in her team's win, but on this day, Cal's Kekahuna was the power champ with two blasts in a win against Mississippi State.

Kristen Adkins, Georgia Tech: Presumably Georgia Tech's ace, Adkins instead played third while freshman Jessica Coan tossed up 11 strikeouts against Boston University, But it was Adkins' three-run home run that ensured the Yellow Jackets weren't in the upset mix.

Thanks to Georgia Tech for passing along more info on its lineup: With freshman shortstop Kelsi Weseman out of action after surgery earlier in the week to repair a broken arm, the Yellow Jackets had to shift regular third baseman Tiffany Johnson to shortstop. If Adkins pitches today, look for further shifts involving Jen Yee and Christy Jones.

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



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