North Dakota State brings allure to tourney

May, 17, 2009
05/17/09
12:11
AM ET
AMHERST, Mass. -- As one of the early hitchhikers on the South Dakota State bandwagon in women's basketball, I'll admit there's a certain allure to the idea of North Dakota State potentially playing on the biggest of softball stages at the Women's College World Series.

There's just something fun about getting the Dakotas involved in the sporting scene (other than ice hockey, of course). It's like watching the Olympic skier from Azerbaijan or the Faroe Islands' World Cup qualifying entry -- only with the added bonus that the underdog might win.

Then again, for all the hand wringing about when Oklahoma will get back to the event that takes place just a few miles up the road from its campus, it might be equally fun to cover one of the Sooner State's other teams making the trip to Hall of Fame Stadium.

The short of it is that either North Dakota State or Tulsa will be playing in a super regional next week, and that's the kind of thing that makes May worth the effort.

And strange as the words are to type, North Dakota State is in full control of its postseason destiny after finishing off an upset win against Oklahoma on Saturday morning and rallying to beat Tulsa later in the day. Win once more against Tulsa on Sunday and it's on to a super regional.

A shining example of why it's more useful to lose some games early in the season than run through a schedule devoid of postseason material, the Bison played Arizona three times, Kansas twice, Nebraska twice, Creighton twice and Jacksonville State once before opening up in the Summit League. It won only two of those games (one each against Kansas and Creighton), but that's from a program that was playing Bemidji State and New York Tech in Division II as recently as 2004.

And the credit goes to Andi Padilla for the current run. With 125 strikeouts and 110 walks in 232.1 innings this season, Padilla's numbers don't jump off the stat sheet. But the senior, who hadn't pitched more than 52 innings in any of her first three seasons, provided all the quality innings you could hope for in the Norman Regional.

There are still a few games remaining tonight, but since the Courtyard Marriott folks casting curious glances my way may at some point catch on to the fact that I'm not actually staying at their hotel, I'm going to hit a few big Saturday performances and hit the road.

Lisa Sweeney, Lehigh
Trying to get two wins in one day against Florida is less an uphill climb than a 90-degree incline, but Sweeney and Lehigh deserve credit for earning the right to try. For the second time in four years, Fran Troyan's program will play on a regional Sunday with a chance to advance to a super regional. Sweeney drove in a run in a win early Saturday against Florida A&M and then pitched a complete game to beat Texas A&M in the nightcap.

Stacie Chambers, Arizona
At first glance, it seemed perhaps Chambers had finally figured out how to hit the elusive five-run home run in an 18-4 win against Louisville. She's hit every other kind of home run enough times this season to presumably unlock any hidden Easter eggs. As it turned out, her nine RBIs on two hits actually came from mere mortal means, courtesy of two home runs, a sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk.

Anna Cahn, Cal Poly
Cahn opened the day by not only shutting out Portland State but outhitting them, picking up three hits to the two she allowed in the circle in a 5-0 win. She turned things over to Helen Pena in the day's second elimination game against Nevada. Pena tossed a complete game, allowing just four hits and one earned run in a 6-1 win.

Lisa Jansen, Mississippi Valley State
Courtesy of the delays that pushed back the schedule in the Tuscaloosa Regional, Mississippi Valley State gets a night to savor the program's first NCAA tournament win since 2004 before squaring off against Texas in an elimination game Sunday morning. Jansen made the one run her team scored stand up, beating Chattanooga with a two-hit shutout. (For more on the game, check out Tommy Deas' coverage of the regional for the Tuscaloosa News).

With Ohio State joining Georgia in the super regionals, it seems a good time to throw out a link to the softball coverage over at allbigten.com, where Andrew Linnehan correctly predicted the Buckeyes would survive.

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

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