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It will be hot and noisy at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium as the Women's College World Series begins in Oklahoma City on Thursday. With two home-state teams in the field for the first time and a heavy Big 12 flavor, the WCWS should be intense and competitive even without traditional powers UCLA and Arizona.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. Can anyone stop Keilani Ricketts?
A 6-foot-2 sophomore left-hander for Oklahoma, Ricketts has been dominant pitching and hitting this postseason, striking out 54 in 35 2/3 innings while batting .529 with three homers and nine RBIs in six games. Ricketts carried the Sooners to a Super Regional sweep of Arizona. She will need to be just as good Thursday night, since the Sooners open the WCWS against top-seeded Arizona State.
2. Who will draw more fans to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State?
We'll give a slight edge to the Sooners, whose fans make the shorter drive, about 20 miles compared with 65 from Stillwater. But, really, it depends how long each team lasts. Unseeded OSU is in for the first time since 1998, and No. 9-seed Oklahoma makes its first appearance since 2004. They're on opposite sides of the bracket, so they can only meet in the losers' bracket or the championship series. If either makes it to the final, the 2010 WCWS record attendance of 62,562 might be obliterated.
3. What are the chances a Big 12 team will win it all?
Mathematically, 50-50, since that conference contributed half the field -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, No. 5 Missouri and No. 11 Baylor. Realistically? Shaky. The last five champions have come from the Pac-10, so somebody will have to knock off No. 1 Arizona State.
4. Can Baylor keep rolling without catcher Clare Hosack?
Perhaps you saw the gruesome video of Hosack, a freshman catcher, fouling a ball off her face in Super Regional Game 1 against Georgia. Hosack, with blood pouring from a gash, suffered multiple fractures and received several stitches below her right eye. She did not play the next day. Baylor has not said whether she will be available for the WCWS.
5. How good is Hannah Rogers?
The freshman right-hander teamed with senior Stephanie Brombacher to give Florida two dynamic arms in the circle. Rogers' 10th shutout of the season, 7-0 over Oregon in the Gainesville Super Regional, sent the Gators to their fourth-straight WCWS. Rogers has been so effective starting and relieving (33-6 with a 1.59 ERA) that she could be a difference-maker for the Gators in Oklahoma City, along with power-hitting sophomore Brittany Schutte (20 homers).