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Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Oklahoma, Alabama still lead the way

By Graham Hays

Tennessee Softball
Cheyanne Tarango helped No. 4-ranked Tennessee to five victories in three days.

Only one team in the initial power rankings lost a game during the season's second week, so the status quo rules for the moment. A crowded field at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., could mean changes.

1. Oklahoma (10-0)

For the second week in a row, Oklahoma rolled through two days of a tournament and survived a bumpy Sunday. The Sooners beat UC Riverside, San Diego State, Kentucky and Washington, no pushover quartet, by a combined score of 24-0 at the Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego. But after four of their first nine games this season didn't even make it to the sixth inning because of the run rule, it took nine innings to beat Notre Dame 7-5 in the finale. This is the first time since 2007 the Sooners made it through the first two weekends without a loss. That team started 23-0.

2. Alabama (10-0)

It wasn't just Oklahoma whose weekend offered déją vu. A week after needing a seventh-inning home run to dispatch upset aspirant Green Bay, Alabama needed extra innings to get past Georgia Southern. Kaila Hunt, Haylie McCleney and Danae Hays were offensive stars during a five-game stay in Florida, but the most notable performance came from Leslie Jury in the circle. The Tide need reliable depth behind Jackie Traina, and Jury allowed just five hits and no earned runs in 14 innings, striking out 16 and walking a manageable four.

3. Arizona State (12-0)

Arizona State wasn't immune to the near-miss, either. Trailing Northern Iowa 1-0 in the sixth inning, and tied 3-3 after six, the Sun Devils escaped behind RBIs from Cheyenne Coyle and Amber Freeman. That it was those two is hardly surprising. Freeman finished the weekend with nine RBIs in five games, fueled by two home runs and a double. Coyle has six home runs in 12 games and drove in seven runs in these most recent five games. The Sun Devils host Portland State in a rare four-game series this weekend.

4. Tennessee (10-0)

The potential pitching duel against host South Florida in a weekend tournament fizzled, mostly because the Lady Vols put up 11 runs in the final two innings against the Bulls (Tennessee starter Ellen Renfroe did her part with a shutout). It was a good weekend for sophomore Cheyanne Tarango, an X factor for this team's power game. Tarango hit a home run and two doubles and drove in eight runs, in addition to picking up a win in the circle. The schedule in Cathedral City this week isn't grueling, but a Friday showdown against UCLA looms large.

5. Texas A&M (10-0)

After a midweek win at Sam Houston State, Texas A&M swept its first five home games of the season, including a pair of narrow wins against North Carolina. Mel Dumezich was the ace the Aggies needed in both games against the Tar Heels. She allowed just one earned run in 14 innings in games separated by less than 24 hours. It's the Aggies' best start since 2007 (when they reached the World Series for the first time in nearly 20 years).

6. Florida (12-0)

The opening weekend was going to be a tough act to follow, especially given modest competition at home this past weekend. But a combined margin of victory of 50-1 in the weekend's first five games was a good encore. Like a few other teams here, the finale nearly got away from the Gators, but a two-out home run from Lauren Haeger in the bottom of the seventh tied the game against Charleston Southern, and Jessica Damico's double an inning later won it. A game against Missouri, not counted as a conference game, highlights a solid schedule in Cathedral City this week.

7. Missouri (5-0)

The Tigers hit 52 home runs last season. Five games into this season, they're already more than a quarter of the way to matching that total. For at least a weekend, last season's power fade was a distant memory. Facing quality competition in a tournament hosted by UC Santa Barbara, Missouri rolled to five wins by a combined 43-7 score. Nicole Hudson was the star with five home runs, but Kelsea Roth added three, Angela Randazzo hit two and eight players in all hit home runs. Oh, and Chelsea Thomas? Still good.

8. Texas (11-0)

The runs continued coming in bunches, and this time the opponents were teams with some postseason pedigree. The Longhorns had no trouble sweeping five games in Houston against the host University of Houston, DePaul and Illinois. One game avoided the run rule, and the final margin was 52-2 in favor of Texas. The big winner was Taylor Thom, whose two grand slams in one game against Houston tied an NCAA record.

9. California (7-2)

Coming off tough losses against Kentucky and Florida the opening weekend, Cal went to Las Vegas and got well. No one enjoyed the stay more than senior catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt, who hit four home runs. Is the heavy workload for Jolene Henderson a sign she's back in form or that there is an unsettled depth chart behind her? There are no ranked teams among the four opponents this week in Cathedral City, but Georgia Tech, Maryland, Illinois and Nebraska all present reasonable tests.

10. Oregon (8-3)

The Ducks keep a place in the rankings ahead of LSU after a 4-1 record at a tournament in Las Vegas that included a loss against Hawaii. That's the third loss in as many tries against a ranked opponent for the Ducks, slightly disappointing for a World Series team, even if two of the defeats came by just one run. No ranked opponents await in Cathedral City, but Virginia, Cal Poly, Nebraska, UNLV and San Diego State should make the Ducks work. The game against UNLV will be an on-field reunion with former Oregon assistant Lisa Dodd, who left Eugene after last season to take over in Las Vegas.