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|Even if she's not hitting a home run, Michigan's Sierra Romero can cause havoc: She scored four runs in a game without even recording an at-bat.|
Here are this week's college softball power rankings:
Oklahoma split a series at Kansas that was shortened to two games by weather, but that wasn't all that bad a showing for a weekend that saw the top 10 teams in adjusted RPI (entering play) go 13-14 against the field. That said, four runs in two games at Kansas matches the lowest output in back-to-back games all season for the Sooners, the first coming in a 1-0 loss against Nebraska and 4-1 win against Houston in the first week of March. There is no Big 12 conference tournament, so the regular season comes to a close with three Bedlam games against Oklahoma State, the first on a neutral field in Oklahoma City, the second at Oklahoma and the third at Oklahoma State.
So much for the drama of a de facto championship series in the Pac-12. Oregon travels to second-place Arizona State to close the regular season, but it does so as conference champion after it swept three games from Oregon State. It's the first Pac-12 title for Oregon, which is 15 games above .500 in conference play in four seasons under Mike White, compared with 164 games under .500 in all previous seasons. There may still be something to play for beyond pride in Tempe, albeit only as part of the very long game. If Oregon can lock in the No. 2 or No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, it could put off any potential meeting with Oklahoma until late in the World Series draw.
It's difficult to understate the scale of surprise with Florida's SEC championship. Forget for a moment the controversy that engulfed the program when it suspended three starters on the eve of last year's NCAA tournament; their eventual departures left the Gators with more basic manpower issues. But with five freshmen and a transfer from Northern Illinois all starting at least 29 games and sophomores filling most of the positions held by returnees, the Gators won each of their SEC series. They even won at Alabama in a game that didn't count toward the league standings. A lot of the credit goes to junior ace Hannah Rogers (28-5, 1.34 ERA) for giving the team reliability in the circle.
Well, that was a strange series. Tennessee lost two of three games at Missouri and lost its shot at the SEC regular-season title in the process, with all three games played in the span of about 20 hours. After inclement weather wiped out Friday's scheduled opener, the teams played a doubleheader Saturday night and abandoned Sunday's finale after six innings because of a 3 p.m. ET travel deadline for the Lady Vols. Hitting woes against Chelsea Thomas will raise old questions about Tennessee's ability to live up to its numbers against elite pitching. A rough combined outing for Ivy and Ellen Renfroe on Sunday is worrisome. But the Lady Vols hold their spot on their overall body of work.
The weekend chaos for so many of the top teams allows Arizona State to pop up here even after it lost two of three games at previously struggling Arizona -- and needing a seventh-inning rally from the bottom of the order to salvage its lone win. But with so many teams around and below them in the rankings doing their best to back into the postseason, which team is supposed to knock the Sun Devils from this spot? Freshman Nikki Girard got only two starts against the Wildcats, but she still drove in six runs on the weekend for what remains a deep, potent lineup. The Pac-12 title is out of reach with Oregon coming to town, but a top-eight NCAA tournament seed isn't.
Michigan didn't waste any time locking up the Big Ten regular-season title or returning to these rankings as it swept three games from Northwestern following a tough trip to Nebraska the previous week. In a freshman season in which Sierra Romero has piled up just about every kind of statistical accolade imaginable, adding the program's single-season home run record in Saturday's win, the new star added a quirky one by scoring four times in Sunday's regular-season finale without recording an official at-bat. She walked twice and was hit by a pitch twice. The team's stay in the Big Ten tournament in Lincoln, Neb., begins with a Thursday quarterfinal against either Ohio State or Iowa.
Missouri used a no-hitter from Chelsea Thomas and a no-quitter from fellow senior Nicole Hudson to take two of three games from Tennessee and enter its first SEC tournament as the No. 3 seed. Thomas was sensational in the series opener, throwing her 10th career no-hitter while hardly letting a ball out of the infield. But rather than send her back out on short rest for Sunday's finale, Missouri turned to Hudson, who had pitched and took the loss in the second game the previous night. Hudson gave up bundles of hits and fell behind 7-2 in the second inning, but she also hit two home runs and drove in six runs in what turned out to be a 12-8 win. Arkansas awaits in an SEC quarterfinal.
Texas will take 21 2/3 innings, 11 hits and 36 strikeouts from Blaire Luna and take its chances most weekends, but three strong starts from the ace weren't enough to stave off a series loss at Oklahoma State. While two one-run losses and a 7-2 win shouldn't be cause for panic, any false steps in May will generate some skittishness when it comes to the Longhorns, given their recent postseason history. In the two losses, Texas batters combined to strike out 18 times and walk once, a troubling showing for a team with a .415 on-base percentage. The regular season concludes with one game at home against Baylor on Sunday.
A light late schedule and some weekend weather cancellations mean South Alabama will have gone basically two weeks without a game by the time the Sun Belt tournament begins in Troy, Ala., this week. That's pushing the line between rest and rust. It's also been a month since the Jaguars last played an NCAA tournament-caliber opponent, a 4-0 win against Florida State on April 10. Western Kentucky will be the No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt tournament, meaning South Alabama would have to go through both it and Louisiana-Lafayette to win the title.
The final spot was a five-way race -- granted, one about as muddied as the Kentucky Derby -- among Washington, Alabama, Kentucky, LSU and Nebraska. All lost at least once over the weekend. Kentucky had the most impressive showing with two wins at Alabama, but Washington gets the nod after winning two of three at Utah, which has proved one of the more difficult road trips in the Pac-12. The Huskies piled up 11 hits and six walks to win the rubber game against the Utes, underscoring their place as the only Pac-12 team other than Oregon and Arizona State with an on-base percentage better than .400.