Power Rankings: Gators rise to the top
Oklahoma went wire to wire atop these rankings a season ago, so we need to dust off the protocol for an in-season transfer of power. We'll save the pomp and circumstance for another day, along with any speeches, and just bid adieu to Arizona State, at least for now, and welcome an SEC team to the top of the page for the first time in a long time.
1. Florida (22-0)
That record isn't a fluke. Florida deserves the top spot and had a strong case for it even before Arizona State fell flat at home and Tennessee lost for the first time. That said, we're not yet talking about a team that has separated itself from the pack the way Oklahoma did a season ago. Florida struggled for runs against Oregon in its lone significant game this past weekend even though the Gators didn't face Ducks ace Cheridan Hawkins until late in the game. But, with a collective .470 on-base percentage and 50 stolen bases in 22 games (almost halfway to last season's total in 67 games), in addition to the standard assortment of power, run scoring should be an asset. A home series against Mississippi opens SEC play this week, and the rest of March is loaded with important conference games.
2. UCLA (17-0)
The weekend was quiet, but the Bruins are already making up for it. UCLA lost all of its scheduled weekend games to weather, but it added a second midweek game against Michigan (one of the lost weekend opponents) to make up for it. Yet again the Bruins came up with a walk-off win, and yet again freshman Delaney Spaulding was the hero, with a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth. The unbeaten record now includes walk-off wins against Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma, two off Spaulding's bat. Another game against the Wolverines awaits Wednesday.
3. Tennessee (15-1)
Every team is going to lose a game at some point. The unfortunate part for Tennessee is that weather made the season's first defeat easier to fixate on. One point to note is that the 6-3 loss to BYU came in a game in which Ellen Renfroe didn't pitch. She shut down San Diego State later that same day before the Volunteers' final five games in California were lost to rain. Western Kentucky is the most intriguing game on the schedule this week, although the offense and pitching ace Emily Rousseau still seem to be finding their footing for last season's NCAA tournament entrant.
4. Arizona (20-1)
The depth and quality of Arizona's pitching has been a story this season, but the Wildcats might like us to remember they can hit a little, too. Weather (sensing a theme?) cost them games over the weekend, but they still scored 26 runs in wins against Longwood, Valparaiso and Indiana, paced by Pac-12 Player of the Week Kelsey Rodriguez, who had five doubles among six weekend hits to claim the award, and Chelsea Goodacre, who drove in eight runs in those game. It turned out those two were just getting started. Each drove in seven runs in Tuesday's doubleheader sweep against Ball State, Rodriguez adding another double and a home run and Goodacre hitting two home runs.
5. Oregon (18-2)
Oregon nearly stole a win against Florida while simultaneously giving No. 2 pitcher Karissa Hovinga some big-game experience, but a 4-1 weekend record in a rare trip East for a Pac-12 team will suffice. A month into the season, it's difficult to think Tennessee's Renfroe or Oregon's Hawkins wouldn't be the choice if you had to pick one pitcher to win a game for you. Hawkins was good in relief against Florida and struck out 44 batters in complete-game wins against Auburn, Bradley and Illinois State in the tournament in Florida. The Ducks take this weekend off before heading to Hawaii.
6. Michigan (13-3)
Sure, Michigan lost Tuesday's game against UCLA, but, as long as the body of work lingers more than the final act, it should still bode well for the future. Freshman Megan Betsa gave up the home run to UCLA's Spaulding, but only after striking out nine and allowing just one run through the regulation seven innings, adding that performance to an earlier strong start against ranked USF. The schedule ahead is brutal. After a second game at UCLA, Michigan heads to the Judi Garman Classic at Cal State Fullerton to face Arizona State, Washington, Houston, Arizona and Texas.
7. Washington (16-2)
Make it four shutouts in a row for the Huskies since a loss to Northwestern. Granted, San Jose State, Cal State Bakersfield and UTEP didn't quite simulate postseason conditions this past weekend, but wins are wins. Freshman Bridget Raftery nearly had one for the record books with a grand slam for her first career hit, but she'll have to settle for collecting that blast with her second hit. Thursday's game against Michigan is the highlight of a trip to the Judi Garman Classic, but there aren't any easy ones with Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas and Fresno State also there.
8. Florida State (18-2)
The two best players in Alabama? For a week, Lacey Waldrop and Maddie O'Brien could make compelling cases. Florida State scored a road win at Auburn on its way to a tournament at Alabama in which it went 4-1 and split with the Crimson Tide. Waldrop allowed just two earned runs and struck out 29 batters in 22 innings, including two strong outings against Alabama. O'Brien continued a season-long tear responsible for a 1.460 OPS by driving in six runs. By this time next week, the Seminoles will have played five ACC games, three at Virginia and two against Virginia Tech at a neutral site in Fort Myers, Fla.
9. Arizona State (20-3)
The Sun Devils lost three games at home in a week for the first time since Cal swept them in 2010. And, although Ball State, Minnesota and South Carolina are all teams with NCAA tournament aspirations (and ranked, in Minnesota's case), losing to all of them in the span of a few days hurts. Arizona State had chances in all three cases, but it left 27 runners on base and scored just four runs in the losses. So, is the first road trip coming at a good time or a bad time? The Sun Devils play Michigan, Texas and Nebraska, among others, in the Judi Garman. A no-hitter from Dallas Escobedo on Tuesday offered momentum, except that her offense managed just one run against Longwood.
10. Baylor (16-4)
No, it wasn't a perfect weekend for Baylor, which lost an 11-10 slugfest against Louisiana-Lafayette at a tournament in Mississippi, but the Lady Bears also beat Mississippi State and South Alabama to add to a list of quality results that includes two wins against Missouri and single wins against Stanford, Northwestern, Arkansas, California and Iowa. Nobody is pushing Whitney Canion out the door, especially after she bounced back from a rough day against the Ragin' Cajuns to throw a two-hit shutout against South Alabama, but it's nice to have Heather Stearns around, too. The sophomore had 12 strikeouts in an eight-inning shutout against Mississippi State and 23 on the weekend.
Next five: No. 11 Alabama, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 13 Georgia, No. 14 Tulsa, No. 15 South Alabama.