Power Rankings: Texas A&M plays smart
Cassie Tysarczyk doesn't have all the answers yet, but she's working on them.
Tysarczyk's walk-off hit in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday helped finish what SEC player of the week Nicole Morgan started for Texas A&M with a three-run home run earlier in the game, giving the Aggies a 4-3 win against Missouri and clinching the three-game series that served as the conference opener for both teams.
The senior was hardly an unlikely hero. Although lightly recruited through most of her high school career, Tysarczyk has started 181 games for Texas A&M and come up with 140 hits and 119 RBIs. She has never been the star, although she's working on that with a .632 slugging percentage and a .488 on-base percentage so far this season. She has been indispensable almost from the start.
"She just really knows the game and is a smart, savvy player," Texas A&M coach Jo Evans said earlier this season. "She's just taken it and run with it. She's taken the opportunity she has at A&M and made the very most of it. She's a kid that has not gotten cheated one day. She's always worked hard. She's always relished the moment. ...
"She's had a great career, and I don't know that a lot of people would have known that was going to happen for her."
Basically, she's a good bet if you need someone to come through with a big hit. But she's an even better bet if you need someone to explain the psychology behind such situations.
At a recent tournament near Palm Springs, as teammates tried to distract her and the people on the other end of the connection, Tysarczyk spent breakfast using Skype to participate in a class back in College Station. She could have found some other way to get up to speed on what she missed -- making arrangements for missed classes is a staple of any player's life as they travel across the country in search of conditions suitable for softball in February and early March. She just really wanted to be part of the discussion. There were only 11 students in the class, three of them women, and the discussion that day centered on issues of gender.
A game later that afternoon against Arizona was important to her. So was the class.
As she nears the midway point of her fourth and final season on the field, she already holds an undergraduate degree in psychology. She is spending this year working toward a master's in sport management. Softball isn't simply her means to an end. It's a lifelong obsession and something she will keep close next year as a student assistant with the team. But it is something she understands will end, at least in the capacity through which it now occupies her hours.
That alone doesn't make her unique. It would be nice to think it doesn't even put her in the minority. Nice but not entirely realistic.
"You're always going to have those kids who are just ballpark rats," Evans said. "That maybe the only reason they went to college is because they got a softball scholarship. And you have other kids who really get it. They understand what it's all about."
Her academic success aside, she felt like the highly competitive graduate psychology program was a reach. One of her softball predecessors in both position and spirit, Jami Lobpries, is pursuing a doctorate in sport management and helped steer her toward that program. What she wants to do with it, be it coaching, administration, marketing or something else entirely, remains to be seen, but she will leave College Station prepared to do far more than work a count.
"Psychology has always just been so interesting to me, the way people are, why they are the way they are," Tysarczyk said. "I think it's really cool to look at that from an athlete's perspective. Why does this athlete handle themselves the way they do in certain situations? It's just been a blast for me to incorporate my undergrad into my master's and come at it from a completely different side of things."
Give her time and she'll figure out the answer. She seems to have a knack for it.
After her hit Sunday, Texas A&M has almost figured out a way into the top 10.
Now on to this week's rankings.
1. Florida (24-1, 2-1 SEC)
Florida opened the door for some team to wrest away the top spot, but there weren't any takers. First and foremost, tip your cap to Mississippi's Carly Hummel, who was already having a good week in the circle before she put together two strong outings against the Gators, including a win in the series opener. That said, the SEC is tough enough without losing games at home against the few unranked teams in the league, so Florida doesn't escape without some blame. From Friday through April 9, a span of 27 days, Florida plays series against LSU, Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn, as well as a home-and-away two-game set against Florida State. That's rough.
2. UCLA (23-1, 0-0 Pac-12)
The Bruins piled up six wins over the weekend against a collection of lesser lights, but the big deal was a midweek split against Michigan. The 9-4 loss this past Wednesday not only marked the first setback of the season but more runs than UCLA had allowed in any two games. Now Arizona visits to open Pac-12 play. The old rivals combined for 40 runs in three games a season ago and 36 runs the season before that. They currently boast the two best team ERAs in the Pac-12, but the last time there was a shutout in the series UCLA's Anjelica Selden edged Arizona's Taryne Mowatt in the 2008 Women's College World Series.
3. Arizona State (26-3, 0-0 Pac-12)
What falls a long way bounces back a long way. The Sun Devils tumbled to the end of the queue a week ago after three losses at home, but beating Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, Wisconsin and San Jose State on a neutral field in Fullerton, Calif., is a strong answer. As long as Dallas Escobedo keeps doing what she's doing, the Sun Devils can beat any team on any field. One possible concern, if the level of competition was a precursor for Pac-12 play, was Sun Devils hitters accumulating 25 strikeouts and 20 walks. They had a 23-walk surplus entering the tournament.
4. Oregon (18-2, 0-0 Pac-12)
Oregon didn't play this past week in advance of a trip to Hawaii this week. The Rainbow Wahine still seem to be searching for the pitching to replace former ace Kaia Parnaby, but between the host's home-field advantage, BYU and James Madison, Oregon could get a game at some point during the stay. It will be particularly interesting to see how the Ducks fare against James Madison's Jailyn Ford, thus far avoiding a sophomore slump with a 1.51 ERA. She shut out California this past Saturday (as did teammate Heather Kiefer a day later).
5. Tennessee (22-2, 0-0 SEC)
Not unlike Florida, Tennessee had a generally successful weekend at home marked by some uncharacteristically so-so run production. Also like Florida, Tennessee lost to a good pitcher. In the latter case, Western Kentucky's Emily Rousseau, the reigning Sun Belt pitcher of the year. So where are the Lady Vols as they begin SEC play at Arkansas this week? Offensively, about where they were a season ago at this time, an impressive feat with their lineup turnover. But last year's team actually slugged better in SEC play than outside the league. Will a younger group follow suit?
6. Michigan (16-6, 0-0 Big Ten)
It's not going to get more difficult than the past week for Michigan, and that includes any stay in Oklahoma City come June. In the span of five days, the Wolverines played two games at UCLA and games against Arizona, Arizona State, Washington, Texas and Houston in the Judi Garman Classic. That's insidious. So did the Big Ten team take some lumps? Sure. But in addition to a split against the Bruins, it closed with wins against Arizona and Texas. Haylie Wagner continues to shine. A non-factor in the postseason a year ago, she got all three wins on the trip, including shutting out the Wildcats and holding things together in relief against the Sun Devils.
7. Baylor (17-4, 0-0 Big 12)
With few exceptions, the best thing to be this past week was a team with a light schedule. Baylor's lone result, a 10-1 win against Louisiana Tech, doesn't carry much weight, but it beats losing. And there is a lot to like about the Lady Bears as long as Whitney Canion (eight strikeouts in four innings against Louisiana Tech) and Heather Stearns are in the circle and there is some hitting behind them. Baylor is the only team here not slugging .500, but it has 20 home runs in 21 games. A season ago, it hit 30 in 59 games -- and that was an improvement over the preceding season.
8. Arizona (23-3, 0-0 Pac-12)
Few teams exceeded expectations to a greater degree than Arizona in the season's opening month, so it shouldn't be a stunner to see some slight regression to the mean with losses against Michigan and Wisconsin in Fullerton, Calif. One thing to watch is on the pitching front, which has been so strong for the Wildcats to this point. Of the four Pac-12 pitching staffs with ERAs of 1.50 or better, three have allowed 46 or fewer walks. Arizona is the fourth with 76 walks. If opponents start making them pay for those runners, as Michigan and Wisconsin did, it's a problem.
9. Washington (19-4, 0-0 Pac-12)
Washington jumped all over Michigan after the latter team's stay in Los Angeles, piling up 15 hits and three walks in a 7-1 win against the Wolverines in Fullerton on Thursday, but the momentum didn't last the weekend. One-run losses against Nebraska and Fresno State leave the Huskies at this end of the rankings for now. In losses this season against the aforementioned two teams and LSU and Northwestern, the Nos. 4-6 spots in the Washington lineup are hitting just .125 (4-for-32). Home finally awaits with Utah coming to Seattle to open Pac-12 play this weekend. In fact, the Huskies won't venture outside of Washington or Oregon again until a series at Stanford beginning April 10.
10. Alabama (21-4, 3-0 SEC)
A sweep of South Carolina to open SEC play brings the Crimson Tide back into the top 10. After struggling to solve Florida State's Lacey Waldrop the previous weekend, Alabama's lineup churned out 28 runs in three games against the Gamecocks. That wasn't the best three-game total of the season, but it was more runs than the Tide scored in any SEC series a season ago. Living up to the cleanup spot she occupied, Molly Fichtner went 6-of-8 at the plate with two walks and five RBIs. This week brings a trip to Mississippi, and the Tide should get used to packing. Of the 30 games remaining on Alabama's schedule, only 12 will be played in Tuscaloosa.
Next five: Kentucky, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida State, Nebraska.