OKLAHOMA CITY Nobody likes a bully. However, determining exactly which team is the bully in the Women's College World Series championship series is difficult.
Top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Michigan (63-7) blasted through the regular season and tournament. The Wolverines, who are trying to become the first team east of the Mississippi to win a softball title, are now one loss from having their storybook season ended.
On the other hand, UCLA (40-19) is one win away from its third straight national championship. Calling any Bruins softball team a longshot in softball suggests the earth is spinning backwards on its axis, but the Bruins were underdogs this year. No, I'm not still nursing the spirits of a night out in Bricktown.
Even though UCLA sits poised to nab its 11th national title in the 24-year history of the NCAA softball championships, don't dismiss this hefty accomplishments of this year's squad. It may be the Bruins' 21st appearance in the big dance, but they are not a group riding veteran coattails or noshing on this opportunity from a silver spoon.
On the contrary, UCLA got to Oklahoma City by surviving five elimination games in regional play. Of the 11 Bruins in last night's box score, more than half are sophomores or younger. Nicole Sandberg, UCLA's only senior, has not even registered in the GP column in 2005. The Bruins are riding the arm of freshman Anjelica Selden — the rookie horse who has pitched every one of the Bruins' 77 postseason innings — on their surprising run at a title. That sounds like a softball Cinderella story to me.
Still not convinced? UCLA entered the WCWS with the worst record of the eight-team field. The Bruins lost a humbling 18 games this season and were consistently the lowest ranked of the WCWS's final four teams.
Sure, it's easy to root hard for the other team in Blue and Gold. Sure, a Michigan victory would be one giant leap for the East. But as this Bruins squad bids to join the 1988-90 Bruins squad as the only teams to threepeat in college softball, don't roll your eyes and chalk up another year of Pac-10 preeminence.
The sport is getting somewhere. Fastpitch is spreading like wildfire and talent brims from the dugouts of Austin, Ann Arbor, Knoxville and Tuscaloosa. Heck, let's not forget the Syracuse Orange emerged from the snow to steal a win from the storied Bruins this year.
Even if this "underdog" Bruins team wins the title, parity is getting closer. If that's not a beacon of hope for the future of the game, then I'm not sure what is.
Even if this Bruins team wins the title, they'll do so as longshots. Think about that; underdogs emerging from Westwood. If that's not a beacon of hope for the future of the game, then I'm not sure what is.
Mary Buckheit, a former college softball player, is covering the Women's College World Series for ESPN.com.