“OU-Alabama Super Regional A Must See” Written By Bill Plummer
NORMAN, Okla.– The eight NCAA Softball Super Regionals scheduled this weekend will have the interest of the most avid softball fan, especially the fans in Oklahoma and Alabama.
The matchup of No. 5 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma is as good as it gets for Division One softball and fans should get their money’s worth in Tuscaloosa when the best-of-three series starts Friday night.
These two top-ten teams have met in the past and Alabama holds a 7-3 edge on the Sooners. The most recent national championship meeting between these two outstanding softball teams was in in 2012 when Alabama defeated the Sooners 5-4 in the NCAA championship series in a final marked by rain and Sooner ace Keilani Ricketts having control problems.
The Sooners never forget what happened in that Series and showed it where it counts the most– on the field, winning their second NCAA national title in convincing fashion in 2013 and establishing itself as one of the greatest teams in Division One softball history.
Ricketts graduated, but the Sooners’ program continues to flourish and again qualified for the College World Series in 2014, while the Crimson Tide was defeated in the 2013 Super Regionals and missed an opportunity for another title.The Tide did, however, beat OU in their opening game of the 2014 World Series. The Tide was the first team from the SEC to win it all in 2012, and the Tide have another outstanding team looking for a berth in the 2015 World Series.
Oklahoma equally has another outstanding team and it’s too bad both of these fine teams have to meet in the Super Regional. Each is good enough to be among the Elite Eight in Oklahoma City, which has become the melting pot of Division One softball.
This is the senior year for OU’s Lauren Chamberlain, Shelby Pendley and Georgia Casey, who were members of the 2013 national titlists, and there is no doubt they would love to again advance to the Women’s College World Series. OU is seeking its fifth straight and 10th overall berth in the World Series while the Tide is also seeking its 10th berth in the WCWS after qualifying seven times in a nine-year span.
OU (48-7) enters the game on an eight-game game win streak while the Tide (45-12) has won its last three games in a row. As expected and hoped by the respective coaches, Patty Gasso and Pat Murphy, the teams are peaking at the right time and there isn’t any doubt these two fine coaches will have their teams primed for a Super Regional that will be as good as it gets for Division One softball.
The Crimson Tide was impressive in its three wins in the Regional at home and dominated the three other teams, collecting 34 hits and 10 walks and run-ruling Washington twice,28-1. The Tide pitching was so good that the opposition didn’t get a runner to third until the fourth inning of the Regional Championship game.
OU, meanwhile, won the Norman Regional at home and won three games including twice beating the SEC’s Texas A&M, 7-5 and 2-0. OU had to rally to advance to the championship game on Sunday, but this an OU team that is mentally tough and handles pressure well when the Sooners are trailing. Freshman pitcher Paige Parker was as different as night and day against the Aggies. She allowed a career high five earned runs Saturday before coming back on Sunday to hurl a three-hitter for her ninth shutout of the season.
Parker (27-5) has been the ace of the OU pitching staff this year and again will be expected to lead the Sooners from the circle while Shelby Pendley will handle shortstop and has also played well from the circle when called upon. She and NCAA career homer leader Chamberlain form the most potent tandem in NCAA softball, with 44 homers between them. Pendley deserves to be named Player of the Year after excelling on offense, defense and in the circle. She’s a complete player and will go down in OU history as an all-time great after starting her career at Arizona. Chamberlain likewise will go down in OU history as all-time great and hit well in the Regional last weekend ( five-for-11, one homer, two RBIs). She’s batting .403 entering the Super Regional with 20 homers and 60 RBI. Pendley has 24 homers and 65 RBI with a team-leading .434 batting average.
While Parker will be counted on to lead the Sooners from the mound, the Tide has three pitchers who’ve had excellent seasons. SEC Freshman of the Year Alexis Osorio is 26-9 along with Leslie Jury 18-9 and Syndey Littlejohn 13-5. Osorio and Littlejohn have earned run averages less than two runs per game while Jury has a 2.47 ERA. Giving up less than two runs a game is outstanding in an era of college softball where offense leads the way more often than not. Alabama’s team ERA of 1.80 ranks ninth among Division One teams.
Parker has an ERA 1.49 of entering the weekend and how she handles the pressure of playing in her first Super Regional with an overflow crowd of Tide fans expected to attend. The Tide has some of the most enthusiast fans in college softball and the results are event. Alabama is 22-7 at home this year and there is no need to worry about Tide fans not attending. In those 29 games, Alabama has averaged 2,727 people per game. This weekend the attendance should be over 3,000 every game.
Each team has power with OU among the nation’s leaders in runs per game,(8.71 per game, first in nation), batting average (.371,second in nation) and home runs (103, second in nation) while the Tide has an advantage in the speed department with 89 stolen bases in 106 attempts. Leadoff hitter and outfielder Haylie McCleney has been impressive to say the least and leads the Tide with 31 steals on 33 attempts plus an impressive .461 batting average. She even showed power in the Regional, hitting a pair of homers in the Regional final to increase her season total to seven to go with 46 RBIs. She will be counted on to spark the Tide offense and put it in motion and had a .444 batting average with four homers in the Regional.
While McCleney will be counted on to lead the Tide, OU has had different players step up when needed, although Pendley and Chamberlain have been the ring leaders of offense.You never know who is going to step up and get a key hit or make an outstanding defensive play for the Sooners who have a fielding percentage of .979 compared to Alabama’s .974. Erin Miller’s two-run homer was the difference in the 7-5 win over Texas A&M Saturday as the Aggies battled the Sooners right to the end. But the mental resolve of the Sooners is evident and that is a credit to the OU coaching staff headed by Gasso, who has developed a top five program during her 20 plus years on the Norman campus.
Something will have to give Friday when OU and Alabama play. How well will the Alabama pitching handle one of the nation’s top power teams? Will the freshmen pitchers handle the pressure of playing in their first Super Regional? Who will get a key hit or make an outstanding defensive play to decide a game? These questions and more will be answered when OU and Alabama clash in a Super Regional that will decide a berth to Oklahoma City.