Power Rankings: UCLA moves to No. 1
You could call this season a roller coaster, except that in addition to the ups and downs, those rides generally terminate in the same spot they commenced. This softball season has offered its share of corkscrews, like ranked teams losing more than 20 games this past week. After a few weeks in SEC hands, the No. 1 ranking returns to the Pac-12 with a program that has more than a little experience with it -- even if it's a new endeavor for the current players.
1. UCLA (26-1, 3-0 Pac-12)
Everywhere you look this season there are suggestions things really are returning to a state that was once familiar in Westwood, up to and including a series this past weekend against longtime rival Arizona that felt like the center of the softball universe for a few days. And on the strength of its three-game sweep, UCLA moves to the top of the heap. The Bruins hadn't swept three games from their rival since 2006. They also hadn't shut out the Wildcats since 2008, and they did that twice in three days. There was another walk-off win against a ranked team, Gracie Goulder's grand slam erasing an Arizona rally in the middle game of the series. Stephany LaRosa made a welcome return to the lineup. But the Bruins are here in large part because Ally Carda and Jessica Hall continue to emerge as such a collective asset in the circle (the two, who rotate between first base and the pitching circle, aren't bad with the bats, either). Behind Carda and Hall, who essentially had one rough inning all weekend, the Bruins are the only team in the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten or SEC with a sub-1.00 team ERA.
2. Florida (29-2, 4-2 SEC)
Winning two of three against LSU in Baton Rouge is a good weekend, period. But the Gators did drop a game for the second week in a row in SEC play, and it costs them the top spot this time. Of course, Florida dropped a game in each of its first two conference series a season ago and things seemed to work out just fine in that instance. Florida isn't hurting for scoring opportunities. In five games this past week, including a midweek doubleheader against Mercer, the Gators left 48 runners on base. The long-term takeaway is probably positive -- they're getting people on base regularly. But they surely know they need to be more efficient with those opportunities.
3. Michigan (19-6, 0-0 Big Ten)
The Wolverines finally went an entire week without playing a ranked team, three wins by a combined 27-9 margin against Iowa State, Kent State and Louisville providing a breather from a brutal early schedule (although playing Louisville on that team's home field isn't exactly a walk in the park, either). Coach Carol Hutchins won't appreciate anyone saying it, but it gets considerably easier from here. Big Ten play begins this weekend with a home series against Indiana, and Michigan has a very favorable conference schedule ahead. It doesn't play Nebraska or Northwestern in the regular season and gets both Minnesota and Wisconsin in Ann Arbor.
4. Tennessee (25-3, 2-1 SEC)
The Lady Vols remain unbeaten in games in which Ellen Renfroe starts. That's both good news and bad news: It reinforces just how well the senior is throwing after two more wins against Arkansas in which she allowed one earned run but also is a reminder that she can't pitch every game. Melissa Davin supplied much of the needed production at the plate. The senior had two home runs and a double among five hits, drove in eight runs and walked four times. Megan Geer's success replacing Raven Chavanne in the leadoff spot has been one key for Tennessee, but Davin, who has hit throughout the middle of the order, looked productive in the No. 2 hole vacated by Kat Dotson.
5. Oregon (23-3, 0-0 Pac-12)
Oregon did fine in Hawaii this past week, but other than one outburst against the host, its offense did have an air of vacation mode. The modest run production included getting shut out by James Madison in the tournament final. We're still talking about a lineup averaging nearly six runs per game on the season, so scarcity is a relative thing. Nonetheless, Oregon's slugging percentage is down noticeably from a season ago, and the Pac-12 may be a tougher league in which to hit this season than it was then. A trip to Utah is a tricky way to open conference play.
6. Baylor (23-4, 0-0 Big 12)
Make it 11 wins in a row for Baylor. The Lady Bears swept through a tournament hosted by South Florida this past weekend and outscored five opponents by a 23-7 margin. She flies under the radar, but junior Kaitlyn Thumann has the highest active career batting average of any player with at least two full seasons of experience in a major conference. Even in a season in which Texas is struggling to find its stride, this weekend's series against the Longhorns looms large. Texas owns wins in nine of the past 11 meetings, meaning not a lot of Baylor players have experienced much success against the in-state rival.
7. Alabama (24-4, 6-0 SEC)
The offense is making a habit of putting up crooked numbers. Alabama scored 26 runs in sweeping three games at Mississippi this past weekend and has scored seven or more runs in five of six conference games thus far. Adding to that streak obviously gets more challenging this week, as Alabama heads to Florida for three games against one of its biggest softball rivals. The teams met just once a season ago in what was not technically an SEC game. The Crimson Tide last won a series in Gainesville in 2003. It's the last trip to the state for seniors Jackie Traina and Ryan Iamurri, the only Floridians on Alabama's roster. On spring break, Alabama also plays at Jacksonville next Tuesday.
8. Kentucky (22-4, 4-2 SEC)
How about this addendum to the best start in program history? Kentucky plays just eight more games on the road during the regular season, two of which are in the state of Kentucky. The Wildcats finished off the frequent-flier portion of their schedule by taking two of three games at Missouri, their second consecutive series win on the road to open SEC play. The last of those wins against the Tigers was particularly impressive, Kentucky giving away a two-run lead in the seventh inning but coming back to win 8-7 in the eighth.
9. Arizona State (27-5, 1-2 Pac-12)
The yo-yo continues for the Sun Devils in the rankings, up one week and down the next. Inconsistent run production was again the problem for a team that lost two of three games at Oregon State despite a 14-6 overall scoring edge. One exception to the inconsistency was Haley Steele. She did her part in an 11-0 win with three hits and two RBIs, but she also went 4-for-6 in the two losses. She and Amber Freeman were the only players to collect hits in all three games. Arizona State returns home for the first time in three weekends with a series against Stanford.
10. Washington (20-5, 1-1 Pac-12)
Utah was a thorn in a lot of sides when Pac-12 teams came to Salt Lake City a season ago (including a win against Washington), but it won just one game on the road in conference play. So Washington's conference-opening split against the Utes in Seattle should raise some eyebrows, especially after the Huskies let a lead slip away in the seventh inning of the second game before they lost in extra innings. Still, we're talking about one game. And with a home series against UCLA this weekend and a trip to Oregon after that, Washington has an opportunity to sink or swim.
Next five: No. 11 Arizona, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 Florida State, No. 14 Nebraska, No. 15 South Alabama.