UCLA, LSU join the club
Almost half of last week's Top 25 gathered in Cathedral City, Calif., for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, and two of the more impressive showings in the tournament led to two new arrivals in the power rankings.
1. Oklahoma (15-0)
The Sooners have outscored their opponents 104-14 this season. That would be impressive against Division II teams, but those 15 unlucky Division I teams are actually a combined 143-64 in games in which Oklahoma isn’t in the other dugout. Seven of them were ranked in last week’s Top 25, and two others were receiving votes. And how good is Lauren Chamberlain? She has 49 total bases, which is almost equal to the combined total of any two teammates.
2. Alabama (16-0)
The truth is we know Alabama was great last season, and there’s enough evidence to believe it remains so, but the data has just about reached the limits of its usefulness until the quality of competition improves. It won’t be long. Thursday’s game against South Alabama may be the toughest to date for the Tide, and Florida and Tennessee await next week. Meanwhile, freshman Haylie McCleney may be one of the three best outfielders in the country. Right now.
3. Arizona State (16-0)
It is probably time to give Portland State its due. The team that beat Kentucky and held its own against Stanford pushed Arizona State twice in a four-game series in Tempe. The opening win required 19 strikeouts in 12 innings from Dallas Escobedo, while the series finale required a walk-off hit from freshman Jennifer Soria. That vulnerability makes Sunday’s game against Baylor the most compelling anywhere in the nation if it’s Escobedo against Whitney Canion.
4. Texas A&M (17-0)
Assuming the Aggies get past a midweek game against Sam Houston State, they will go for 20-0 in a doubleheader against Louisiana-Lafayette and Michigan in Orlando. Lauren Ainsley has been terrific as a No. 2, compiling a 6-0 record with a 0.90 ERA, but either of those assignments would be a test. Coming off a week in which she hit three home runs and drove in 11 runs, Cali Lanphear looks like a star in what is already a remarkable freshman class nationally.
5. UCLA (13-1)
This is an ambitious debut for the Bruins. But in a weekend when other contenders showed flaws, UCLA looked as complete as it has in years. The lineup is loaded, with freshman Mysha Sataraka putting herself in the spotlight with an .838 slugging percentage after three weeks. The defense has committed just seven errors in 14 games, and Paige McDuffee looks capable of taking pressure off Ally Carda and Jessica Hall in the circle.
6. Florida (16-1)
The Gators suffered their first loss in the game they probably wanted to win most, a non-SEC encounter in Cathedral City with new conference rival Missouri, but a 12-inning game with five innings of the international tiebreaker ends up being little more than a flip of the coin. The next two Wednesdays bring drama, first against the South Florida team that knocked Florida out of the NCAA tournament and then in a trip to Alabama, where last season started to unravel in the SEC tournament.
7. California (11-2)
How dissatisfied was Cal coach Diane Ninemire with her team after it beat Maryland and Illinois on the second day of its stay at the Mary Nutter Classic? She refused to make her players available to the media. Imagine if they’d lost a game. That fit of pique aside, it was a successful weekend with those wins and against Georgia Tech and Nebraska. Take out a rough start against Florida, and Jolene Henderson has a 0.60 ERA in her other 12 appearances.
8. LSU (14-2)
Putting aside what some of her peers also do with the bat, Rachele Fico has been as good a pitcher as anyone in the nation to this point in the season. She took her first loss in a 2-0 decision against UCLA on Sunday, but a 9-1 record with a 0.60 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings against a quality schedule is brilliant. More tests await Fico and the resurgent LSU offense this weekend against Oregon, Michigan and Louisville in Orlando.
9. Texas (16-1)
This is probably too far for Texas to tumble when all it did wrong was split two games against a Tulsa team that is not that far from itself making these rankings. The Longhorns can show it's a mistake with games against Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisville and Hofstra, among others, this weekend in Florida, followed by a two-game home series against the Ragin' Cajuns next week. No other team here has five regulars hitting .400 or better.
10. Missouri (9-1)
If anyone thinks Chelsea Thomas isn’t driven by the memory of last season’s super regional against LSU, consider what she did in going 12 innings and striking out 19 against Florida in Cathedral City while dealing with the effects of food poisoning. That was an All-American performance. That said, after coach Ehren Earleywine ripped his team’s play in the win against the Gators, the Tigers went out and split a doubleheader against Cal State Fullerton.