Power Rankings: LSU on the move
Here are this week's college softball power rankings:
1. Oklahoma (43-3, 11-1 Big 12)
Would a loss of focus be an issue after last week's big series at Texas? Not so much. Oklahoma won its four games in the past week by a combined 56-2 score and needed just one more than the minimum 20 innings to do so. That makes 19 games this season the Sooners have won by the run rule in either five or six innings, four more run-rule wins than in each of the past two seasons. This week's trip to Kansas for three games will presumably be the last time the Sooners leave the state, with only a home-home-and-neutral series against Oklahoma State and the postseason remaining.
2. Oregon (40-7, 15-3 Pac-12)
Well, that was an interesting way to win a series at UCLA. Trailing by two runs in the seventh inning of the finale after splitting the first two games, Oregon rallied for a 7-5 win, capped by a three-run home run with two outs from Samantha Pappas. It's the third year in a row the Ducks won their series against the Bruins, but the first time they did so at Easton Stadium. Third in the nation in ERA entering the series, Oregon allowed 18 runs against UCLA, the most in any three-game stretch this season. But we know what Jessica Moore and Cheridan Hawkins are capable of in the circle. For the Ducks to still win the series without their typically stingy pitching points to the team's balance.
3. Florida (47-6, 16-5 SEC)
Time is running out for these Gators to start looking as young as they are. All right, they looked a little overeager chasing Georgia freshman Chelsea Wilkinson's off-speed pitches in a series-opening loss on Friday, but they bounced back like veterans to win the next two games. An old-timer by comparison, sophomore Lauren Haeger came up big with a complete-game win in the second game and five hits at the plate, including a home run, four RBIs and four runs in her team's wins. South Carolina is playing well at the moment, but a trip to Columbia this weekend gives Florida an easier path to the SEC regular-season title than Tennessee has traveling to play Missouri.
4. Tennessee (42-7, 15-4 SEC)
A team that hadn't lost in more than a month now has a long wait to get rid of the taste of defeat. Tennessee lost the series opener at home against Arkansas on Friday, its first loss since March 17, then saw the final two games of the series canceled because of weather. The games won't be made up, meaning the SEC regular-season title race between Tennessee and Florida will come down to winning percentages. The regular-season finale at Missouri is also a reunion for Team USA teammates: Missouri pitcher Chelsea Thomas and Tennessee slugger Lauren Gibson.
5. Arizona State (42-7, 13-5 Pac-12)
Sometimes the script plays out exactly as written. Facing a Cal team that was in its first full weekend without injured ace Jolene Henderson, Arizona State rolled to a three-game sweep at home. Only the third game went more than five innings, and the Sun Devils hit nine home runs in all, including two each by Cheyenne Coyle, Amber Freeman and Bethany Kemp. Now comes a trip to Tucson for a rivalry that hasn't been especially competitive during the careers of most of those involved. Arizona State swept three games from Arizona in each of the past two seasons, and the Wildcats enter this one reeling.
6. Texas (42-6, 12-2 Big 12)
The first game of a three-game series at Texas Tech nearly slipped away when Texas tried to give ace Blaire Luna a couple of extra innings of rest and a healthy lead evaporated. That near miss was the lone hiccup in the aftermath of the Longhorns' series against Oklahoma. Texas last lost to a team not in these rankings back on March 3, a stretch of 26 games. With only this weekend's three-game series at Oklahoma State and one game against Baylor remaining, the Longhorns remain in excellent shape in the RPI rankings to secure a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament and a chance to host as long as they remain in the race to the Women's College World Series.
7. LSU (40-11, 15-6 SEC)
The numbers aren't necessarily eye-popping of their own accord; the company in which they put Rachele Fico is. LSU's senior ace and the No. 1 overall pick in the recent NPF draft became just the fifth pitcher in the past six seasons to record two complete-game wins in a single series against Alabama. The other four: Arizona State's Katie Burkhart, Missouri's Chelsea Thomas, Michigan's Jordan Taylor and LSU's Brittany Mack. Next up is a trip to Georgia, with a fair bit still on the line. Depending on how things unfold in Athens and elsewhere, LSU can enter the SEC tournament as anything from the No. 1 seed to the No. 6 seed.
8. Nebraska (37-11, 14-5 Big Ten)
Might this be an overreaction to the Cornhuskers' taking two of three games at home against a Michigan team that still controls its own destiny in the Big Ten title race? Sure, but it's not as if that was the first time Nebraska demonstrated an ability to play at an elite level. The Huskers were the first team to beat Oklahoma this season and lost a 2-0 decision against those same Sooners and a 1-0 decision against California with Jolene Henderson. The wins against Michigan may have locked in a national seed in the NCAA tournament. Nebraska closes the regular season with three games at Penn State before returning to Lincoln to host the Big Ten tournament.
9. South Alabama (41-7, 17-3 Sun Belt)
It was a quiet week for the Jaguars, who needed just five innings to secure a 9-0 win at home against Troy in their lone game. They did manage to lose their grip on first place in the Sun Belt, passed on percentage points by Western Kentucky, but let's not hold that against them. South Alabama began last week as one of just 12 teams in the nation with winning records against teams ranked in the top 25 of the RPI, teams ranked between Nos. 26 and 50 and teams ranked between Nos. 51 and 100. Two games on the road at Troy wrap up the regular season.
10. Alabama (40-10, 12-9 SEC)
The defending champs will be a national seed in the NCAA tournament. What matters for them is getting one of the top eight seeds and a chance to host any potential super regional. All three games were one-run affairs, but getting swept at LSU hurts that cause a lot. How fine a line is there at this level? A season ago, Alabama had a 2.20 ERA, .541 slugging percentage and .425 on-base percentage and went 23-5 in the SEC. It has a 2.10 ERA, .514 slugging percentage and .427 on-base percentage this season but almost twice as many conference losses, with a series against Kentucky still to play.