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Notebook: Sleeping off the losses

6/3/2007

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sometimes it pays to stop and ponder who is about to bear the brunt of your whining. Chances are someone else has had a worse go of it than you.

Hours before her team was to play an elimination game at the Women's College World Series, I ran into Northwestern associate coach Caryl Drohan, on hand to scout the afternoon game between Baylor and Texas A&M that determined which team the Wildcats faced with the season on the line. After I claimed fatigue from a night abbreviated by a game between Tennessee and Arizona that ended around 2 a.m. local time, she good-naturedly pointed out that it hadn't been the best of nights sleep-wise for the team from Evanston either.

At that point I slinked off in search of someone who hadn't recently watched her charges suffer their most lopsided loss of the season in front of a national audience.

But after scoring two runs in the first inning on the way to dismantling Baylor 7-0, erasing much of the sting of the previous night's 9-0 loss at the hands of Washington, it was clear that Northwestern made its recovery precisely by losing as little sleep as possible, literally or figuratively.

"It was definitely a rough game," shortstop Tammy Williams said of the Washington loss. "We weren't at our best, and that showed. But as soon as we got off the field, the first thing Kate said was, 'Leave that game on June 1.' And we were going to bed thinking about how we were going to play today, and how we were going to attack Baylor or Texas A&M. ... So no [it wasn't tough to get to sleep]; I think we were more focused on what was the task for the next day."

Arizona, the other Wildcats pushed to the brink of elimination after being upset on Friday, found similar solace in the short night, especially in the case of second baseman Chelsie Mesa. One of three seniors in Mike Candrea's regular lineup, Mesa committed the error in the bottom of the sixth that gave Tennessee the only run it needed in Friday's 1-0 win.

On Saturday, Mesa bounced back with two hits, including an RBI single, and flawless play at second base for a team that has committed just that lone error in three games.

"It is part of being an athlete," Candrea said. "You have to learn how to handle the ups and downs and no one felt any worse than she did. I grabbed her last night and told her I loved her and to forget about it because we need to move forward.

"She is a great player and as long as you put a uniform on and compete, things like that are going to happen. I don't have a problem with that, and I can handle that. The thing I was looking at today was how she would react from that."

Arizona and Northwestern entered the World Series as the favorites to reach the championship series, at least according to the seedings, but a rematch of last season's title series seemed unlikely in the wee hours after midnight on Friday. In truth, it still remains a daunting proposition with Washington and Tennessee needing just one win each Sunday to eliminate Arizona and Northwestern, respectively. But don't expect either group of Wildcats to lose any sleep about the challenge ahead.

"I think the story today is how we rebounded from last night," Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said. "Really, we just stuck with our routine. And I'm really really proud of the way this team bounced back. ... They came out tonight excited to play again, ready to play their game and I like the way we took control of the game right away."

If Saturday in Oklahoma City proved anything it was that sometimes the players and teams least accustomed to losing are the ones best equipped to handle defeat.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's softball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.