Commentary

Breaking down the WCWS teams

Originally Published: May 27, 2009
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Here's a look at the eight teams which will be competing for the WCWS title in Oklahoma City:

By the numbers: Alabama Crimson Tide

Coach: Pat Murphy

Record: 52-9

Road/neutral record 21-8

SEC record: 21-6

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 4 seed)

vs. Mississippi Valley State, 12-3 W (Tuscaloosa Regional)

vs. Texas, 10-1 W (Tuscaloosa Regional)

vs. Texas, 7-0 W (Tuscaloosa Regional)

vs. Jacksonville State, 9-0 W (Tuscaloosa Super Regional)

vs. Jacksonville State, 9-0 W (Tuscaloosa Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Brittany Rogers, CFSr..3830144647
Lauren Parker, 2BSr..3452233411
Kelley Montalvo, 3BSr..3036345520
Charlotte Morgan, DPJr..4141056280
Cassie Reilly-Boccia, RFFr..355445385
Ashley Holcombe, CSr..298846279
Amanda Locke, 1BFr..295930262
Kellie Eubanks, SSSr..217525234
Whitney Larsen, LFSo..28910383615

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Kelsi DunneSo.194.227-31.3724090
Charlotte MorganJr.13917-61.8612120

Three Crimson Tide to watch

Kelsi Dunne: Despite undergoing offseason arm surgery that limited her practice time in the fall, Dunne has emerged as a more complete pitcher than she was as the freshman ace of a World Series team last season. She walked or hit almost five batters per seven innings during the course of the season (a figure that held steady in and out of conference play) but dropped that stat to 2.6 during the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament.

Charlotte Morgan: She might finish last in a footrace to the team bus, but Morgan, who has long spent almost every moment off the field wearing a special boot to protect a broken bone in her foot, leads the Crimson Tide just about every other way. She's the best pure hitter on a team loaded with offensive weapons, and she's a No. 2 pitcher with the skills to handle innings in Oklahoma City if needed.

Lauren Parker: The headline of a feature on Parker last season in the Tuscaloosa News read, "Her left knee is fine." It wasn't an update on a new injury; it was the alternative to the much longer list of which body parts haven't been fine at various points of her softball career. Healthy in the postseason for the first time in her Alabama career, the senior is a crucial bridge from leadoff hitter Brittany Rogers to the power in the middle of the order.

Two storylines for the Crimson Tide

Forget Mondays; Alabama hates Thursdays. This is Alabama's sixth trip to the Women's College World Series, and the novelty of merely getting there is no longer enough. Unfortunately, the Crimson Tide have been one of the less lucky teams on the opening day of play in Oklahoma City. Three years ago, Northwestern hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run to beat the Tide. Last year, a questionable fair/foul call helped send Arizona State to the winner's bracket and the Crimson Tide back to the loser's bracket. If they escape Michigan this season, it might open up a world of possibilities.

Crimson tinged with gold. Without comprehensive highlights, it's tough to assemble a fair Gold Glove team in college softball. But it's safe to say third baseman Kelley Montalvo, shortstop Kellie Eubanks, catcher Ashley Holcombe and center fielder Rogers would all at least be in the running for such honors. Georgia has better defensive numbers, and Florida was perhaps more consistent, but Alabama has the defensive star power.


By the numbers: Arizona Wildcats

Coach: Mike Candrea

Record: 46-15

Road/neutral record 23-12

Pac-10 record: 13-7

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 9 seed)

vs. UT-Martin, 9-3 W (Louisville Regional)

vs. Louisville, 18-4 W (Louisville Regional)

vs. Purdue, 4-2 W (Louisville Regional)

vs. Stanford, 4-6 L (Palo Alto Super Regional)

vs. Stanford, 7-3 W (Palo Alto Super Regional)

vs. Stanford, 6-6 W (Palo Alto Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Brittany Lastrapes, LFSo..4831764794
K'Lee Arredondo, SSJr..3451342382
Jenae Leles, 3BSr..3372364671
Stacie Chambers, CJr..3703196550
Sam Banister, 1BSr..3131657450
Lini Koria, DPFr..3541249401
Victoria Kemp, 2B So..279723293
Lauren Schutzler, CFSo..431526485
Karissa Buchanan, RFFr..27506208

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Sarah AkamineJr.177.122-72.4112533
Lindsey SiskSo.104.213-43.548537
Jennifer MartinezSr.103.211-42.7010027

Three Wildcats to watch

Lindsey Sisk: There was no more surprising performance in super regional play than Sisk's slamming the door on Stanford. Before coming on in relief during the decisive third game of the series, she hadn't pitched since the regular season. Even then, she had made just six appearances in Pac-10 play and had a 5.85 ERA. But after entering the Stanford game in the first inning, she struck out 14 batters and earned the clinching win. Pressure and expectations are givens when you sign on to pitch for Arizona, but Sisk's resiliency is both a cool story and an intriguing potential twist in Oklahoma City.

K'Lee Arredondo: True, Arredondo is just one of six Wildcats who've hit at least 10 home runs, but she's the only one who did it despite missing 20 games. She's also the only one who hit double-digit home runs in Pac-10 play after sending a league-high 11 balls over the fence in 20 conference games. (Only Arizona State's Kaitlin Cochran had a better conference slugging percentage.)

Lauren Schutzler: Not all the Wildcats do their best work by depositing balls over the fence. Schutzler has five home runs (three more than she had as a freshman last season), but she does her best work Ichiro-style, legging out slaps and floaters. Arizona has always excelled at getting production out of the bottom of its lineup -- a particularly deadly trait in the World Series when pitchers are desperate for a quick inning. And if Schutzler can get herself on base out of the No. 8 hole, it makes a scary lineup that much scarier.

Two storylines for the Wildcats

Like Phil Jackson winning without Kobe, MJ or Shaq. With record-breaking home run totals, it's not as if Arizona is playing with the equivalent of Luc Longley and Jordan Farmar. But coach Mike Candrea has a chance to further enhance a legendary profile if he somehow guides a team with the highest ERA of his tenure in Tucson to the national championship. Sarah Akamine emerged as an increasingly reliable No. 1 pitcher during the course of the season, but Sisk's performance against Stanford, along with veteran Jennifer Martinez, may force Candrea to make some tough bullpen calls.

Get defensive. The super regional against Stanford offered fantastic drama and gritty individual efforts. It didn't always offer much in the way of defense. And more than normal for what's traditionally a well-oiled defensive machine at Arizona, this year's team occasionally lets things get away from it in the field. A team that isn't won't get many strikeouts from its pitchers simply can't afford to give opponents four or five outs an inning, no matter how many home runs the Wildcats hit when they take their hacks.


By the numbers: Arizona State Sun Devils

Coach: Clint Myers

Record: 46-17

Road/neutral record 11-12

Pac-10 record: 10-11

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 10 seed)

vs. San Diego State, 5-0 W (Tempe Regional)

vs. LSU, 2-10 L (Tempe Regional)

vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7-0 W (Tempe Regional)

vs. LSU, 6-4 W (Tempe Regional)

vs. LSU, 5-0 W (Tempe Regional)

vs. North Dakota State, 3-0 W (Tempe Super Regional)

vs. North Dakota State, 11-0 W (Tempe Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Jessica Mapes, LFSr..400118507
Kaitlin Cochran, CFSr..42220596717
Kaylyn Castillo, CSo..336639181
Krista Donnenwirth, 3BSo..323946310
Talor Haro, DPFr..392010204
Katie Crabb, 1BJr..330316220
Katelyn Boyd, SS Fr..32510595614
Lesley Rogers, RFSo..329329505
Ashley Muenz, 2BJr..253522234

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Hillary BachFr.244.230-92.8615552
Megan ElliottJr.11210-73.945562

Three Sun Devils to watch

Talor Haro: Sometimes you get the feeling coach Clint Myers just likes to make life difficult for the people putting together projected lineups, but his roster machinations seem to have a way of working out more often than not. A freshman, Haro is just the most recent example. After starting seven games during the regular season, she has started the past six games of the team's NCAA tournament run, going 8-for-12 with five RBIs in the process.

Hillary Bach: It's not easy being the ace who follows the ace, but Bach is a rock in the circle for Arizona State in the first season after Katie Burkhart. It wasn't initially clear what role Bach would play as a freshman, but when other options proved unreliable, she took the No. 1 job and ran with it. She has given up 40 home runs in 244.2 innings and is averaging well less than a strikeout per inning, but those numbers didn't stop her from throwing five shutout gems (with six wins in all) during regional and super regional play.

Jessica Mapes: A big part of Arizona State's championship run last season was the performance of its seniors -- Burkhart, obviously, but also players like Kristen Miller and Mindy Cowles. Along with all-everything outfielder Kaitlin Cochran, Mapes is following in those footsteps this season. The speedster actually raised her batting average in Pac-10 play, hitting .423 in 21 games, and she keeps getting it done during the postseason -- including two hits, two walks and three runs in the two games the Sun Devils had to win against LSU in regionals.

Two storylines for the Sun Devils

Cochran's farewell stroll. From a strategy standpoint, it makes sense to avoid pitching to her, and that's obviously all with which opposing coaches will concern themselves. From a fan's standpoint, it would be nice to see someone who has earned a place at the forefront of the debate over the best college hitter of all time getting a few chances to swing the bat in her final trip to Oklahoma City. In three previous trips, she's drawn 12 walks and recorded just 20 official at-bats.

Arizona State wants to prove it's no desert mirage. Unexpectedly, Arizona State has yet to play a postseason game outside Tempe. So is it a coincidence the Sun Devils are unexpectedly back at the World Series? This was one of the coldest good teams in the country down the stretch, losing seven of its final 10 games in the regular season by a combined 26 runs in defeat. But after an early NCAA tournament setback against LSU, the Sun Devils got hot in Tempe. So after last year's title, will Oklahoma City feel like home for a team that is just 11-12 away from Farrington Stadium this season?


By the numbers: Florida Gators

Coach: Tim Walton

Record: 60-3

Road/neutral record 21-1

SEC record: 26-1

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 1 seed)

vs. Florida A&M, 12-0 W (Gainesville Regional)

vs. Texas A&M, 7-1 W (Gainesville Regional)

vs. Lehigh, 9-0 W (Gainesville Regional)

vs. California, 2-0 W (Gainesville Super Regional)

vs. California, 2-1 W (Gainesville Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Aja Paculba, 2BSo..3849346727
Kristina Hilberth, CSr..389020349
Ali Gardiner, 1BSr..308844363
Francesca Enea, LFJr..3421769352
Kelsey Bruder, RFSo..3851566537
Corrie Brooks, 3BJr..3071152382
Megan Bush, SSSo..3381443341
Tiffany DeFelice, DPSo..250122880
Kim Waleszonia, CFSr..346111185

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Stacey NelsonSr.255.139-30.4132145
Stephanie BrombacherSo.154.221-00.7718627

Three Gators to watch

Stacey Nelson: The obvious favorite to emerge as the defining star of the World Series from the team that remains the prohibitive championship favorite, Nelson speaks Swahili, wants to work for the International Criminal Court, has added impeccable control to an already devastating pitching arsenal and allows a home run about as often as she celebrates a birthday. Other than that, there's not much to set her apart from her peers.

Kristina Hilberth : During the SEC tournament, Gators coach Tim Walton lamented that Hilberth likely wouldn't ever receive the awards commensurate with her contribution to the team's success. Then she went out and captured tournament MVP honors as the Gators completed a sweep of the regular season and tournament crowns. She's one of just a few singles hitters on a team loaded with sluggers, but she's good at her craft, hitting .324 in SEC play and .389 overall. She's also invaluable as Nelson's longtime battery mate.

Kelsey Bruder: Great programs don't wait for stars to graduate before starting the process of replacing them. In her second season, Bruder already looks poised to pick up where star slugger Francesca Enea leaves off after next season. She picked up two of her team's seven hits against California in the super regional and drove in eight runs in three games during regional play. With 16 doubles, 15 home runs and seven steals, she's a legit 20-20 candidate at some point in her stay in Gainesville.

Two storylines for the Gators

Kierkegaard wasn't this deep. Everything about the Gators is deep. The lineup is loaded with power from the top (leadoff hitter Aja Paculba is slugging .626 with 24 extra-base hits) to the bottom (Megan Bush is slugging .719 this season and routinely hits seventh or lower in the batting order). And when it comes to this team's depth, we're not just talking distance on drives. Only Arizona draws more walks per game or has a better on-base percentage than the Gators, who are adept at turning long at-bats into long innings.

Only the Gators could quietly sweep a super regional. The Gators managed just four runs and seven hits in two games against a good Cal team, but a Cal team that hadn't had much success shutting down the best offenses in the Pac-10. Weather wreaked havoc with the schedule and routines for the super regional, and both Cal's Marissa Drewrey and Valerie Arioto are more than talented enough to stymie any offense on a good day. Nonetheless, it was the first time all season Florida scored two or fewer runs in back-to-back games.


By the numbers: Georgia Bulldogs

Coach: Lu Harris-Champer

Record: 44-10

Road/neutral record 17-8

SEC record: 18-7

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 6 seed)

vs. Radford, 3-1 W (Chapel Hill Regional)

vs. North Carolina, 6-0 W (Chapel Hill Regional)

vs. North Carolina, 4-2 W (Chapel Hill Regional)

vs. Ohio State, 6-4 W (Athens Super Regional)

vs. Ohio State, 7-6 W (Athens Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Taylor Schlopy, CFSo..43113416620
Kristin Schnake, SSSr..3334254916
Alisa Goler, 3BSo..4642379453
Megan Wiggins, LFSo..3301041270
Brianna Hesson, 1BSo..358939302
Kristyn Sandberg, CFr..306823221
Tori Moody, DP Fr..24452170
Ashley Pauly, 2BFr..241018175
Lisaira Daniels, RFFr..306193313

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Christie HamiltonSr.18724-81.6514953
Sarah McCloudSo.128.117-22.625879

Three Bulldogs to watch

Alisa Goler: She struck out 13 times in 70 games and 200 at-bats as a freshman in 2008, and it turns out that was her free-swinging version of hitting. Goler broke out this season in a way few underclassmen do. She heads to Oklahoma City slugging 1.026 with 23 home runs and 17 doubles. And for fans of clutch hitting, she lived up to those numbers with two home runs in the super regional against Ohio State. All that with four strikeouts on the entire season.

Taylor Schlopy: On a team as young as Georgia, it's not surprising that an underclassman leads the team offensively (Goler) and another, Schlopy, sets the emotional tone. The 5-foot-2 Californian is a bundle of energy for the Bulldogs and a migraine for opponents. She's not quite Goleresque, but with just 17 strikeouts and a .574 on-base percentage, she won't get out very often.

Christie Hamilton: If you don't have a dominant pitcher, you better have a resilient one. And although Hamilton can't match the numbers of a Stacey Nelson or Danielle Lawrie, she showed a lot bouncing back from a nightmare start in the super regionals to throw 6.1 innings of three-hit relief in the clincher. She walked only 1.8 batters per seven innings in conference play and can't afford to go higher than that.

Two storylines for the Bulldogs

These gloves aren't fashion accessories. No World Series entrant has made more defensive plays this season than the Bulldogs. Of the 1,021 outs the team has recorded, only 231 have come by way of strikeout, meaning an average of 14.6 outs in the field per game. They led the nation in fielding percentage, a measure of their ability to handle the balls they got to, and had the best defensive efficiency rating of any of the leaders in fielding percentage, a testament of their ability to get to more balls than other good glove teams.

The team may be too young to know any better. Georgia's recent postseason history has not been peachy. Six outs from the World Series after a 4-1 win against UCLA in the first game of a 2005 super regional, the Bulldogs lost both the lead and eventually the super regional with two consecutive losses. Counting SEC tournaments, those losses marked the beginning of a 6-11 postseason skid through the end of the 2008 season. But far from folding at the first sign of trouble this year, a roster with two seniors and no juniors rallied time and again against North Carolina and Ohio State.


By the numbers: Michigan Wolverines

Coach: Carol Hutchins

Record: 46-10

Road/neutral record 27-10

Big Ten record: 17-3

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 5 seed)

vs. Miami (Ohio), 11-3 W (Ann Arbor Regional)

vs. Notre Dame, 2-1 W (Ann Arbor Regional)

vs. Notre Dame, 4-0 W (Ann Arbor Regional)

vs. Baylor, 8-1 W (Ann Arbor Super Regional)

vs. Baylor, 7-1 W (Ann Arbor Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Bree Evans, CFFr..3280243916
Angela Findlay, RFJr..350429345
Amanda Chidester, LFFr..352737350
Roya St. Clair, CJr..297529140
Maggie Viefhaus, 3BJr..3271038433
Nikki Nemitz, P/1B/DP Jr..295836180
Dorian Shaw, 1BSo..2591432270
Stephanie Kirkpatrick, 2BFr..225218235
Teddi Ewing, SSSr..195071811

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Nikki NemitzJr.203.227-50.8929531
Jordan TaylorSo.18219-51.3827540

Three Wolverines to watch

Nikki Nemitz: Danielle Lawrie and Charlotte Morgan aren't the only two-way threats. Nemitz, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, makes the most of her innings in the circle and teammate Jordan Taylor's innings in the circle. In 112 at-bats, she's hitting .295 with eight home runs, 36 RBIs, a .607 slugging percentage and a .388 on-base percentage. In the circle, her rise remains a knockout pitch, but her spin and changeup are improved weapons.

Teddi Ewing: She's hitting under .200 and sometimes is left out of the order when Nemitz pitches and hits, but the senior shortstop is a defensive and emotional cornerstone for a young team. And in 13 postseason at-bats, she has four hits.

Dorian Shaw: The day after hitting three home runs in one game against Baylor in a super regional, Shaw lifted a popup so high that when it landed uncaught a few inches behind home plate, she was already more than halfway to second base. She's fun to watch simply for moments like that, but she's also becoming a more consistent run producer when the ball heads for fair territory.

Two storylines for the Wolverines

Are two hands better than one in the circle? Michigan traditionally has made the most of the two-pitcher rotation. As coach Carol Hutchins points out, even in the team's championship run behind Jennie Ritter in 2005, Lorilyn Wilson was the team's most effective pitcher for parts of the season. But like Ritter during that run in Oklahoma City, will the Wolverines settle on either Nemitz or Taylor for the duration? In 20 Big Ten starts, the pair combined to throw 16 complete games, but they've already split duties in two of the team's five NCAA tournament games.

Only the jerseys are familiar. In response to a question about changes in the sport since her first World Series appearance in 1995, Hutchins felt compelled to remind her players of the significance of the year. After all, some of the current freshmen were 5 or 6 years old at the time. So yes, this is a young team. Three freshmen start on a regular basis: Amanda Chidester, Bree Evans and Stephanie Kirkpatrick.


By the numbers: Missouri Tigers

Coach: Ehren Earleywine

Record: 50-10

Road/neutral record 33-4

Big 12 record: 12-6

Road to Oklahoma City (unseeded)

vs. Illinois, 5-1 W (Columbia Regional)

vs. Bradley, 2-1 W (Columbia Regional)

vs. DePaul, 1-0 W (Columbia Regional)

vs. UCLA, 2-1 W (Los Angeles Super Regional)

vs. UCLA, 2-5 L (Los Angeles Super Regional)

vs. UCLA, 9-1 W (Los Angeles Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Rhea Taylor, CFSo..4074165336
Gina Schneider, 3BJr..331832434
Kathryn Poet, LFSo..247112214
Micaela Minner, RFSr..338842293
Lindsey Ubrun, 1BSr..3701656407
Marla Schweisberger, 1BSo..383745223
Andee Allen, 2BSr..2981213312
Megan Christopher, C So..273827151
Abby Vock, SSSo..2000161210

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Chelsea ThomasFr.142.216-51.2311339
Stacy DelaneySr.12716-31.3812928
Kristin NottelmannFr.7311-21.254718

Three Tigers to watch

Chelsea Thomas: Louisiana-Lafayette's Ashley Brignac showed as recently as last season that the World Series isn't necessarily too big a stage for a freshman pitcher. Thomas won't blow through lineups quite the same way Brignac did, but she has staked her claim as the top choice on a deep pitching staff at Missouri. Before she ran into a little trouble in the second game of the super regional against UCLA, she had just four walks or hit-by-pitches in 21 NCAA tournament innings.

Rhea Taylor: The leadoff hitter is one of the primary reasons the team is where it is. After hitting .354 with 13 stolen bases in Big 12 play, she's hitting .363 (8-for-22) with three more stolen bases in the NCAA tournament. And as fast as she is on the bases, her home run in a 1-0 win against DePaul in the regionals offered further proof of an improved all-around offensive game for a player who has doubled her extra-base hits from seven last season to 14 so far this season.

Kathryn Poet: If you caught any of the super regional at UCLA, you'll remember Poet as the one mapping out the exact dimensions of the outfield by running into the walls in pursuit of outs. She has started only 25 games this season, but she's been a fixture in left field since starting and hitting a home run in the team's NCAA tournament opener against Illinois. And after scoring three times and collecting three hits in the clincher against UCLA, she seems like a good bet to have a chance to run through a fence or two in Oklahoma City.

Two storylines for the Tigers

Keep your program handy. Only Arizona went to its bullpen with more regularity than Missouri, and that was more out of necessity than anything for a Wildcats team with a 2.80 ERA. By contrast, the Tigers entered super regionals ranked fifth in the nation in team ERA and now have 34 relief appearances in 60 games. Missouri isn't a complete unknown in this year's field -- it didn't play any of its World Series competition in the regular season but faced Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Alabama last season. (And Michigan is certainly familiar with former Wolverine Stacy Delaney.) But coach Ehren Earleywine's propensity for changing up looks in the circle could leave foes slow to adjust.

A long wait for the World Series. There will be a number of key players in Oklahoma City taking the field on rebuilt body parts, but Micaela Minner can put her story up against anyone's. In her sixth year at Missouri, she partially tore her ACL after being granted that sixth and final year of eligibility because of past injuries. With no other option but to play, she has suited up and hit .336 in 52 games.


By the numbers: Washington Huskies

Coach: Heather Tarr

Record: 46-11

Road/neutral record 31-10

Pac-10 record: 14-7

Road to Oklahoma City (No. 3 seed)

vs. Sacred Heart, 9-1 W (Amherst Regional)

vs. Massachusetts, 3-1 W (Amherst Regional)

vs. Massachusetts, 1-5 L (Amherst Regional)

vs. Massachusetts, 6-1 W (Amherst Regional)

vs. Georgia Tech, 7-1 W (Atlanta Super Regional)

vs. Georgia Tech, 7-0 W (Atlanta Super Regional)

LineupYRAVGHRRBIRSB
Ashley Charters, 2BSr..4438306036
Kimi Pohlman, LFFr..3573222719
Jenn Salling, SS So..254011162
Danielle Lawrie, PJr..277625130
Morgan Stuart, 3BSo..301532241
Ashlyn Watson, DPSr..3631136201
Lauren Greer, RFSr..208220171
Alicia Blake, CSr..275225190
Niki Williams, 1B Fr..291222214

PitchersYRIPW-LERAKBB
Danielle LawrieJr.30837-70.8447263

Three Huskies to watch

Danielle Lawrie: Washington is too good a team to say that Lawrie has carried the Huskies to Oklahoma City. But she hasn't exactly needed much help. In six postseason games, Lawrie has driven in nine runs as a hitter and allowed eight earned runs as a pitcher. Lawrie and catcher Alicia Blake have been calling their own games for years and work together as well as any battery in recent memory.

Ashlyn Watson: Perhaps the closest thing Washington has to a slugger, Watson bounced back well from a rough regional performance. She picked up three hits in two games against Georgia Tech, including home run No. 11. One of her best attributes at the plate, aside from the power, is her patience -- just 11 strikeouts all season -- but it was good to see her showing no hesitation in the super regional.

Morgan Stuart: The Huskies have three current or former Pac-10 starting shortstops in their infield. Second baseman Ashley Charters and current shortstop Jenn Salling get plenty of attention, and rightfully so, but Stuart shouldn't be overlooked. She might rank behind those players in a team MVP race, but she's the kind of talent who can swing a championship run. When she's at her best, she plays the hot corner with a strong arm and tremendous range. She also adds another patient, gap hitter at the plate.

Two storylines for the Huskies

Yeah, but what's that in Canadian innings? Lawrie has thrown a lot of innings this season and a lot of innings in the postseason. So if it's possible to find anything to give pause when it comes to someone with 74 strikeouts and a 7.4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the NCAA tournament and a 0.84 ERA in 308 innings overall this season, it might be the four postseason home runs she's allowed. She didn't allow a home run in four appearances in the World Series two years ago, but the inviting fences in Oklahoma City have a way of turning the occasional long fly ball into a trip around the bases.

The curious case of Washington's defense. The Huskies seem to have a lot of defensive playmakers when you watch them in person, but they don't grade out well in defensive statistics. They're one of the only teams in the field this season with a fielding percentage below .970, and a defensive efficiency rating of .758 suggests it's not just because they have a few errors on chances other teams wouldn't even get to in the first place. Defense should be a plus for Washington this week, but whether that's actually the case is crucial.

Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.