- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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By the numbers: Alabama
Coach: Pat Murphy
Road/Neutral record: 27-4
SEC record: 25-3
Road to Oklahoma City (No. 3 seed)
vs. Chattanooga, 8-0 W (Tuscaloosa Regional)
vs. Jacksonville State, 10-1 W (Tuscaloosa Regional)
vs. Jacksonville State, 4-1 W (Tuscaloosa Regional)
vs. Missouri, 6-1 W (Tuscaloosa Super Regional)
vs. Missouri, 7-1 W (Tuscaloosa Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Georgia Tech (2), Nevada, Northwestern, Purdue (2)
Notable nonconference losses: DePaul, Washington
Getting to know the Crimson Tide
The game's most dynamic offense -- ranking in the top 10 in the typically disparate categories of slugging percentage and stolen bases -- lived up to its billing en route to Oklahoma City. Alabama scored 35 runs in five games and advanced to the World Series without a loss. Charlotte Morgan and Kelley Montalvo headline a power game that includes seven players with at least seven home runs and nine regulars slugging at least .520. And as the stolen bases suggest, it's not just about the long ball. Leadoff hitter Brittany Rogers leads the nation in stolen bases and her .507 on-base percentage is second behind Montalvo on a team that collectively reaches base 44 percent of the time.
But for all the offensive numbers -- and there is no shortage of them -- the Crimson Tide are a championship favorite because they're a complete team. Freshman Kelsi Dunne is limiting opponents to a .155 batting average, while Morgan and Crissy Owens handled enough innings early on to keep Dunne fresh for full-time duty in the NCAA tournament. Behind Dunne in the field, Alabama has committed a grand total of 37 errors in 62 games. If college softball had an official equivalent to the Golden Glove award, both third baseman Montalvo and catcher Ashley Holcombe would be among the favorites at their respective positions.
Player to Watch: Whitney Larsen, 2B
Alabama is a different team with Lauren Parker back in the lineup after she battled back from a long-running shoulder problem, but that's not a knock on her replacement at second base, Larsen, who remains there with Parker in the designated player spot. By statistical measure, Larsen is the weakest hitter in Alabama's lineup, which is akin to earning the label of poorest oil executive. All that matters is that you're in the club. Larsen's .523 slugging percentage and .361 on-base percentage hardly represent a breather for opposing pitchers. And as good as Parker is with the glove when completely healthy, Larsen has a .979 fielding percentage and just two errors as shortstop Kellie Eubanks' keystone partner.
Star Power: Charlotte Morgan
With just 15 strikeouts in 176 at-bats this season, Morgan is almost a lock to put the ball in play. Of course, with her .818 slugging percentage and 17 home runs, there are no guarantees it'll still be in play when it lands. On a team loaded with hitters, the sophomore from California (who went 17-2 with a 1.29 ERA in her other life as the team's No. 2 pitcher) is the hub of the attack. Montalvo, Morgan's partner in the middle of the order, has 11 strikeouts in 156 at-bats and a .699 slugging percentage. Their 26 combined strikeouts will be fewer than some cleanup hitters alone on the other seven teams in Oklahoma City.
By the numbers: Arizona
Coach: Larry Ray (acting head coach)
Road/Neutral record: 19-12
Pac-10 record: 13-8
Road to Oklahoma City (No. 7 seed)
vs. Canisius, 11-0 W (Hempstead Regional)
vs. Hofstra, 10-0 W (Hempstead Regional)
vs. Hofstra, 5-0 W (Hempstead Regional)
vs. Oklahoma, 3-1 W (Tucson Super Regional)
vs. Oklahoma, 2-1 L (Tucson Super Regional)
vs. Oklahoma, 5-2 W (Tucson Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Creighton (2), DePaul, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, Massachusetts, South Florida, Virginia Tech,
Notable nonconference losses: Cal State Fullerton, Creighton, Michigan, Nevada, Northwestern, San Diego State, Texas A&M, UTEP
Getting to know the Wildcats
Similarities between this team and the last two championship editions doesn't end at the uniforms, but you can see it from there. Arizona actually has the bulk of last year's team back in place, including six position players who played regular roles last season as well as senior ace Taryne Mowatt. But without departed stars Caitlin Lowe, Chelsie Mesa and Kristie Fox in the top half of the order and without the architect of all those championships, Mike Candrea, in the dugout, the means by which this year's team attempts to match last year's results have changed.
From freshman leadoff hitter Brittany Lastrapes, who already has multiple home runs in postseason play, through senior Callista Balko batting seventh, the Wildcats pose a constant danger to outfield walls and anyone willing to stand beyond them. As a team, the Wildcats are slugging .559, an increase of around 20 percent on last season. Long overshadowed by the great players who preceded them and to an extent by highly touted freshmen, the junior trio of Jenae Leles, Laine Roth and Sam Banister is quietly laying down its own roots. Roth and Leles have 32 home runs and 91 RBIs between them, while Banister has been a strong plus in unfamiliar territory in the field since a midseason move to second base.
And, of course, there's still that familiar face in the circle.
Player to Watch: Lauren Schutzler
The other freshman starter alongside Lastrapes in the outfield, Schutzler has the potential to deliver the jabs that set up opposing pitchers for the knockout hooks thrown by the middle of the order. Not surprisingly for a freshman, even a supremely talented one, her production tailed off noticeably against Pac-10 pitching. But the speedy slapper apparently treated that experience as more of a learning process than an ordeal. She's been on base regularly in the postseason and gives Arizona fans at least a taste of the old small ball.
Star Power: Taryne Mowatt
It's Mowatt's time of year. A championship contributor at the plate two years ago, Mowatt gained fame with last year's marathon effort in Oklahoma City. She didn't match that level of production for extended periods during the regular season, but she's been almost unbeatable for the last month. Former Arizona pitching coach Nancy Evans rightfully earned plaudits for the pitch calling that showcased Mowatt's tremendous changeup against Tennessee last year, so perhaps it wasn't surprising that Mowatt seemed to lose her feel for the pitch at times early in the season as she and new pitching coach Gale Bundrick adjusted to each other.
By the numbers: Arizona State
Coach: Clint Myers
Road/Neutral record: 18-3
Pac-10 record: 18-3
Road to Oklahoma City (No. 6 seed)
vs. Stony Brook, 2-0 W (Tempe Regional)
vs. Hawaii, 10-0 W (Tempe Regional)
vs. Hawaii, 8-0 W (Tempe Regional)
vs. Northwestern, 3-1 W (Tempe Super Regional)
vs. Northwestern, 9-0 W (Tempe Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Arkansas, BYU, Creighton, Drake, Iowa, Louisiana-Lafayette, San Diego State
Notable nonconference losses: Florida State, UNLV
Getting to know the Sun Devils
Arizona State has seen the Women's College World Series, but the Women's College World Series hasn't seen an Arizona State team like this. Making their third consecutive trip to Oklahoma City since Clint Myers took over the program prior to the 2006 season, the Sun Devils ran through the Pac-10 with an 18-3 conference record. That conference crown earned them only the No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, to which they responded by outscoring opponents 32-1 in winning five consecutive games in regionals and super regionals.
Arizona State had to be good considering the Sun Devils have recorded their final loss in Oklahoma City each of the past two seasons, but that lack of success on the final stage has also exposed lineup holes that separated them from championship status. When the nation's best pitchers worked around Kaitlin Cochran, the Sun Devils struggled to provide Katie Burkhart with any support (losing 2-0 and 3-1 last season and posting consecutive 3-1 losses in 2006). Cochran and Burkhart are still there, but the Sun Devils now have a supporting cast that helped the the team hit .332 and .287 as a team in Pac-10 play, the latter an increase of 50 points from the previous season.
Between standout freshman Krista Donnenwirth and a senior-heavy lineup getting career seasons out of Jackie Vasquez, Mindy Cowles and Kristen Miller, the Sun Devils appear to have the pieces in place to make more than just a cameo appearance in Oklahoma City.
Player to Watch: Lesley Rogers
A freshman who wasn't necessarily expected to be an instant star, Rogers can be the perfect complement to Cochran as a leadoff hitter. Considering Cochran possesses a mind-blowing .615 on-base percentage, batting her leadoff isn't the worst idea. But given the All-American's ability to drive the ball into the gap or over the fence, there's also something to be said for hitting her lower, where she might reasonably expect to find more RBI opportunities. That's where Rogers can came up huge for the Sun Devils. She's a lefty slapper with the speed to beat out infield hits but she also has a tremendous eye (29 walks against 14 strikeouts).
Star Power: Katie Burkhart, P
Arizona State's lefty ace is deservedly recognized as one of the best pitchers in the game, but she simultaneously seems to be waging a perpetual fight to escape the shadows. Whether it's competing for individual honors against Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott and Angela Tincher, or competing for team success against in-state rival Arizona's championships the past two seasons, she has always been the vanquished foil to someone else's protagonist. Building off a season in which Burkhart is averaging the most strikeouts per seven innings and the fewest walks per seven innings of her career, the spotlight may finally be hers alone.
By the numbers: Florida Gators
Coach: Tim Walton
Road/Neutral record: 28-2
SEC record: 27-1
Road to Oklahoma City (No. 1 seed)
vs. Georgia Tech, 7-2 W (Gainesville Regional)
vs. Central Florida, 3-0 W (Gainesville Regional)
vs. Central Florida, 1-0 L (Gainesville Regional)
vs. Central Florida, 10-0 W (Gainesville Regional)
vs. California, 4-2 W (Gainesville Super Regional)
vs. California, 4-2 W (Gainesville Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Cal State Fullerton, Florida State (2), Hofstra, Louisville, North Carolina (2), South Florida, Stanford
Notable nonconference losses: Long Beach State
Getting to know the Gators
Take your time getting to know the Gators; they're probably going to be frequent guests in Oklahoma City. One year after it came within a game of the World Series, Florida makes the program's first trip to the big show. Six starters on this year's team return from the squad that lost to Texas A&M in last year's super regional, and there's still just one senior on the roster. With that kind of core already in place entering the season, coach Tim Walton didn't miss on a single recruit in his freshman class, creating the lineup depth to take the team from an overachieving 50-22 record last season to a staggering 67-3 record so far this season.
Junior ace Stacey Nelson remains the single most important factor in the team's success -- opponents have scored two or fewer runs in 59 of 70 games -- but the offense provides a far greater margin for error than it did a season ago. The Gators scored five or more runs 29 times last season. This year they've already done it 45 times. When opponents scored three or more runs in a game last season, the Gators were 8-12. This year they're 11-0 in those games. Junior Kim Waleszonia remains a versatile catalyst at the top of the order, but she's been backed up this season by breakout performances from fellow returnees like Ali Gardiner and Francesca Enea and newcomers like Tiffany DeFelice, Aja Paculba and Megan Bush.
Player to Watch: Aja Paculba, 2B
The leading hitter among the team's three freshman regulars (freshman pitcher Stephanie Brombacher makes it a quartet of productive newcomers), Paculba does a little bit of everything. She has power -- entering the World Series with 11 doubles -- but she's adapting well to the role of No. 2 hitter. She's second on the team in walks, showing patience at the plate that allows leadoff hitter Waleszonia to get going on the bases during her at-bats and sets up RBI opportunities for Gardiner, Enea and DeFelice behind her. Not to mention she's second on the team in assists and has committed just eight errors at second base.
Star Power: Stacey Nelson, P
Not that she's going to volunteer to give the extra runs back, but Nelson doesn't always need a lot of run support to win games. She will walk hitters with more regularity than some of her peers in Oklahoma City, but no pitcher in the country does as good a job of avoiding big innings by making the ballpark small. In 316 2/3 innings, Nelson has allowed just one home run. And for the first time in her three seasons in Gainesville, she's averaging better than a strikeout per inning.
By the numbers: Louisiana-Lafayette
Co-coaches: Michael Lotief, Stefni Lotief
Road/Neutral record: 29-12
Sun Belt record: 19-3
Road to Oklahoma City (unseeded)
vs. East Carolina, 2-1 W (Baton Rouge Regional)
vs. LSU, 9-4 W (Baton Rouge Regional)
vs. LSU, 6-3 W (Baton Rouge Regional)
vs. Houston, 6-4 W (Houston Super Regional)
vs. Houston, 3-6 L (Houston Super Regional)
vs. Houston, 4-0 W (Houston Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: BYU, Louisiana Tech (2), North Carolina, Texas A&M
Notable nonconference losses: Arizona, Arizona State, Iowa, Michigan, Texas A&M
Getting to know the Ragin' Cajuns
Oklahoma City may represent the longest road trip of the NCAA tournament for Louisiana-Lafayette, but no team took a more arduous route to the World Series. Unseeded in the initial NCAA draw despite winning the Sun Belt regular season and conference tournament titles in convincing fashion, the Ragin' Cajuns first knocked off No. 9 seed LSU on their in-state rival's home turf in Baton Rouge during regionals and then took two of three on the road against No. 8 seed Houston in a super regional.
Whether or not Louisiana-Lafayette merited a seed, with regular season wins against Texas A&M and North Carolina as well as close losses against Arizona and Arizona State (not to mention a 1-0, extra-inning loss against the United States Olympic team that didn't factor in the mix) merited a seed, the Ragin' Cajuns have proved they belong in Oklahoma City as an equal. So hold the Cinderella references.
The Ragin' Cajuns are a balanced team, both in respect to their balance between hitting and pitching and within those respective areas. A few teams heading to Oklahoma City used two pitchers in the NCAA tournament, but this is the only team that started three different pitchers. Freshmen Ashley Brignac and Donna Bourgeois split most of the innings during the regular season, but sophomore Brittany Cuevas, who battled injuries early this season but also four-hit the Olympic team through 8 and 1/3 innings, also got a start in the Houston Super Regional.
Player to Watch: Ashley Brignac, P
One of four freshmen pitchers who may wind up with the ball in their hands to start the World Series (although two of them play for Louisiana-Lafayette), Brignac didn't disappoint after arriving with a lofty reputation. One of the stars of a junior national team that won a world championship last summer -- alongside the likes of Arizona's Brittany Lastrapes and UCLA's Donna Kerr -- Brignac got the ball with Louisiana-Lafayette's season on the line in Houston and two-hit the hosts in the decisive third game. Brignac also struck out 11 in eight innings in the team's win against Texas A&M in March and averages 10.1 strikeouts per seven innings.
Star Power: Holly Tankersley
Louisiana-Lafayette's biggest star during the program's last run to the World Series was slugger Danyele Gomez, and Tankersley is a worthy heir to lead the return trip. Even in the company of standouts like Kaitlin Cochran, Samantha Findlay and Charlotte Morgan, Tankersley enters the season's final week tied with Findlay as the active home run leader (21) after hitting a pair in the Houston Super Regional. With just 10 strikeouts alongside 43 walks (12 of the intentional variety), Tankersley also outpaces Cochran, Findlay and Morgan as the toughest slugger to strike out.
By the numbers: Texas A&M
Coach: Jo Evans
Road/Neutral record: 27-6
Big 12 record: 17-1
Road to Oklahoma City (No. 5 seed)
vs. Stephen F. Austin, 2-0 W (College Station Regional)
vs. Louisiana Tech, 4-0 W (College Station Regional)
vs. Louisiana Tech, 6-0 W (College Station Regional)
vs. Stanford, 6-1 W (College Station Super Regional)
vs. Stanford, 9-4 W (College Station Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, DePaul, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Houston (2), Nevada, Washington
Notable nonconference losses: Long Beach State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Massachusetts, Northwestern, San Diego State
Getting to know the Aggies
Despite losing one of its two cornerstone players to a season-ending injury early in the campaign, Texas A&M cruised to a clean sweep of the Big 12 regular season, Big 12 conference tournament, College Station Regional and College Station Super Regional. All told, the Aggies went 25-1 in those four segments of their schedule. Not bad for a team that lost Amanda Scarborough, a senior star who led the team in the circle last season and was hitting .447 with 13 RBIs in 15 games, when a foot injury prematurely ended her career. Fellow senior Megan Gibson, Scarborough's partner in the middle of the order and in the circle throughout their College Station careers, stepped up in her absence and led the team in everything from slugging percentage to ERA.
Of course, Texas A&M isn't in the World Series because it proved it was a one-woman show instead of two-woman show. In addition to Gibson's all-around production, the Aggies showed remarkable depth across the diamond. Freshman Rhiannon Kliesing stepped in as the No. 2 and proved her versatility as recently as the super regional against Stanford, hitting her fourth home run of the season in the clincher. And from a proven, if underrated, commodity like senior third baseman Jamie Hinshaw to emerging talents like shortstop Macie Morrow, coach Jo Evans got improved contributions from all over the roster.
Player to Watch: Jamie Hinshaw
There's nothing flashy about Hinshaw's game, but she's exactly the kind of player likely to come up with key RBIs if Texas A&M ends up making a run in Oklahoma City. A starter in every game Texas A&M has played in her four years in College Station, she hit .305 as a freshman and somehow just kept getting better. A perfect 18-for-18 on stolen bases this season, she hasn't been caught stealing since 2006 and gets on base by virtue of more walks than strikeouts and a .361 average. To top it all of, she is slugging a career-best .519.
Star Power: Megan Gibson
What more can you say about the extent of Gibson's dominance other than that she became the first player in Big 12 history to win Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season? Long a feared slugger, her biggest jump in production came in the circle. Gibson went from a good complement to Scarborough to one of the top aces in the country with improved strikeout and walk rates. In 407 and 2/3 innings over her first three seasons, Gibson struck out 335 and walked 110. That equates to 5.8 strikeouts and 1.9 walks per seven innings. This season, she's striking out 8.5 batters and walking 1.5 batters per seven innings.
By the numbers: Virginia Tech
Coach: Scot Thomas
Road/Neutral record: 34-12
ACC record: 16-5
Road to Oklahoma City (Unseeded)
vs. Louisville, 1-0 W (Knoxville Regional)
vs. Tennessee, 4-0 W (Knoxville Regional)
vs. Tennessee, 7-1 L (Knoxville Regional)
vs. Tennessee, 4-2 W (Knoxville Regional)
vs. Michigan, 1-0 L (Ann Arbor Super Regional)
vs. Michigan, 1-0 W (Ann Arbor Super Regional)
vs. Michigan, 6-1 W (Ann Arbor Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Houston, Missouri, Northwestern
Notable nonconference losses: Arizona, Missouri, Notre Dame, South Florida, UCLA
Getting to know the Hokies
Since most college softball fans know something about Angela Tincher by now, and since there's more on her later, how about getting to know the other members of what's fast becoming the "Angela Tincher and the Hokie Nine" traveling road show?
Virginia Tech's ace is clearly at the root of the team's success and its first trip to the Women's College World Series, but she has yet to manage the trick of winning a game in which her team was shutout. By way of contrast, the Hokies did win a game earlier this season in which they didn't get a hit, telling you a little something about a group that is rather resourceful when it comes to scoring.
For the most part, Virginia Tech manufactures runs one at a time. Leadoff hitter Jenna Rhodes doesn't have an on-base percentage quite on par with some of her peers in Oklahoma City, but only Alabama's Brittany Rogers has more stolen bases. Rhodes leads the way, but all four of Virginia Tech's first four batters have at least 16 stolen bases. Charisse Mariconda and Erin Ota are strong, if small, line-drive hitters with good plate discipline (44 walks against 20 strikeouts between them). But in addition to moving people over, stealing bases and taking chances on sending runners, the Hokies are showing a heretofore unseen power reservoir in the postseason. Whitney Davis went yard in the Ann Arbor Super Regional, giving the Hokies five of their 21 total home runs in the last two weeks.
Player to Watch: Kelsey Hoffman
After beating Michigan in her third start against the Wolverines in a little over 24 hours in the Ann Arbor Super Regional, Tincher credited Hoffman for her pitch calling. Not many catchers in Oklahoma City will call their own games, and not many could do it as well as Hoffman if allowed to try. She has a lot to work with given Tincher's dazzling repertoire, but after four years of working with the ace, she knows which pitches are working on a given day. Hoffman is a key bat for the Hokies as well. Along with Misty Hall, she has the gap power to extend the truly dangerous portion of the team's batting order.
Star Power: Angela Tincher
Perhaps you've heard of Tincher, the pitcher who no-hit the United States Olympic team earlier this season (at Hall of Fame Stadium, no less). She's the pitcher who will finish her career with the third-most strikeouts in NCAA history behind Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman -- and the second-best strikeout rate behind only Osterman. Tincher is simply a marvel. She throws hard, topping out in the high 60s, but it's not just her velocity that sets her apart. Her rise and drop both move through the vertical plane more than perhaps any other pitcher's offerings, and she's improved noticeably through the years working side to side. She even got a number of key outs in the clincher against Michigan with her changeup.
By the numbers: UCLA
Coach: Kelly Inouye-Perez
Road/Neutral record: 29-4
Pac-10 record: 17-4
Road to Oklahoma City
vs. Fullerton, 8-3 W (Los Angeles Regional)
vs. Nevada, 6-4 W (Los Angeles Regional)
vs. Nevada, 4-3 W (Los Angeles Super Regional)
vs. Georgia, 6-1 W (Los Angeles Super Regional)
vs. Georgia, 6-0 W (Los Angeles Super Regional)
Notable nonconference wins: Georgia, Hawaii, Long Beach State, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech
Notable nonconference losses: Cal State Fullerton, Illinois, Oklahoma
Getting to know the Bruins
The Bruins have missed only one trip (in 1991) to Oklahoma City -- the World Series has been played there since 1982 -- but it's still a new-look group returning this year under second-year coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. The team's jerseys will be a familiar sight at Hall of Fame Stadium, and the team's fans certainly know their way around the Bricktown entertainment district, but six regulars will be making their World Series debuts.
Of course, one key name not in that group is pitcher Anjelica Selden. The senior ace has more experience in the circle in Oklahoma City than any other pitcher on hand this week -- including Arizona's Taryne Mowatt. Selden bounced back from a disappointing junior campaign that mirrored the team's disappointing season (and one in which she lost the No. 1 role). Although freshman Donna Kerr and sophomore Megan Langenfeld provide plenty of depth this time around, Selden has worked the majority of innings en route to a 28-3 record.
Offense wasn't necessarily the problem for the Bruins last season, and it has remained a strength through the changing of the guard this season. UCLA doesn't hit a lot of home runs, at least in comparison to teams like Alabama, Arizona and Arizona State, but the lineup does have gap power from top to bottom. Whether or not it's a concern at this stage, though it's more likely the latter given their travel ball experience and the team's rigorous schedule, three freshman hitters lead the way in Samantha Camuso, GiOnna DiSalvatore and Katie Schroeder.
Player to Watch: Amanda Kamekona
Kamekona is a newcomer who isn't a freshman (she transferred from Cal State Fullerton), and she emerged over the second half of the season as the best power threat in the lineup. She has more than a third of the team's home runs and not surprisingly leads the team in slugging percentage. And she seems be developing a knack for postseason shots, hitting one against Georgia in the team's super regional and two in regional play.
Star Power: Anjelica Selden
She pitched the team to within a game of the national championship as a freshman and then ended Cat Osterman's career in a classic pitching duel as a sophomore. Now Selden is back on the biggest stage in softball for one final hurrah. After a slightly shaky performance in the Los Angeles Regional, Selden bounced back with two strong starts against Georgia in the super regional that UCLA hosted. She retains impeccable control to go with her strikeout pitches, but one major difference this season has been her ability to keep the ball in the park. She would have to give up 10 home runs in the World Series to miss out on a career low in home runs allowed.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's softball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.