It's becoming a sport that offers opportunities for an increasing number of athletic women who can impact the game with their speed and hitting ability, as well as their pitching.
“We don't need to be playing 11-10 games, so we have to be careful with the technology and the equipment. I think it's a delicate balance between people loving seeing home runs and purists who love to see that 1-0 game,” Murphy said. “That's fast-pitch softball, where one mistake will lose a game for you.”
Murphy said that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of excitement in a game that ends 5-4, like the decisive Game 3 of last year's championship series.
Who gets to the finals will be decided over the next 3 1 / 2 months, eventually through a playoff run that's more of a grind than ever.
“It's anybody's series,” Gasso said. “You might rank us, but that doesn't mean anything. It really doesn't. It's really coming down to who can get it done and who can execute. It's all about the end of the season.”
Cal will do its best to move on without two-way star Valerie Arioto and navigate the Pac-12, which has had four different teams win national championships in the past six years. Just being the best team in the SEC will be the first challenge for Alabama, with the addition of past champion Texas A&M and frequent World Series combatant Missouri joining an already loaded league that has placed Tennessee and Florida in the finals in recent years.
Then there's the motivated group at Oklahoma led by Ricketts, who had 457 strikeouts, a 1.08 ERA and also swatted 17 home runs last season. The Sooners, playing on practically a home field at the World Series stadium in Oklahoma City, won Game 1 of the finals and led before Alabama rallied following a rain delay in Game 3.
“Definitely, it hurt a lot. That was the most pain I'd ever been in in softball,” said Ricketts, a senior. “Just being one game away and one run away from winning it all. It just brings a lot of motivation going into my last year.”