Pendley among first-team All-Americans
Fifty-four players from 32 schools were selected to the first three teams of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America teams released Wednesday.
Oklahoma third baseman Shelby Pendley was a first-team selection and first baseman Lauren Chamberlain was named to the third team. Tulsa shortstop Jill Barrett was a second-team choice and pitcher Aimee Creger was on the third team.
In all, nine first-team selections were from teams competing in the Women’s College World Series, set to begin Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
OU coach Patty Gasso thinks Pendley will be a different player in her second WCWS. The coach saw Pendley putting some added pressure on herself last year. As a result, Pendley had an up-and-down series, both in the field and at the plate.
But this year, Pendley has been one of the Sooners’ most reliable players in all phases, and Gasso expects her to be more settled in on the big stage.
“On a national stage, I think you’ll see some athletes really put unnecessary pressure on themselves. If you’re dreaming about this your entire life and now you’re in it, you’re just bonkers,” Gasso said. “The harder you try to be great, the tougher it is to make happen.
“(Pendley) didn’t really show herself and allowed the expectations and the whole setting to get the best of her. But I think now she can settle in and get after it.”
CAJUNS’ HOME RUN-HAPPY CATCHER
During its run of success the last 12 years under coach Michael Lotief, Louisiana-Lafayette has often been regarded as a strong power-hitting team, and this year is no different.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have 88 home runs, second-most in the NCAA this season, led by catcher Lexie Elkins with 22.
But in the NCAA Tournament, Elkins’ power surge has been a little more unique. The sophomore has only four hits in ULL’s five NCAA Tournament games, all home runs.
NO CLEAR-CUT FAVORITE
Parity in college softball appears to be at an all-time high and this year’s WCWS provides a good example.
Oregon comes in as the top seed and defending champion Oklahoma will have the local advantage, but several coaches were quick to point out the competitive balance among the final eight teams.
“It’s such a tough journey to get here,”Lotief said. “I think now there’s so much parity among this field. I think a lot of these games are going to be decided by a pitch, by a call, by a play. It’s going to be fun to see what happens over the next week and we’re excited to be a part of it. It’s just a great time for our sport, I think.”
Two of the favorites to make the final eight were knocked off last weekend as 13th-seeded Baylor went on the road and swept fourth-seeded Georgia, and 14th-seeded Kentucky advanced to its first WCWS by taking two of three from third-seeded UCLA in Los Angeles.
Five different conferences — ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and Sun Belt — are represented among the eight teams. ULL of the Sun Belt is the first mid-major to make the WCWS since Hawaii (WAC) in 2010.
The WCWS is currently tied for its longest streak without a repeat champion at five years. Oklahoma will be looking to become the first program to win back-to-back titles since Arizona (2006-07).
SOFTBALL CONTINUES GROWTH
For the first time in six years, Lotief has his ULL team playing in the Women’s College World Series, and he is in the front of the line to acknowledge how much has changed.
ASA Hall of Fame Stadium is renovated and seating is expanded. Media coverage is greater and attendance keeps growing — the 2013 WCWS set a single-game attendance record of 9,698.
Lotief said he thinks that’s the reflection of a larger trend.
“The additions to the stadium and really how this venue and the sport has grown has really been phenomenal,” Lotief said. “That really tracks what’s going on with softball throughout the country.”
Although the sheer changes in number are striking, the nationwide change in culture is also noteworthy.
“I think we’ve come such a long way in terms of equity for female athletes and opportunity for female athletes,” Lotief said. “We’ve still got a ways to go, but it keeps getting better and better and better.”
OREGON CARRYING PAC-12 BANNER
For the first time in tournament history, California and Arizona do not have schools representing the state.
As a result, only one Pac-12 team is in the field: top-seeded Oregon.
“I’m glad to be the one,” Oregon coach Mike White said. “Truthfully, I thought that UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona all had great teams this year. That tells you about the parity in the game right now. It’s great for the game.”
Coaches throughout media day credited the conference with helping shape the game to what it is today.
“I would say also all the kids back in the day would watch UCLA and Arizona, but not everybody could go there,” Gasso said. “So some of these pretty good athletes would start to venture out and you could see to me when we would get one of those.
“They just see the vision of the World Series, but they also see the vision of leaving home, starting a life and becoming their own free adult.”
Oregon hopes to become the first Pac-12 team to win the national title since 2011 when Arizona State beat Florida. That was the final year of a six straight years the conference won the championship.
“Is there any extra pressure on us? I don’t think so,” White said. “The game doesn’t know how many Pac-12 teams are here.
“We’re going to go out and play well, and do our best we can. If we’re the last one here, great. If we’re not, there’s going to be a worthy champion walking out of here at the end.”
LOW-SCORING GAMES GONE NO MORE?
The days of every game being a low-scoring affair could be gone, and Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson believes there are multiple reasons for the offensive increase.
She said the increase of video services that allow teams to scout better, salary increase for coaches and the NCAA has promoted more offense.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the norm anymore, but I don’t think pitching is down,” Lawson said. “I think there are some outstanding pitchers out there. I think the times are different.
“I think that over the last 20 years, all the major changes in the rulebook have been to promote hitting in our sport because there was such a lack of offensive production.”
With the uptick in scoring, Lawson said the sport is better moving forward.
“You’re seeing the fan base go up tremendously,” she said. “I think the offense has actually contributed to all the spectators we’re getting in the sport.”
Baylor coach Glenn Moore when asked how to handle the middle of the Florida batting order, with four players who have hit double-digit home runs this season: “Hit the first three and hope you get lucky with the fourth.”
Cody Stavenhagen contributed to this report