Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Road to OKC: WCWS Preview

Virginia Tech is definitely the underdog in this tournament. The Hokies are one of two unseeded teams in the field (UL Lafayette is the other). The key for the Virginia Tech will be avoiding playing two games in one day. They rely heavily on starting pitcher Angela Tincher and although she proved she is capable of being dominant in two games in one day in Ann Arbor, its important to get her arm as much rest as possible.

The good news for the Hokies is there isn't much WCWS experience on its side of the bracket. This is Florida's first appearance and UL Lafayette hasn't been since 2003. Texas A&M advances to the World Series last year and went 2NQ (2NQ - Two and Barbecue, or losing both games in a double elimination tournament). The lower half of the bracket is where all the muscle is in Alabama, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA.

Obviously, if the Hokies can win their first two games, they will be in good shape. However, they will take quite an effort. They face Texas A&M and player of the year candidate Megan Gibson. Gibson is an outstanding all-around player. She is the Aggies best pitcher at 38-1, 0.98, is batting .345 and leads the team in home runs (13) and RBIs (48).

The Hokies were able to score runs thanks to errors and mental breakdowns by Michigan in the Super Regional. That won't happen against A&M. The Aggies have the best fielding percentage in the nation.

Should Tech beat A&M, they will likely face No. 1 seed Florida. The Gators are 67-3 this season and score runs in bunches. A win in their second game would give the Hokies a day off before facing the winner from the losers bracket. However, a loss would send them to the lower bracket, which might actually be tougher than the top half. It features the two-time defending national champion (Arizona), the highest scoring team in the nation (Alabama) and the greatest powerhouse in the history of softball (UCLA).

The Hokies have a great pitcher in Tincher, but at this point every team has a great pitcher. While Tincher is arguably the best pitcher in the nation, she will need help. The Hokies finally broke through with six runs in the third game of their Super Regional and they will need the same timely hitting in every game in OKC. Stranding the bases loaded like they did in the ACC tournament and their regional in Tennessee isn't an option. They are a team that relies on smallball and will need clutch hits to advance.

Texas A&M Aggies (54-7)

How they got here: Won Big 12 Tournament at Don E. Porter ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, hosted their regional, went 3-0 and beat Louisiana Tech to advance, hosted their super regional and swept Stanford.
Pitching: Ranked No. 7 in the country in ERA. Best pitcher is Meagan Gibson at 38-1, 0.98 in 40 appearances, 39 starts.
Hitting: Ranked No. 27 in the country in hitting. Best hitter is also Gibson, who is batting .345 and leads the team in home runs (13) and RBIs (48).
Notes: Have best fielding percentage in the nation...lost both games in 2007 WCWS...are on a 15-game winning streak...top three basestealers are a combined 42-for-43 on SB attempts.

Florida Gators (67-3)

How they got here: Won SEC Tournament in Baton Rouge, La., hosted their regional, went 3-1 and beat Central Florida to advance, hosted their super regional and swept Cal.
Pitching: Ranked No. 2 in the country in ERA behind Michigan. Best pitcher is Stacey Nelson at 45-3, 0.73 in 54 appearances, 44 starts.
Hitting: Ranked No. 16 in the country in hitting. Best hitter is Ali Gardiner, who is batting .405 with seven home runs and a team-best 56 RBIs. Have hit 61 home runs this season.
Notes: First ever trip to WCWS...lost to Texas A&M in the super regionals last season...67 wins ties NCAA record for victories in a season, set three times previously.

UL Lafayette (51-13)

How they got here: Won Sun Belt Tournament in Troy, Ala., went 3-0 in Baton Rouge regional, beating LSU to advance, traveled to Houston beat the Cougars in the super regional in three games.
Pitching: Ranked No. 16 in the country in ERA. No. 1 pitcher is true freshman Ashley Brignac at 30-5, 1.38 in 42 appearances, 33 starts. No. 2 pitcher is Donna Bourgeois at 16-4, 0.97 in 35 appearances, 20 starts.
Hitting: Ranked No. 9 in the country in hitting. The Ragin' Cajuns have four hitters ranked in the top 80 in the country in hitting. Best hitter is Holly Tankersley, who is hitting .452 and leads the team in home runs (21) and RBI (72).
Notes: Fifth WCWS appearance and since 2003...co-head coaches are husband and wife Michael and Stefni Lotief.

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