They beat the Arizona Wildcats twice this season, one in an early-season 11-1 clobbering in Tempe. They have the edge in confidence.
But to think that the Oklahoma Sooners are the absolute favorites tonight, when they'll face Arizona tonight at 8:30 on its home field at Hillenbrand Stadium, would be a lazy assertion.
This is an embattled Wildcat team. And with a coach like Mike Candrea, that can be a good thing. Learning from mistakes is all part of Candrea's preaching of his process.
Regular season struggles came after the team went the distance last year, losing to UCLA in the Women's College World Series finals and after senior leader K'Lee Arredondo graduated. So what was this year? A shifting of roles, a puzzle that was looking for a voice from players like seniors Lauren Schutzler and Brittany Lastrapes, neither of whom had the natural put-your-foot-down leadership of Arredondo.
And then there was the pitching situation. Ace Kenzie Fowler stepped out of the circle for weeks after being hit in the head by a foul ball, resulting in a nasty concussion. From there, the Wildcats stumbled a bit, finished out a rocky Pac-10 schedule and then swept through the first-round field by outscoring Harvard, New Mexico State and Texas Tech by a combined score of 28-2.
Fowler's back to last years form. As broken down by Tucson Citizen's Anthony Gimino, lead-off hitter Lastrapes has put herself amongst the program's all time greats. Remember, this is essentially the same roster as last year's near title run. No lack of talent in Candrea's club house.
But they face a talented pitching force in the Sooner's Keilani Ricketts, a 6-foot-2 power pitcher with placement to go with it. Aside from the home crowd and the strong performances last weekend, it looks like a daunting task for Arizona. Here's the thing though; Candrea-coached teams won't lay down. You know, that's why its as likely as the rapture that his teams don't make the final group of eight that makes the WCWS.
Tonight it begins. And tomorrow, if needed, there will be a double-header to decide who'll be headed to the WCWS. My guess, and this is backed up by past history, is that both teams will be headed to Oklahoma.
How do you think the Wildcats will play against the Sooners?