by Elliott Finkelstein, Director of Fastpitch, Triple Crown Sports
All eyes in the college softball world certainly turned a glance toward one of the most storied and anticipated matchups this postseason, when Arizona and UCLA squared off for a berth in the Women’s College World Series. One could argue that it all started with these two programs, who own more D-1 collegiate softball championships than all other programs combined (19 of 35). Who would earn the trip to OKC and the WCWS? How will they get there and what will be the biggest surprise? Turns out UCLA has the best, final answer. But what about the 800-pound gorilla in the room – postseason officiating!
Some would argue that the rules mysteriously change during the playoffs, leaving some to ask if there’s an unwritten unpublished postseason rule book. And could we get a copy? I’d like a to be a fly on the wall at the pre-tournament umpire meetings. Do the nationally seeded teams get “special treatment?” Do home teams get “home cooking” on the close calls?
This year has been full of game-deciding calls. Obstruction, out of the batter’s box, and of course illegal pitches, seem to rule the day. I have been told there are points of emphasis each year when it comes to rule enforcement. Huh? Shouldn’t all rules be enforced? If not, why have them at all? It’s fairly common to see basketball officials “swallow the whistle” late in lopsided games or during the playoffs. We’ve all seen expanded strike zones in games where the outcome has been decided early, but the mercy rule is not in effect quite yet. Whose judgement do we question then?
Judgement is the key to many calls, but unfortunately there are many levels of judgement ... good, bad or apparently none at all. No different than real life. It’s loud and clear when coaches, fans and players don’t agree with umpire judgement, it’s just there are some rules that just flat don’t compute. It’s probably time to question some decisions from the rules committee. Couldn’t we just move the pitching rubber back 2 or 3 more feet and get rid of the “crow hop” rule? I have a hard time finding two officials describe an illegal pitch the same way on the same call. The rule never seems to be applied consistently and certainly not equally from pitcher to pitcher. How about out of the box, when there are clearly no chalk lines left to see? The plate umpire has a difficult enough time getting the strike zone right without having to watch the batter’s feet. Could there be electronics in the not-too-distant future? Then there is obstruction! This could be the worst of the judgement situations. Did the ball get there first? Was the defensive player blocking the base? Rarely do I see this called correctly. I miss old school defense.
How about hitters and their “Evo Shields.” Given enough protective gear we see hitters lean into pitches all the time. Umpires rarely call the batter for being in the strike zone. Remove the armor and lean in all you want. I hear pitchers and catchers now calling for an “EVO” … which means a girl is about to get plunked.
It’s an American pastime and a right of admission to vocally question an official’s judgement. We have all seen poor positioning and really bad calls change the outcome. Interestingly enough, 98% of all calls are probably correct, but there isn’t any fun in talking about that. We celebrate .400 batting averages and .700 winning percentages; however, if an official is 90% right he/she is horrible. If the rules committee was held to the same standard as those who participate in the game, perhaps we could get a set of simplified rules and let the game be decided by the players.
At the end of the day the officials have a job to do. Enforce the rules, even the bad ones.
Under the lights at Nancy Almaraz Field, Saturday night's finale pitted the PAC-12’s No. 3 Oregon Ducks (9-1) against the SEC’s No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels (6-2). In an early season extra-inning classic, the Rebels prevailed 1-0.
Through six innings, not even total number of hits, one a piece, could separate the two schools. An extra inning, with the international tie-breaker in place in the eighth inning couldn’t even do the trick. Elantra Cox, tying a school record, recorded her 223rd career hit, scoring Paige McKinney, ending the final game of the 2018 Puerto Vallarta college challenge in thrilling fashion.
The Ducks cannot blame Megan Kleist who pitched eight innings, gave up only three hits and recorded a tournament record 16 strikeouts. Jenna Lilley led the Ducks with two hits in her four plate appearances.
Kaitlin Lee led the way for the Rebels, pitching nine full, striking out five and giving up only four hits.
Texas and Houston squared off in a neutral site, in-state showdown Saturday evening in Puerto Vallarta. In the last game for both teams, Texas came out on top 7-3.
The Longhorns (4-4) had been searching for an offensive outburst and found it as soon as the first pitch reached the plate. Four players recorded multiple hits including Jenae Jefferson who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
Mariah Garcia provided the offense for Houston (4-4) with a two-run home run in the third inning.
Erica Wright started in the circle for Texas. In seven innings, Wright surrendered seven hits, three runs, two earned runs and no walks while striking out four.
In its final game of the tournament, Rutgers rallied for the tying run in the seventh, then scored three runs in the eighth to give the Scarlet Knights a 4-3 win over Houston in Saturday’s second game at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge.
Trailing 1-0, Rutgers (3-6) tied the game as Christine Malito’s first collegiate hit netted her first RBI as well as her single scored Nicole Bowman. With the International Tiebreaker Rule in effect starting in the eighth, Rutgers took full advantage for three runs. A sacrifice fly by Jess Hughes plated the first run, then Rebecca Hall drilled a two-run home run down the line in right to make it 4-1.
Houston (4-3) wouldn’t go quietly as Sarah Queen’s RBI single made it 4-2. The Cougars would proceed to load the bases, and Tierrah Williams would drill a shot to center for a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3. But with two out, a lazy fly ball to left would end the game as the Scarlet Knights came out with a win.
Cambria Keefer pitched all eight innings, earning the win for Rutgers. Trystan Melancon took the loss for Houston.
Abbey Latham hit her first career home run for Ole Miss (5-2) and recorded her first two RBIs in a 9-1 win over Rutgers (2-6) in the first game of Saturday’s action in Puerto Vallarta.
The Ole Miss Rebels rebounded from a 6-0 shutout to Houston on Friday and scored two runs in the first inning, one in the second, two in the third, two in the fifth and two more in sixth.
Celeste Wood was 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Alex Schneider and Paige McKinney both finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Rutgers scored its first run of the tournament in the bottom of the fifth inning when Rebecca Hall lifted a sacrifice fly to left field.
Anna Borgen started in the circle for Ole Miss and gave five hits in four complete innings. Alyssa Clayton pitched two innings of relief and gave up an unearned run on two hits and one walk.
A five-run second inning propelled No. 3 Oregon to an, 8-0 (5), win over Texas (3-4) in the sixth game of the second session at the 2018 Puerto Vallarta College Challenge.
DJ Sanders started the second with a solo bomb for Oregon (9-0), with an RBI single by Alexis Mack and a two-run double from Jenna Lilley pushed the Ducks to their first five runs.
Lilley would continue her hot-hitting as her two-run infield single made it 7-0 after three innings. Mary Iakopo would then plate Sanders with a double off the top off the wall in center for the 8-0 lead through four.
That would be enough for Miranda Elish, who picked up her third complete-game shutout of the season with seven strikeouts.
Janae Jefferson had one of the Longhorns’ three hits on the game as Texas moved to 3-4 on the season.
Rutgers (2-5) drew a tough task on Friday, facing the No. 3 Oregon Ducks (8-0). Behind a powerful offense and an deliberate pitching performance from Maggie Balint, the Ducks cruised to a 10-0 win.
The Ducks wasted no time finding its offensive rhythm. It took just four hits, including a home run from DJ Sanders, to put a five spot on the board in the opening frame and it didn’t stop there. Adding two runs in the second and three in the third, the Ducks were led by Jenna Lilley who totaled three hits, an RBI and three runs scored.
Maggie Balint didn’t quite match the 10-strikeout performance from Kleist on Thursday, but the sophomore pitched five solid innings, holding the Scarlet Knights scoreless, giving up just two hits and striking out three. Oregon’s defense didn’t mess around either, dialing up three double plays throughout the afternoon.
Erin Collins and Nicole Bowman came up with only hit on the afternoon for Rutgers.
The Houston Cougars (4-2) pulled off the first upset of the weekend as they downed No. 15/18 Ole Miss (4-2) 6-0 on Friday afternoon in Puerto Vallarta.
After being shut out by Oregon the day before, the Cougars unleashed 15 hits on Ole Miss pitchers Brittany Finney, Morgan Bruce and Ava Tillmann. Sarah Barker led the UH offense, getting on base five times with a career-high four hits and a walk. Tierrah Williams added three hits of her own in the contest.
Trystan Melancon held the Rebels to three hits in six innings of work and only walked two. Savannah Heebner finished the game allowing two hits and striking out two in one inning.
Ole Miss centerfield Kylan Becker continued her success at the plate going 2-4.
Thursday night in Puerto Vallarta saw two historic programs go toe-to-toe at Nancy Almaraz Field. No. 15 Ole Miss (4-1) combined great pitching from Kaitlin Lee, Morgan Bruce and Elisha Jahnke and a potent offense to beat Texas (3-3), 8-2.
Ki’Audra Hayter provided a bright spot for the Longhorns. The junior outfielder finished with three hits and both of Texas’ runs.
Ally Mena gave the Ole Miss offense a big boost from the bottom of the order, racking up two hits, three RBI and a double. The Rebels notched five extra-base hits on the evening.
Meanwhile, Lee, Bruce and Jahnke tag-teamed a two run, seven hit performance. Lee’s first four innings saw only four hits and a walk.
Paige Von Sprecken did a little bit of everything for the Longhorns on Thursday afternoon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The senior spun a gem of game and provided a solo home run as Texas slid by Rutgers, 2-0.
Von Sprecken went the distance, pitching seven full innings and struck out five, leading the Longhorns to victory.
MK Tedder added her second RBI of the season for head coach Connie Clark, scoring Taylor Ellsworth who grabbed a triple to lead off the fourth inning.
Whitney Jones wasn’t too bad herself. The Rutgers pitcher dealt six complete innings, totaling 11 fly outs, six hits and just one walk.
Texas moves to 3-2 on the season with the win, while the Scarlet Knights fall to 2-4.