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Arnie Leshin’s College Softball Wrap

Sports Commentary by Arnie Leshin

By ARNIE LESHIN Santa Fe Today

The opening round of the NCAA softball championships hasn’t lacked much. There’s been three no-hiitters, two one-hittters, eight one-run games, 15 shutouts, and plenty of disappointed schools in the field of 64 playing at 16 regional sites across the country.

ESPN didn’t miss much of this. From early the morning to late at hour, there was softball on the tubes, either focused on one contest or showing all of the regions being player, sometimes even doing so with a split screen catching two games at a time.

There’s been hit parades in some games, stellar pitching. tense extra-inning games, fielding blunders, mistakes on the bases, walk-off finishes, some controversial umpire calls, some surprises, and some upset-minded teams that fell short.

Topping the list of upsets was probably the one in Norman, Oka., home of defending champion Oklahoma and these Sooners lost much sooner than expected.

This was a contest that matched them up with the 4th seed in the region, North Dakota State, one of three schools in the field with losing (28-31) records, but which had been here before.

In 2009, the Bisons knocked off Oklahoma the first round at Norman, and, would you know it, they did it again Saturday with a 3-2 squeaker in 9 innings against the No. 1 seed in this region and 10th in the tournament.

It was a long weather-delayed contest that was called with North Dakota State leading 2-0, and with one out in the Sooner half of the first inning.

That was Friday. Saturday didn’t change much for the Oklahoma faithful.

The lead was still 2-0 heading into the last of the sixth. But with the bases full and two out, it managed to tie the score and bring the crowd back into play.

But in the ninth, North Dakota State went in front 3-2 and maintained it this time to advance to the winner’s bracket and send the Sooners (50-9) into a win or else. First they had to eliminate Arkansas (31-23) and probably have to win three more times to move on to the Super Regionals. As for the Bisons, now 2-4 overall versus Oklahoma, they take on Tulsa (40-15).

Many of the seeded schools who played host also came close to falling to unseeded opponents.

Top seeded Florida (52-6) stayed in the winner’s bracket, but had to hold off Oklahoma State, 2-0. No. 4 Florida State (52-6-1) withstood the challenge of Princeton in a 3-0 final. No. 7 Auburn (48-10) had to come from behind in getting past California, 6-2, in eight frames. No. 11 Utah (35-15) nipped state-rival BYU, 4-3, but than eliminated the Cougars, 10-0.

There were more scares for the home crowds.

No. 13 LSU (43-18) didn’t realize that Fairfield came to play before edging the Connecticut school 2-1. No. 15 Baylor (45-12) topped James Madison, 4-2, although the Dukes weren’t pleased with not getting seeded. And No. 16 Alabama (44-6) halted the 22-game win streak of an unseeded Big 10-champion Minnesota with the best record in the country, 3-2, in nine innings.

The Gophers (54-4) were named No.1 in the Coaches Poll, but slighted by the tournament committee. It was a nail-biting game that could have gone either way, but the Tide managed to pick up two clutch hits in the ninth, and score the tiebreaker on a single to left.

No hitters were pitched by Florida, Louisiana-Lafayette and Baylor. There were one-hitters from FSU and Kentucky.

There was a key call on a play at home plate when Auburn trailed 2-0. A Tiger walk, a single, and a single down the left field line sent the runner home. It appeared as if the catcher bobbled the ball, but than caught it and tagged the runner before she touched the plate.

But the umpire made note of the bobble and made the out call to the disappointed of the Golden Bears. Seeing it on television, it appeared to be the wrong call. The tag with the ball was there, but there’s no review here and who can dispute the call from an ump right in back of the play.

There were a few other close calls, but they always even out. Well, sometimes.

There was also a tight tussle for No. 3 Oregon (49-6). Matched up with a red-hot Wisconsin squad, the Ducks batted first and trailed 5-4 in the top of the seventh. But they tied the score and made it extra innings after escaping a lead-off double by Wisconsin, which had led 4-2 after five.

In the eighth, Oregon took a 6-5 lead and held off the Badgers to remain the team to beat in this region.

Eliminated were Florida A & M, Mississipi, Albany, Texas Southern, Ohio State, Longwood, Montana, Princeton, McNeese, Illinois-Chicago, Lehigh, Saint Francis, New Mexico State, Kent State, East Tennessee State, and if Oklahoma doesn’t hang around by ousting Arkansas, it, too, will be.

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