Arizona State and Florida, the two best-hitting teams in the Women's College World Series, won berths in the championship finals in Oklahoma City yesterday.
The best-of-three series promises to be a great one, with veteran, well-coached teams evenly matched in every facet of the game but the most crucial one--pitching.
That's where the Sun Devils and their freshman phenom Dallas Escobedo (a Glendale girl out of Phoenix St. Mary's High School) seems to have a decided edge over the Gators' two-women staff.
The Gators had to beat Alabama twice to earn its spot in the finals, after losing last Friday night 6-5 to ASU in a thriller that had the feel of a national championship game. Florida swings the bat really well, and is aggressive--almost to an extreme at times--on the base paths.
The Devils don't have an easy out in the lineup, highly unusual in women's fast-pitch, and the bottom of the order is not afraid to swing the bat.
That puts constant pressure on the opponent's pitching and defense, and has led to crucial mistakes, including lots of ASU lead-off walks that have turned into runs.
Because of its earlier loss, the Gators have had to play five games in the nationals compared with ASU's three. It's been hot in Oklahoma, and staying in the winner's bracket has done nothing but help young Escobedo, a compelling presence on the mound with a terrific rise-ball and a big heart.
The top-ranked Devils beat Baylor yesterday 4-0 to reach the finals. The big blow came from senior Mandy Urfer in the first inning, a two-run homer that put the Bears on their heels (paws?) for the rest of the contest.
Tonight's game will be aired on ESPN2 (Channel 32) starting at 5 o'clock.
The teams will play again tomorrow night, with the finale on Wednesday if they split the first two.