By Paul Rubin
When we named ASU fast-pitch softball pitcher Katie Burkart "Best Female College Athlete" in our Best of Phoenix issue last September, we quietly wondered if it wouldn't be the kiss of death to the team's chance of making it to the College World Series the following June. After all, those of us who follow sports know well of the infamous Sports Illustrated jinx, which holds that any number of cover subjects in that rag practically fall apart in the aftermath. (Or, in the case of the great thoroughbred Barbaro, actually die.)
But when we wrote of the powerful left-hander, "Before she's through at ASU after next season, Burkhart surely will break every pitching record at the school," we felt comfortable that she'd do just that--and she did.
What we surely didn't anticipate was that Burkhart would lead her Sun Devils squad to the national championship, and be named as the tournament's Most Valuable Player in doing so.
Burkhart was all business on the mound in pitching ASU to five straight wins in a very tough tournament, not cracking a smile after any of the games until she shut out runner-up Texas A&M in the championship game in Oklahoma City on June 3.
The win was her 41st of the year against only five losses, a remarkable feat.
With the unexpected championship, the Sun Devils dethroned their longtime nemesis, the two-time defending champs University of Arizona, which made it to the Series, but was unceremoniously dumped after losing two games in a row. (Such a fate on the men's side of the game is known as "Two and Que"--as in barbeque--or "White Line Fever," which refers to the long car ride home.)
Burkhart's eligibility is up, so ASU will have to reload before next year if it hopes for a return trip to the Promised Land of women's college softball. But the intense southpaw leaves an amazing legacy, and we're happy for her--and glad that the Devils did so well, in light of another one of our recent sports stories, the upbeat profile of Steve Kerr . Unfortunately, the Phoenix Suns tanked against the San Antonio Spurs shortly after publication of that piece.
No such a finish for Burkart and the Devils. But, come to think of it, we gave Coach Mike D'Antoni our Best Pro Coach award on the same page as we raved about Burkhart, and he lasted about a week after the season ended before booking for New York City.
Maybe there is a jinx, after all....