OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Arizona State coach Clint Myers isn’t used to the powerful Pac-10 being so outnumbered at the Women’s College World Series.
Myers’ top-seeded Sun Devils are one of only two Pac-10 schools at college softball’s championship event that starts Thursday in Oklahoma City, the fewest since 1998. The Big 12 makes up half of the field with four schools qualifying, and the Southeastern Conference has the other two with second-seeded Alabama and No. 4 seed Florida.
“I’m guessing people are going to feel sorry for us because we’re so thinly populated here,” said Myers, temporarily forgetting that California was also in the field.
“I figure that we’ll get the sympathy vote and possibly get a free pass. That’s about it from the Pac-10.”
There should hardly be any sympathy for the Pac-10 at this event — as Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine noted by interrupting Myers with a sarcastic “sure.”
The Pac-10 has won 22 of the 28 titles in World Series history — with UCLA and Arizona combining to win 20, including one the Bruins had to vacate for NCAA rules violations. UCLA beat Arizona in last year’s championship series, but this is only the second time — and first since 1986 — that neither of the powerhouse programs made it to the final eight.
“There’s great young pitchers out there right now and you’ve got to go out and play your A-game,” Myers said. “If you don’t, then you don’t get the chance to come to the big dance.
“The Pac-10, it’s still a tough conference, it’s still going to be a great conference. And with us and Cal, we hope to represent our conference as well as it’s been represented in the past.”
Despite declining representation by the Pac-10 — which had five teams in 1999, and made up half the field the following five years — the trophies still reside out west. The conference has won the last five titles and nine of the last 10, including wins by Arizona State (2008) and California (2002).
Oklahoma (2000) is the only other team in this year’s field that has won a national title. No SEC team has ever won the championship.
All that tradition is replaced by the local flavor of having the Sooners and rival Oklahoma State in the World Series field in the same year for the first time.
Myers predicted that attendance records will be broken — although that has been the case even when the local teams haven’t been in the field in recent years. The Friday night and Saturday night sessions have already sold out.
There’s a world of difference from a dozen years ago.
Attendance for the week was only 24,010 in 1999, and it jumped to over 38,000 when Oklahoma made its run to the title in 2000. The event has grown to the point that the past four years have been the most highly attended in the event’s history, with an average of more than 60,000 fans each year — without the benefit of area teams.
Players were relatively anonymous back when Gasso led the Sooners to the title at the turn of the century, but not so much anymore.
“Really, it’s kind of a movie-star status,” Gasso said. “Back when we were here, it was big, but not to this level.”
Gasso said she’ll do what she can to maximize the Sooners’ home field advantage. Instead of staying in a hotel all week, she’s keeping her team a half-hour away from the hubbub in Norman until the games get started.
“That’s one of the benefits of being here is that you’re able to stay at home, so we’re going to use it to the best of our advantage,” Gasso said. “There’s just so much stuff happening and distractions. I’d rather them just be in the comfort of home until it’s time.”
The Big 12’s best showing at the World Series comes the same year the conference’s postseason tournament — usually held at the Hall of Fame Stadium where the World Series is played — was canceled.
“It’s kind of cool that we have kind of like a half-Big 12 tournament, half-World Series going on since our Big 12 tournament got canceled this year,” Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas said.
The first day of the double-elimination tournament will feature Alabama against Cal, Oklahoma State against Big 12 rival Baylor, Arizona State against Oklahoma and Florida against Missouri. The champion is crowned after a best-of-three series starting Monday.
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