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The Texas softball team, which was picked to finish second in the Big 12 by the league's coaches, have failed to live up to that expectation. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman)

Softball

Diamond Dust: Texas and the Big 12 softball tournament

Posted May 12th, 2017

The Big 12 softball tournament returns this weekend to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex in Oklahoma City after a six year absence.

Oklahoma was the last team to win the tournament in 2010, but the Sooners were also the very first conference tournament champion to be crowned in the spring of 1996.

The Big 12 didn’t fully start competition in other sports until the fall of 1996, but softball became the first sport to crown a conference champion.

Playing a double-elimination 8-team bracket in Oklahoma City, the top-seeded Sooners defeated No. 4 Nebraska 5-4, No. 2 seed Oklahoma State 5-0 and then defeated the Cornhuskers again in the championship game 1-0.

Oklahoma has won four Big 12 tournament championships (1996, 2001, ’07 and ’10), which ties them for the most in Big 12 history. The other team to win four? Texas (1999, 2002, ’03 and ’05). Nebraska won three (1998, 2000 and ’04) while Missouri won two (1997 and 2009). Other tournament champions include Texas A&M (2008) and Kansas (2006).

The sixth-ranked Sooners (47-8) are the top seed in this year’s tournament and were the regular season champions with a 17-1 Big 12 record.  Oklahoma is the odds-on favorite to be this year’s tournament champion. The regular season champion has won the conference tournament eight times.

No. 16 Baylor (41-11) is the second seed and the Bears, who finished 13-5 in Big 12 play, should feel good about that. The No. 2 seed  has won the tournament five times. Oklahoma won the series against Baylor in the regular season, but the Sooners needed 10 innings in a 3-2 win in Game 1 and lost 4-3 in Game 2.

Only once has a third seed won the tournament : Texas in 2005. That doesn’t bode well for this year’s third seed, Oklahoma State (33-22, 12-6). Fourth-seed Texas’ chances are slim as the fourth seed has never won the championship.

The lowest seed to ever win the tournament was Kansas in 2006, the year Texas won the regular season championship.

Let’s play in some dirt.

Here’s a breakdown the field of this year’s tournament, which begins Friday with round-robin group play.

GROUP A

No. 1 – Oklahoma 

Schedule: No. 4 Texas, 2 p.m., Friday; No. 6 Texas Tech, 7:30 p.m., Friday

Record: 47-8, 11-1 Big 12

Key conference win(s): Sweep of Oklahoma State

Key conference loss(es): Baylor (4-3, April 23)

Top pitcher: Paige Parker, jr.  (17-5, 1.52 ERA, 183 Ks, 25 BB)

Top batter: Nicole Mendes, fr. (.435 BA, 41 R, 8 2Bs, 3 3Bs, 4 HRs, 19 RBIs, .645 slug%)

Notes: This is Oklahoma’s tournament to lose. The Sooners only challenge will come from Baylor, should the Bears reach the championship game. Parker is solid in the circle and no team is hitting better, other than Baylor.

No. 4 – Texas

Schedule: No. 6 Texas Tech, 11 a.m., Friday; No. 1 Oklahoma, 2 p.m., Friday

Record: 30-22, 7-10

Key conference win(s): Baylor (3-1, May 6)

Key conference loss(es): Iowa State (2-1 April 21, 4-2 April 23)

Top pitcher: Erica Wright, soph.  (6-6, 1.84 ERA, 87 Ks, 37 BB)

Top batter: Taylor Ellsworth, fr. (.427 BA, 18 R, 5 2Bs, 3 HRs,  23 RBIs, .550 slug%)

Notes: Texas is a long shot to get out of their group, having been swept by Oklahoma by a combined score of 12-3. The Longhorns will need to have a good showing. While Texas will likely get in to the NCAA Tournament, the Longhorns are still on the bubble.

No. 6 – Texas Tech

Schedule: No. 4 Texas, 11 a.m., Friday; No. 1 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m., Friday

Record: 18-34, 4-14

Key conference win(s): Sweep of Iowa State

Key conference loss(es): Kansas (8-5 April 7, 5-4 April 8)

Top pitcher: Kassidy Scott, fr.  (10-21, 4.23 ERA, 76 Ks, 69 BB)

Top batter: Kierra Milas, sr. (.310 BA, 33 R, 6 2Bs, 1 3B, 5 HRs,  16 RBIs, .456 slug%)

Notes: Despite losing a series to Kansas, which did not qualify for the tournament, the Red Raiders were the final qualifier for the tournament. Tech’s chances are extremely slim and were swept by both of its group members in the regular season.

GROUP B

No. 2 – Baylor

Schedule: No. 3 Oklahoma State 11 a.m., Friday; No. 5 Iowa State, 5 p.m., Friday

Record: 41-11, 13-5

Key conference win(s): Oklahoma (4-3, April 23),. Oklahoma State (5-1, April 28; 7-3 April 28)

Key conference loss(es): Oklahoma State (9-4, April 29); Texas (3-1, May 6)

Top pitcher: Kelsee Selman, sr.  (21-7, 1.54 ERA, 169 Ks, 39 BB)

Top batter: Lindsey Cargill, sr. (.459 BA, 44 R, 5 2Bs, 3 3Bs, 13 RBIs, .529 slug%)

Notes: Baylor has been on the radar all season as a viable challenger to Oklahoma’s reign on the conference. The Bears are a interesting team and could win the tournament or get beat by Oklahoma State and sent to the third-place game.

No. 3 – Oklahoma State

Schedule: No. 2 Baylor 11 a.m., Friday; No. 5 Iowa State, 2 p.m., Friday

Record: 33-22, 13-5

Key conference win(s): Sweep of Texas (March 24-26); Baylor (9-4, April 29)

Key conference loss(es): Swept by Oklahoma (May 3-6); Baylor (5-1, April 28; 7-3 April 28)

Top pitcher: Brandi Needham, sr.  (18-8, 2.69 ERA, 71 Ks, 28 BB)

Top batter: Vanessa Shippy, jr. (.410 BA, 44 R, 13 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 5 HRs,  44 RBIs, .634 slug%)

Notes:  The Cowgirls have a chance to win this tournament, should they beat Baylor in the opener. Oklahoma State has proven they can beat Baylor and were close in all three losses to Oklahoma, including a 6-2 defeat in Norman, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

No. 5 – Iowa State

Schedule: No. 3 Oklahoma State, 2 p.m., Friday; No. 2 Baylor, 5 p.m., Friday

Record: 23-32, 6-12

Key conference win(s): Texas  (2-1 April 21, 4-2 April 23); Oklahoma State (10-9, April 15)

Key conference loss(es): Oklahoma State (10-2, April 14; 11-3, April 14); Swept by Baylor (April 7-9)

Top pitcher: Brianna Weilbacher, jr.  (11-14, 4.15 ERA, 160 Ks, 114 BB)

Top batter: Sami Williams, fr. (.366 BA, 33 R, 19 2Bs, 1 3B, 8 HRs, 31 RBIs, .628 slug%)

Notes: The Cyclones finished out of the cellar of the Big 12 for the first time since 2011. Iowa State has pulled off a few upsets, winning a series against Texas for the first time in program history and a win over Oklahoma State. This is a team that is capable of playing the role of Cinderella.

Texas’ Kelli Hanzel (30) makes the catch for the Houston out at first during a NCAA softball game at McCombs Field, Sunday, April. 2, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

ON DECK: Here’s the full schedule for the Big 12 tournament (TV listings are with each game. All Texas games will air on 105.3)

Friday

Game 1: No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Fox College Sports)

Game 2: No. 4 Texas vs. No. 6 Texas Tech, 11 a.m.

Game 3: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Texas, 2 p.m. (Fox College Sports)

Game 4: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Iowa State, 2 p.m.

Game 5: No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 5 Iowa State, 5 p.m. (Fox College Sports)

Game 6: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Texas Tech, 7:30 p.m. (Fox College Sports)

Saturday
Game 7: Fifth place game, 11 a.m.  (Fox College Sports)

Game 8: Third-place game, 1:30 p.m. (Fox College Sports)

Game 9: Championship, 4:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 2)

AROUND THE HORNS: Here’s a quick look at story lines involving the Big 12, state schools,  the Longhorns and their opponents:

  • Taylor Ellsworth joins three teammates on All-Big 12 team: Texas landed only one player on the All-Big 12 first team and she began the school year at Georgetown High School. Freshman Taylor Ellsworth was given the nod by conference coaches while seniors Tiarra Davis and Devon Tunning were picked to the second team. Ellsworth and fellow freshman Kaitlyn Washington were selected to the All-Big 12 freshman team.
  • Randi Rupp selected as Sun Belt pitcher of the year: The junior from Mont Belvieu was given the nod by Sun Belt coaches, leading a duo of Bobcats on the All-Sun Belt softball team. Rupp (1.08 ERA, 297 Ks, 10 shutouts) was also named to the first team, along with senior Ariel Ortiz, also a junior. Rupp and Ortiz hope to lead Texas State to the Sun Belt tournament championship  this weekend.

That’s all the dust for this week. Check back on Hookem.com Sunday to see if and where Texas lands in the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. The selection show is scheduled to begin a 9 p.m. Sunday and will be televised on ESPN2.

As always, swing for the fences.

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