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A Grip on Sports: The Pac-12 begins its annual quest for the big trophy in a sport it dominates – softball

The UCLA team poses for photos after defeating Oklahoma in the NCAA softball Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. UCLA won 5-4 in Game 2, taking both games in the best-of-three series. (Alonzo Adams / Associated Press)
The UCLA team poses for photos after defeating Oklahoma in the NCAA softball Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. UCLA won 5-4 in Game 2, taking both games in the best-of-three series. (Alonzo Adams / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The Pac-12 Conference is known for being great at a lot of sports not named football or basketball. From golf to volleyball, its members still dominate when the national championships come around. But there is one sport among the women that the conference is best at. Fastpitch softball.

•••••••

• We bring this up on a fine Monday morning mainly due to what happened Sunday. The NCAA announced its 64-team field for the 2022 championship. Seven of the 64 play in the Pac-12.

Big deal, you say? Well, don’t forget only nine Pac-12 schools play softball. Washington State, Colorado and, for some weird reason, USC do not. Seventy-eight percent of the conference’s team made the postseason. If that happened in basketball, nine teams would be participating in the madness. That’s not going to happen, ever.

But in softball, Utah is upset it missed. Same with California. Despite playing in a conference that has won 24 national titles since 1982, and despite finishing with an overall record of .500 or better, those two were left out. Well, maybe next year.

The Pac-12 is best in tennis. The conference has won 24 women’s team titles – thanks Stanford – and an amazing 53 men’s. It is also dominant in volleyball, water polo, golf, swimming, you know, what they like to call the Olympic sports.

It’s softball, however, we enjoy. And a sport we know a little about, having been inducted into the Inland Empire Softball Hall of Fame in 2019 based on a couple decades playing fastpitch in the area.

It’s also a sport we wished was played at the collegiate level in the area, but isn’t. None of the local colleges have fastpitch programs, not even WSU. If the Cougars weren’t going to add the sport back when Jim Sterk was the athletic director, they probably never will.

Not only did Sterk have daughters who played, it’s a little-known fact he played fastpitch as an adult. How do we know? We actually played against him in an early 1990s regional when he was an assistant AD at Seattle Pacific.

When it comes to softball, it’s a small world.

Too small. The Cougars, the Buffs and especially the Trojans, should play fastpitch. How can USC, which considers itself one of the better athletic institutions in the nation, not play the sport? We can understand WSU and Colorado. One is bereft of funds, the other resides in a place where there may be snow on the ground in April. But USC?

The Trojans are awash in money. And the school is located on Southern California, where there are so many softball players around you can’t drive a mile this time of year without seeing a game going on. Heck, one year Tennessee played in the NCAA title game with a lineup that included eight players from California or Arizona. The Trojans could find players.

But back to this year. And the schools that are playing.

The Pac-12 may not win the national title this season. Defending champion Oklahoma, a softball power of the first order for the past decade, is top-seeded again. The Sooners have lost just twice all season. Then there are two ACC schools (Florida State and Virginia Tech) and an SEC school (Arkansas) before we find the top Pac-12 seed (UCLA). But don’t be surprised if the Bruins win another title. Or if Arizona State powers its way through the field. Or Washington gets hot.

Never bet against the Pac-12 in fastpitch.

•••

WSU: Around the Pac-12 and college football, why did Bru McCoy leave USC? … The seven teams in the NCAA softball field: Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona. … The Oregon men and women both clinched Pac-12 track titles yesterday.

EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, Weber State is the conference’s representative in the NCAA softball tournament.

Preps: We touched on a sport above in which Spokane women win college scholarships. That happens less often in gymnastics, though Charlotte McKinley has a story today about a Central Valley High gymnast, Rylin Zimmerman, who has earned one. … No roundup but Dave Nichols has a look at some upcoming playoffs.

Indians: Another game in Hillsboro, another loss for Spokane.

Mariners: Julio Rodriguez is coming into his own folks. He had four hits yesterday, including a home run, as the M’s won a series against the Mets with a hang-on 8-7 victory. It was the first series New York has lost this season and the first the M’s won on the road. … Two Seattle players won’t be able to play in Toronto because they are not vaccinated.

Sounders: Despite all the early season success, Seattle hasn’t been all that good in MLS play. That changed Sunday with a 3-1 win over Minnesota.

•••       

• Yes, we decided to write this morning. We woke up early and said “what the heck.” It’s a big week ahead. We always write that when a golf major is on tap. The finish of yesterday’s tournament certainly didn’t look anything like a major. Until later …

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