SB : SU hopes to build on last year’s experience, win 1st NCAA tournament game

first_img[email protected] Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ The Syracuse softball team was frustrated after less than an inning.Ace pitcher Jenna Caira had been pulled by head coach Leigh Ross after four illegal pitches in the first inning of SU’s opening game of the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma a year ago. It left the Orange with a huge hole to fill.But after fighting with the umpires over identical illegal pitch calls against Caira throughout the Big East tournament a week earlier, Ross was tired of arguing.‘We just couldn’t fight that anymore,’ Ross said in a phone interview. ‘I think we all felt kind of disheartened, you know, that that was how we were going to have to play our game, without our No. 1 pitcher.’One year later, Caira has fixed the problem and is hoping to lead the Orange to a better showing than it had a season ago. Syracuse has transformed from inexperienced underdogs to battle-tested contenders going into the 2011 NCAA tournament.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSU (44-11, 15-5 Big East) will take on Louisiana State (38-16, 19-9 SEC) in the NCAA College Station Regional at 5 p.m. Friday in College Station, Texas. The host, No. 16 seed Texas A&M (41-13, 13-5 Big 12), will face Sacred Heart (29-19, 14-6 NEC) in the other regional matchup.For Syracuse, it is the second straight year it will compete in the double-elimination tournament. The Orange was quickly eliminated after losing its first two games to No. 14 Oklahoma and Maryland in regional play last year in College Park, Md. Ross said the experience was ‘a little bit of a shell shock’ for her young team.Stephanie Watts said the team wasn’t expecting to win anything last year at the College Park Regional. The Orange was just excited to be a part of the tournament. But now with all nine starters from that team back SU knows what to expect, and last year’s experience has better prepared the team to earn its first NCAA tournament win in program history.Watts says the focus is on winning games the second time around.‘This year obviously we’re really excited, and we’re ready to actually compete rather than just be excited for just being there,’ Watts said. ‘We’re ready to win.’Before SU’s first tournament to start this season in February, Ross said the team’s goal was to advance to super regionals. To do that, the Orange has to win the regional. And the team has been preparing to face top-level competition all season.SU compiled a 10-6 record against 10 teams that are members of the 2011 NCAA tournament field. Among its opponents were No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Florida. Though the Orange didn’t beat either Southeastern Conference power, Lisaira Daniels said it was a valuable experience.Daniels, who played at Georgia her freshman season and is currently an outfielder for Syracuse, said the SEC is a tough conference filled with great all-around teams. And Daniels said Louisiana State fits that description.But Daniels is far from intimidated by the Tigers. She points to Louisiana State’s similar RPI rankings to prove it is an even matchup. Louisiana State is No. 25 in the NCAA Women’s Softball RPI rankings. Syracuse is ranked just one spot lower at No. 26.‘They’re not too far ahead of us,’ Daniels said. ‘It’s not like we’re playing an eighth-ranked team. They’re actually right there neck-and-neck with us.’The same wasn’t true a year ago when the Orange played then-No. 16 Louisiana State twice at the Purple and Gold Challenge in Baton Rouge, La. and lost two games by a combined 15 runs.Both teams are different now, though. Ross said she isn’t worried about how SU matches up with Louisiana State. She just wants her team to continue playing with the same confidence driving its current 14-game winning streak.And that requires pitching and defense. Ross said low-scoring affairs are expected in the playoffs and blowouts are rare among a field of quality teams.Ross thinks her team has the right combination to compete. The Orange needs to play defense, score some runs and leave the rest to Caira in the circle.And after facing just four batters at the regional last year, Caira will get her chance to compete this time.‘Now that she’s corrected what (the umpires) needed her to correct,’ Ross said, ‘hopefully, we’ll have no issues with that. And we’re going in there with the attitude of, ‘Let’s beat LSU right off the bat, and let’s make some noise at regionals this time.” Published on May 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Ryne: [email protected]last_img

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