The series has been set - the Oklahoma Sooners and the Tennessee Lady Vols will face off with a national championship on the line. It's a best-of-three series, with games for sure taking place tonight and Tuesday evening, with a potential Game 3 happening Wednesday.
Today, in anticipation of the start of this series, we're going to compare each team position by position and see who comes out ahead.
Oklahoma - OU boasts senior Jessica Shults behind the plate. A four-year starter for the Sooners, Shults is a vocal and emotional team leader. She's terrific defensively, and, although her offensive numbers are down this season, she's still more than capable of coming up with an extra-base hit or a clutch hit when needed.
Tennessee - Hannah Akamine is the #1 backstop for the Lady Vols. A sophomore, this is her first year starting for the club. Also strong defensively and already a solid backstop for the Tennessee squad, her offensive number are not too far from those of Shults. She clubbed three home runs on the season, including a solo shot against Bama in the Supers.
Oklahoma - Lauren Chamberlain. Any and every softball fan knows the name, and what she can do with the bat in her hands. Chamberlain is without a doubt one of the best sluggers to ever play the game, and I have to wonder if the Lady Vols will even give her anything to hit at any point in the series. But even on base, Chamberlain can kill you, with a 14-15 stolen base mark on the year.
Tennessee - The Lady Vols have a bit of a revolving door at first base, with sophomore Cheyanne Tarango, senior Melissa Brown, and junior Melissa Davin all getting starts at the position this season. Recently, due to a Davin hand injury, Tarango has regularly started at 1B, while Brown takes over in left field for Davin. Tarango is the classic slugger, although not to Chamberlain's level. She hit nearly .300, and tied for second on the team with 10 home runs.
Oklahoma - Aussie Georgia Casey handles the second-sack duties for OU. She's also #2 in the batting order, following Chamberlain. Although she hit well on the season, she's been slacking a bit in the WCWS. With all of the walks (probably mostly intentional) that are sure to come to Chamberlain, Casey needs to pick up the pace offensively. Nobody wants to have a "sure out" in the lineup just ahead of the heart of the order. Defensively, a .950 fielding percentage also definitely leaves some room for improvement.
Tennessee - Lauren Gibson, who mans the 2B position for the Lady Vols, is arguably the best second baseman presently playing the game, at any level. The SEC Player of the Year, starting second baseman for Team USA, and first-team All-American, Gibson was a top 10 finalist for National Player of the Year, and I thought she would make the top three for sure. A career .364 hitter, "Gibby"'s season average of .414 isn't even her career highest! She hit nineteen home runs and drove in sixty-eight runs on the year.
Oklahoma - Prior to this season, Shelby Pendley transferred from Arizona to OU and was immediately inserted into the starting third base slot. She put up even better-than-expected statistical numbers, hitting 22 homers and batting .374 en route to Big 12 Player of the Year honors. In the WCWS, however, she has struggled both at the plate and in the field. She is 1-9 with a walk and five strikeouts thus far in the World Series. She's also recorded two field errors in OKC, and while she made some smart decisions (such as letting a would-be base hit roll foul), she seems to overall be severely struggling.
Tennesseee - Pendley's counterpart at the hot corner actually was a top 3 finalist for National Player of the Year. Raven Chavanne has been the lightning bolt at the top of Tennessee's lineup since her first day on Rocky Top. Her current 2013 batting average of .455 is in a three-way tie for her career high. In other words, if the season were over, this would be the third time in her career that she ended the season with a .455 average. BUT the season is not yet over, and that number could still rise! Despite being a terrific slapper, Chavanne also had seven home runs this season.
Oklahoma - Jessica Vest holds down the shortstop position for the Sooners. She is on the team solely for her defense and her speed, as she had only twenty-seven at-bats despite starting 39 games. She was successful in 60% of her stolen base attempts, and despite a .940 season fielding percentage, has not made a defensive miscue in the postseason.
Tennessee - Another first-team All-American completes the infield for Tennessee. Junior Madison Shipman , the tallest Lady Vol at 6'1", was the third-best hitter on the Lady Vols this season, behind only Chavanne and Gibson. Also named to the all-SEC first team, Shipman tied for second on the team in home runs (10); RBI (60); total bases (125); and slugging percentage (.616).
Oklahoma - Oklahoma's outfield consists of Brianna Turang, Destinee Martinez, and Callie Parsons from left to right. Turang is by far the fastest and most dangerous of the three; ESPN clocked her time around the bases on the bunt-that-turned-into-three-runs-after-an-error in the game vs. Texas, and it took her exactly 10.6 seconds to go from home to home. She also proved she can the ball hard and far against Washington, when, from the slapper's position, she hit a ball over the head of the left fielder. Martinez is another slapper; although she didn't reach the level that Turang did this season, her .348 batting average was certainly very respectable. Parsons was a role player in 2012, appearing in fifty-one games but starting none. She has held down right field all postseason for the Sooners, and has done a respectable job. She's hitting .288 on the year with just two extra base hits.
Tennessee - Tennessee boasts Melissa Brown, Tory Lewis, and Kat Dotson in their outfield (left-right). Brown carried the lowest batting average of Tennessee's starters, still a fairly respectable .262. She had eleven extra base hits, including just one home run, and drove in thirty-eight runs. Lewis is the "leadoff" hitter at the bottom of the lineup, in the lineup for her speed and defense. She came up super-clutch in the Lady Vols' win over Washington on Saturday, driving in the only run of the ballgame in the bottom of the seventh. Dotson is the star of the UT outfield, an All-SEC first teamer and one of the best hitters on the team. Although her offensive numbers are down across the board from previous seasons, she still hit .337 and slugged .547 on the year. Her most impressive stat, however, might be on the other side of the ball, as she carries a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage into the championship series.
Oklahoma - Oklahoma has used Brittany Williams at DP almost the entire postseason, and there is no sign she will relinquish the position during this series. Williams hit .349 on the year, registering eighteen extra base hits in 126 at-bats. She carried a .603 slugging percentage and .491 OBP, in addition.
Tennessee - Tennessee will probably use Melissa Davin in this slot for the Series. Although she's coming back from a hand injury, she's also one of their most dynamic and "streaky" (When she's hot, she's HOT) hitters. Prior to the injury, she was hitting .292 with five home runs and a .482 slugging percentage. But the question still remains as to how far she's come in recovery from her surgery.
When I began to write this article, I knew the pitching comparison would be hard, but I was surprised with just how much difficulty I was having giving one or the other team the advantage. It would seem that OU far outweighs the Lady Vols in this department more than any, but it was not my long-held Lady Vol fandom that was causing me to hesitate. So I reached out for help, from one of the best in the business at this sort of thing, Amanda Scarborough. I asked a simple question. Whose pitching staff is better? And her response ended my dilemma and said it better than I could have: