OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Women's College World Series will look a lot like the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Five of the eight teams — Florida, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee — are from the SEC. All four of the second group of coaches that spoke to the media on Wednesday were from the league. As one reporter said, "Welcome to SEC Media Day."
"It's so exciting to be sitting up on this panel right now with all SEC coaches," LSU coach Beth Torina said. "We're just honored to be part of the league."
Defending champion Florida is the No. 1 seed, but the Gators open Thursday against No. 8 seed Tennessee, which beat them during the SEC tournament. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said the competition in SEC softball has become similar to what exists in other SEC sports.
"You can see how many, either coaching changes, facility changes, upgrades — it's just like any sport in the SEC now," he said. "You know if somebody wins in football, somebody else is going to try to win the next year. And I think it's evolved to the sport of softball. I think it's a very good thing."
In other opening-day matchups Thursday, No. 2 Oregon faces No. 7 UCLA, No. 3 Michigan battles No. 6 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn takes on No. 5 LSU. Here are some things to watch as the double-elimination tournament begins at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium:
FAN SUPPORT: Oklahoma had reached the tournament four consecutive years before being eliminated by Alabama in this year's super regionals. Murphy said he hopes the local fans still cheer for his team.
"I apologize to the Sooner fans because it was just a hell of a super regional with OU, and we're just glad to get out of that," he said.
Murphy expects the fans to show up and be active, as usual.
"They're great," he said. "It's very knowledgeable fans here. That's what's so cool about it. Everybody knows a good play, a good player, when a big time is in the game. And the crowd is just awesome here."
FAMILIAR FOES: Pac-12 rivals UCLA and Oregon will meet Thursday for the fourth time this season. Oregon won two of three in their series this season in Los Angeles.
"Both of us were striving for that Pac-12 Championship," UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "We had a decisive win, they had a decisive win, and that middle game could have gone either way."
Oregon coach Mike White said he expects Thursday's game to resemble the middle game of their regular-season series, a 6-4 win for his Ducks.
"It's going to be a knock-down, drag-out game," White said.
NEW BLOOD: Auburn is in the Women's College World Series for the first time.
"This is our first time, so it's kind of special," coach Clint Myers said. "Our kids are really excited about having the opportunity."
Myers said getting his players focused on actually playing will be a challenge.
"We're trying to prepare them the best we can that it's a softball game," he said. "It's a different venue. It's going to be in front of thousands and thousands of fans. And it's one of those things that — you just have to go out and play the game, because if you get caught up in the peripheral stuff, it takes you out of the things like being prepared."
BALANCED FIELD: All eight seeded teams made the field for the first time since 2006.
"I truly think that it is the best eight teams at this moment right now," Tennessee co-coach Ralph Weekly said.
Because the field is so strong, mistakes will be magnified.
"I think once you get to this point, every game is tough," Torina said. "It takes not just a talented team, it takes a team that's got a lot of different weapons, a lot of things going for them, but it takes some luck and breaks, too. Every game will be a battle."
REPRESENTING THE NORTH: Michigan is the only school in this year's field that isn't in the SEC or Pac-12, two of the sport's traditional hotbeds. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins knows she fights an uphill battle against warm-weather programs. She hopes that helps Oklahoma's fans embrace her team.
"I don't know who the underdog and who the Cinderellas are," she said. "In my case, I always feel like we're the underdog. So they can cheer for us."
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .
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Posted on Thu, May 28, 2015
by CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer