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Texas A&M won't look past Cinderella Penn in regional opener - Aggie Sports: Softball

Texas A&M won't look past Cinderella Penn in regional opener

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Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:56 am, Fri May 17, 2013.

Maybe, just maybe the Texas A&M softball team was caught looking ahead last year when unranked LSU came to the College Station Regional and beat the Aggies twice.

The 13th-ranked Aggies can't afford to look ahead at this year's CS Regional, even if they wanted to. By getting the 16th and final national seed, A&M is in the toughest of the 16 regionals.

The three-day, four-team, double-elimination tournament will open at 4:30 p.m. Friday with 23rd-ranked Baylor facing Arizona. Both teams have been to the Women's College World Series since A&M's last trip in 2008.

The Aggies will play Pennsylvania at 7 p.m. Only two of the other regionals have a No. 4 seed with a higher RPI (ratings percentage index) than Penn, which is making its first trip to the NCAA tournament.

"We know that they're a team that's got nothing to lose," A&M coach Jo Evans said. "They're calling themselves the Cinderella team, and they know that this would be a huge upset for them to come here and win. It's our job to make sure that doesn't happen."

A&M also isn't thinking about avenging last year's losses to LSU.

"That's the furthest thing from our minds," A&M senior catcher Meagan May said. "We know that this is a completely different team than we had last year, a completely different dynamic, and we're just really looking forward to now. We're not concentrating on the past."

That also includes the immediate past as the Aggies were 10-13 in their maiden season in the Southeastern Conference. That was the ninth-best record in the conference and A&M lost in the first round of the SEC tournament, 10-9 to defending national champ Alabama. But that tough schedule allowed A&M to be one of seven SEC teams hosting this weekend.

"We've had intense competition all year," May said. "That's going to be a great thing for us going into the postseason."

A concern for A&M heading into the tournament is senior pitcher Mel Dumezich, who has been hampered by a strained rotator cuff. The two-time All-American was only 8-6 in SEC play with a 3.52 earned run average, but she ended the regular season with a pair of complete-game victories over Mississippi State before giving up 10 hits to Alabama, four of them for extra bases.

"There's no doubt in my mind who needs to be on the mound and who needs to take us to the College World Series," Evans said. "Mel is in a position to do that right now. I think as far as pain tolerance with her injuries, she's doing well in that area. My concern would be how many games will she have to pitch. It's important for us to stay in the winners' bracket. But I know that kid, and I know that she'll pitch as many innings and as many games as she has to."

Penn's chances for knocking off Dumezich and A&M start in the circle with sophomore Alexis Borden, 17-10, but the Quakers start five seniors, more than any of the other three teams. They're part of a seven-member class that got the program over the hump.

"You can't substitute for experience and leadership," Penn coach Leslie King said. "They were single-minded on winning an Ivy League championship, and they came through."

King said the intense competition in the Ivy League, which is 12-38 in NCAA tourney play and had Princeton make back-to-back trips to the WCWS in 1995 and '96, has prepared the Quakers well.

"Someone's got to be the Cinderella, why not us?" King said. "We're just focusing on playing our game, having a good time, staying relaxed. We don't have the pressure on us that some of the other teams may have."

The Arizona-Baylor game will have a tough time living up to last year's regional opener where LSU eked out a 1-0 walk-off victory over Texas State that jump-started the Lady Tigers to the WCWS.

The tradition-rich Wildcats and Lady Bears have players who made it to the World Series, Arizona's last appearance was in 2010 and Baylor was there in 2011.

"I think we're playing our best ball right now," Baylor coach Glenn Moore said. "Somebody's got to win this thing, so who better than us is the way we're looking at it."

Arizona started the season 5-10, which had them unranked for the first time since the early 1990s, but ended the regular season by winning two of three games against No. 3 Arizona State and also No. 13 Stanford.

"This is a young team. I knew going in that we were going to go through some ups and downs," Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. "I didn't realize that we would have such a difficult time putting all aspects of the game together.

"We gave away a lot of games in the latter innings and it became a mental struggle more than anything. I think of recent, we've put more of a game together, therefore we've had more success."

Friday's games were moved back two hours by ESPN.

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