As the end of the regular season approaches, some of the biggest matchups of the year are on the horizon. With two of the top three softball schools playing each other both this weekend and next, the top spots are open for the taking.
This is how the Pac-12 looks coming into the end of the regular season.
1.Oregon (44-5, 17-1 Pac-12)
When you’ve got it, you know it, and the Ducks know it. They have been almost perfect excluding one hiccup against UCLA, and are nationally recognized as the top team. They have swept their last three series against Stanford, Cal and Oregon State, but it’s not too late to knock them out of first with two teams coming that are hungry for wins in ASU and UA. Oregon will be looking for a sweep against ASU to keep pressure off their first place spot.
2.UCLA (44-4, 15-3 Pac-12)
The Bruins are sitting pretty as they take on a Cardinal team that should make for a painless series, while the other two of the top three teams battle it out to determine the rankings. A series sweep against Stanford is a reasonable expectation and could be invaluable in jumping into first if ASU is able to pull one out from under Oregon. The real battle comes in the final week of the regular season against an ASU team looking to rise in the final weeks.
3.ASU (42-7, 13-4 Pac-12)
The Sun Devils have saved the best for last and take on the top-two ranked teams in a row to end their regular season. They are coming off a week away from the conference with a sweep against Southern Mississippi but have their biggest mountain to climb this week against first-place Oregon. The top rankings teeter on the next two weekends for ASU, with time to jump to first or slide away from top contention.
4.UA (39-9, 12-6 Pac-12)
It’s difficult to exaggerate the power the Wildcats have in their lineup. The Wildcats hit 22 home runs in a five-game win streak, including a sweep against Cal to keep a perfect 27-0 record at home. It’s not too late for the Wildcats to make big moves into top tier contention, but they’ll have to take the ferocity they play with at home out to Washington if they want to stay close to ASU.
5.Washington (28-12, 8-8 Pac-12)
Don’t let the record fool you; the Huskies are not out of the running yet. The Huskies took early losses against No. 2 UCLA and No. 1 Oregon but have bounced back and won five of their last six, including a spilt doubleheader against ASU. They put up 27 runs in their three-game series sweep against Oregon State and have the home field advantage in what will be a battle of the bats against the Wildcats.
6.Utah (23-24, 5-15 Pac-12)
The Utes are coming off a three-game series loss against UA but can still take their final conference series against Cal this weekend at home. They have been knocked around in Pac-12 play, but it’s not too late to fend off Cal to keep their rank and end their conference games respectably.
7.Cal (23-23, 4-12 Pac-12)
The Golden Bears have had it rough after facing the top four teams in a row but could use wins from an easier Utah series to try and propel themselves for a late-season burst. If Cal can get wins at Utah and have a successful series home against Washington, it can jump past a Utes team that ends a week earlier.
8.Stanford (27-21, 3-15 Pac-12)
The season started so promisingly, but once the Cardinal entered conference time, they crumbled. They haven’t won a single conference series and that may continue on the road against a UCLA team that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. There is still a chance for redemption for Cardinal with the bottom two teams dueling it out on their home turf to finish off a rough regular season.
9.Oregon State (13-29, 3-16)
Who would have thought it would look like this after winning the opening series against ASU? The Beavers haven’t been able to pull anything together in conference play and have lost nine straight. They step away from the conference until May 8, when they may be able to get their last conference series win against a Stanford team that has struggled in the Pac-12.
Reach the reporter at NKwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit