Despite rule changes to add more offense, softball is still about good pitching and timely hitting.
Texas A&M batted a nation-best .336 last year en route to a record-setting 47-10 season, which including its first Big 12 Conference championship.
The Aggies had a pair of .400 hitters in freshmen Amanda Scarborough and Megan Gibson, along with five other .300 hitters.
This year, the Aggies are hitting only .257 with only two .300 hitters. Still, the Aggies (26-10, 5-1) are co-leaders in the Big 12 with Texas heading into a weekend series with Oklahoma.
Scarborough and Gibson are again leading the Aggies, but more so as pitchers. Scarborough will fall short of last year's remarkable 26-win season, but she's a solid 11-5 with a 2.33 earned run average. Scarborough is coming off her best game of the season, a 4-2 two-hit victory at top-ranked Texas. Gibson (13-3, 2.30 ERA) has already matched last year's win total with three less losses and she's allowed a run less a game. She's also beaten a No. 1-ranked team (Arizona, 1-0).
Pitching has helped A&M win 13 of its last 15 games, as the Aggies have scored more than five runs just four times.
Gibson also still leads the team in hitting at .317, while Scarborough has climbed from .214 after 10 games to .277.
"When the season started out, I told Amanda and Megan, that they could hit the ball better than they did last year and not show it in the stats," said assistant coach Rich Wieligman, who is the team's hitting instructor. "Everyone wants to look at stats, but there's so many variables in this game. [Like] who's hitting in front of you? Who's on base in front of you? Who do they want to pitch to? Who do they want not to pitch to?"
A&M's batting order has drastically changed, even though the Aggies returned seven starters.
The Aggies graduated a dangerous No. 3 hitter in Jana James (.357 BA, 4 HRs, 42 RBIs), and shortstop Adrian Gregory (.287 BA, 9 HRs, 36 RBIs), who batted throughout the lineup. A&M also lost power when first baseman/ designated player Lindsay Park (.328 BA, 5 HRs, 23 RBIs) was slow to recover from knee surgery and took a medical redshirt.
A&M's incoming freshman starters - left fielder Ronda Smith (.222 BA, 2 HRs, 16 RBIs), shortstop Holly Ridley (.231 BA, 3 HRs, 12 RBIs) and catcher Patti Wunderlich (.226 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBIs) - have struggled batting.
Speedy center fielder Sharonda McDonald, who batted leadoff her first two seasons, is coming off knee surgery.
All that has added up to less offense.
A&M, which averages four runs per game, has been shut out seven times. The Aggies, who averaged six runs per game last year, were shutout twice, against Texas' Cat Osterman and Ole Miss' M.J. Callahan.
But it's not all about hitting.
Oklahoma, which batted .320 a year ago, is leading the Big 12 this year at .322, but the Sooners (25-13-1, 2-5) are in eighth place, having lost a doubleheader to Missouri at home and been swept at Nebraska.
OU's pitching staff has an ERA of 3.29, which is eighth in the league. Opponents are batting .272. The Sooners have allowed more than five runs in 10 games.
NOTES - Changes in the last two decades to add offense included moving the pitching distance back and doing away with a mound, moving the fences closer, playing with a livelier ball and changing its color from white to yellow, and making the bats better. A&M beat OU, 7-6, earlier this year in bracket play at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. Gibson was the winning pitcher with Lisa Gorzycki getting a save. OU had 12 hits and stranded 11 runners. A&M and OU split a two-game series in Norman, Okla., last year, then OU eliminated the Aggies at the Big 12 Tournament. A&M swept the Sooners at the Aggie Softball Complex two years ago, 1-0 and 5-4. OU has the Big 12's top hitters in Kristin Vesely (.492 BA, 3 HRs, 37 RBIs) and Norrelle Dickson (.477 BA, 18 RBIs, 16 SBs). OU's top pitchers are D.J. Mathis (9-3, 2.16 ERA), Morgan Hudsonpillar (4-4, 2.90 ERA), Nicole Denes (6-3, 4.20 ERA) and Stacy Braddock (4-3, 4.34 ERA).