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AUX Softball: Top players clash in new two-week competition

Aleshia Ocasio returns for AUX after winning the AU Softball title last year. (Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Anyone looking to maintain their softball fix need look no further than AUX Softball, a condensed, three-series season that starts June 13.

On the heels of the Women’s College World Series, the new Athletes Unlimited softball tournament features some of the biggest names in softball. A total of 42 players have signed on for the season, including 2021 Athletes Unlimited champion Aleshia Ocasio.

What is it?

AUX is a new, two-week competition taking place June 13-26 in San Diego, Calif.

How does the points system work?

The rankings work the same way as in regular Athletes Unlimited seasons. Players will accumulate points for offensive and defensive plays as well as team wins. The players at the top of the leaderboard after each three-team, six-game series will then draft new teams. The leader at the end of the three series will be crowned champion.

Who is playing?

The most notable name on the roster, Aleshia Ocasio made a splash in her second AU season, winning the title with 2,096 points – nearly 400 more than the next closest player – and improving on her 11th-place finish from the year before.

The pitcher racked up 784 points on 196 total outs and allowed only 18 runs in a league-high 13 games pitched. Across 66 innings, Ocasio recorded 55 strikeouts and four complete games en route to a 2.32 ERA. With eight MVP honors on the season, she finished just one behind the record set by 2020 champion Cat Osterman.

Amanda Chidester, the runner-up in 2021, and Carrie Eberle, who placed fourth, are also heading to San Diego for AUX, and will serve as team captains for the first series alongside Ocasio.

In her second AU season, Chidester increased her points total from 1,030 (good for 32nd place in 2021) to 1,714. Eberle was named 2021 Rookie of the Year, thriving at the pro level after a successful college career at Oklahoma State.

Of the 13 college athletes drafted by Athletes Unlimited in early May, just three will participate in AUX: Maggie Balint, Georgina Corrick and Danielle Gibson.

Corrick, a pitcher out of South Florida, led the Bulls to the first round of the NCAA tournament this year and was named a finalist for USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year award, won by Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo. With a 28-5 record this season, Corrick had the most wins of any pitcher in the NCAA. She also set the program record — and led the country — with 20 shutouts while managing an impressive 0.53 ERA.

Balint, fresh off of her senior season at San Diego State, is also poised to be a threat in the circle. She began her freshman year at Oregon, where she was named to the Pac-12 all-freshman team and Pac-12 first team and was a finalist for NFCA National Freshman of the Year and USA Softball Player of the Year awards. This past season was Balint’s best with the Aztecs. In 41 appearances and 185 innings pitched, she went 18-6 with a 2.12 ERA.

Gibson, one of four finalists for the 2022 Honda Sport Award for softball, brings experience in the infield and at the plate. At Arkansas this season, she drove in 70 runs while posting a .445 batting average. The first-team NFCA All-American led the Razorbacks to the Super Regionals of the NCAA softball tournament, where they lost to eventual WCWS runner-up Texas.

When is it, and how do I watch?

As part of a recent broadcasting deal with ESPN, all AUX games will be aired on ESPN’s family of networks.

Series 1

Monday, June 13

  • Game 1 @ 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  • Game 2 @ 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Tuesday, June 14

  • Game 3 @ 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  • Game 4 @ 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Wednesday, June 15

  • Game 5 @ 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2
  • Game 6 @ 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Series 2

Saturday, June 18

  • Game 7 @ 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  • Game 8 @ 6:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Sunday, June 19

  • Game 9 @ 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  • Game 10 @ 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Monday, June 20

  • Game 11 @ 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
  • Game 12 @ 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Series 3

  • Thursday, June 23
    • Game 13 @ 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU
    • Game 14 @ 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  •  Friday, June 24
    • Game 15 @ 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU
    • Game 16 @ 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  •  Saturday, June 25
    • Game 17 @ 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU
    • Game 18 @ 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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