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Softball | General | 5/25/2022

D-I Softball Super Regional Preview

Jerry Miller     
Photo: Perfect Game
From an original Field of 64, the NCAA Division-I softball tournament is down to 16. A few of the traditionally talented programs like Oklahoma, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, and Florida all survived the opening round and advanced to the Super Regionals. There were some upsets though, and a couple of grounds crews in places like Palo Alto, California and Starkville, Mississippi had to scramble to get their fields ready for an unexpected series this coming weekend.
 
Gone from the tournament are programs that are fixtures in Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series. Last year’s runners up, Florida State, dropped the Tallahassee Regional to Mississippi State. Alabama, a club that never loses at home in the Regional round, dropped the Tuscaloosa Regional to a determined and well-coached Stanford Cardinal squad. Tradition-bound Arizona went on the road and took out Missouri in the Columbia Regional. The Texas Longhorns traveled to Seattle and while tested, defeated the home-standing Huskies from Washington to earn their ticket to the Super Regionals. Finally, Oregon State traveled to Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee and took out the Tennessee Vols.
 
The Big 12 Conference only had three teams make the postseason, yet after the first weekend of the playoffs, all three, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas are still playing. By contrast, the SEC had 12 teams in the original field and sees only conference champion Arkansas, traditional power Florida, and surprising Mississippi State still in the chase. The ACC is represented in the Super Regional round by Virgina Tech, Duke, and Clemson, while the Big Ten has but Northwestern still in the field. The American Athletic Conference has its champion, Central Florida, still in contention.
 
The conference that dominated the regional round, showing the depth and strength of its collective programs was the PAC-12. UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona, and Arizona State are still alive. Each of these programs has a legitimate shot of advancing to OKC.
 
Norman Super Regional
 
The road to the ASA Hall-of-Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, literally and figuratively, runs through Norman. The Oklahoma Sooners (52-2), the No. 1 ranked team in the country and the tournament’s No. 1 seed, had little trouble in dismantling the regional field last weekend at Marita Hynes Field. Patty Gasso’s dominant program was only tested once, taking a 3-2 win over Texas A&M in game two. The Sooners sent a loud message in the championship round, however, obliterating the Aggies 20-0 in the championship final.
 
The Sooners are built for this time of year. Led by consensus All-American Joycelyn Alo who is hitting .500 for the season, the OU offense is other-worldly. Jayde Coleman, Grace Lyons, and Rylie Boone are all hitting over. 400. The balance of the line-up is hitting .300+. Good luck to any pitching staff trying to navigate through that fearsome gauntlet.
 
Coach Gasso and the Sooners received great effort in the circle from Hope Trautwine (17-1) and Nicole May (14-0) in the regional round. OU, as if they need an added bonus, did receive promising news this week on the pitching front. Their staff, which has three arms that could front any rotation, should be back at full-strength for the Super Regionals as Coach Gasso and her gifted pitching coach, Jennifer Rocha, will welcome back freshman sensation, Jordy Bahl (21-1). Bahl, the Big 12 Co-Pitcher of the Year, and Freshman of the Year, has not toed the pitcher’s plate since early May. The 2021 Gatorade High School Player of the Year, Bahl, has been battling some arm fatigue, but appears ready to return this weekend to join Trautwine and May in forming the most dominant staff in the country.
 
The Golden Knights from the University of Central Florida (49-12) won the Orlando Regional last weekend. The 16th seeded UCF squad took out Villanova, 6-0, won a hard-fought 11-inning affair against Coach Carol Hutchins’ Michigan Wolverines, 3-2, in the second round and then topped UM again, 9-4, in the finals to earn their trip to the Super Regionals. Head Coach Cindy Ball-Malone’s Knights are led in the circle by one of the top pitching talents in the country In Giana Mancha (23-3). The senior right-hander out of Fresno, Calif. has pitched most of the big innings for UCF this year and will have to be at the top of her game to hold the vaunted OU line-up in check. Mancha is more than up to the task as she is widely regarded as one of the top hurlers in the country.
 
The Sooners and the Knights will play their best-of-three series at Marita Hynes Field on the OU campus in Norman beginning this Friday, May 27th at 3:30.
 
Tempe Super Regional
 
The Arizona State Sun Devils (42-9) will welcome the Northwestern Huskies (43-10) to Alberta B Farrington Stadium this Friday for Game 1 of the Tempe Super Regionals. First pitch is slated for 5:00 local time.
 
Coach Trish Ford’s Sun Devils have flown a little under the radar this spring in posting 42 wins. They out-slugged a couple of worthy opponents this past weekend in taking out Cal State – Fullerton, 5-2, and San Diego State 11-8 and 8-4. ASU’s potent offense is led by Cydney Sanders, Yannira Acuna, Alynah Torres, and Jazmine Hill. This Devils team can score in bunches and in a hurry. Like Oklahoma, Arizona State boasts a three-person pitching staff that could all lead most rotations in the country. Mac Morgan (17-3), Lindsey Lopez (12-3), and Marissa Schuld (10-2), give Coach Ford a number of options and the ability to mix and match looks for an opposing offense.
 
While playing at home at the friendly confines of Farrington Stadium, in the desert, in late May where the temps could be a factor, could give the Sun Devils a slight edge, the Northwestern Huskies are certain to come to the Grand Canyon State solely focused on winning two games, collecting a Super Regional trophy, and making the trip to OKC.
 
Northwestern can slug with any team in the country. The Big Ten’s regular season champions scored 36 runs in winning three games in the regionals to advance to this weekend’s Supers. The Huskies took out Oakland, 9-2 before taking down McNeese State 17-3 and 10-2. Co-coaches and sisters, Kate and Caryl Drohan have a fundamentally sound club that can beat any team in the field. Offensively, Jordyn Rudd, who is also the Huskies very capable catcher, leads an imposing group of hitters that includes, Rachel Lewis, Nikki Cuchran, Maeve Nelson and Skyer Shellmyer. In the circle, NW has been paced all season by the strong left arm of Danielle Williams (29-4). The senior southpaw out of Pleasanton, Calif. Is an accomplished hurler who works all quadrants and both edges of the plate with stuff that is at times unhittable.
 
Whichever team comes out of the desert with the Super Regional championship could very well be a dark horse favorite to win the WCWS. This series could unquestionably go down to the last inning of game three.
 
Westwood Super Regional
 
The Duke Blue Devils (44-9) will travel to sunny southern California to tangle with one of the most fabled programs in the history of collegiate fastpitch softball in the UCLA Bruins (46-8). Super Regional action is scheduled to begin this Friday at 8:00 PT at Easton Stadium on the UCLA campus.
 
Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez and her Bruins dominated regional play this past weekend, allowing only three runs in their three victories. The blue and gold clad UCLA squad took down Grand Canyon in five innings, 12-1, Loyola Marymount 7-1, and Ole Miss, 9-1, also in five innings. They only had to play 17 innings in total to win three games. That’s impressive.
 
UCLA is good anywhere they play. They are especially tough when playing at home where they have only dropped one game all year. They will run their two outstanding pitchers, Holly Azevedo (19-2) and Megan Faraimo (21-1) out to the circle this weekend in hopes of continuing their march to OKC and the WCWS.
 
As if the UCLA pitching wasn’t good enough to carry the club to victory, the Bruin offense is as good as any in the country. They score in bunches and can score in a hurry. They can string base hits together and play station-to-station and/or they can hit the ball out of the park. As a unit, they are aggressive and instinctive base runners that can and will take the extra base on inattentive defenses. Bottom-line, the UCLA offense can overwhelm any opponent.
 
There are many players who can carry the load for the Bruins attack, but Delanie Wisz, Briana Perez, and Savannah Pole, draw the most attention from the opposition and for obvious reasons. They all can strike the ball with force and are seemingly in the middle of every UCLA uprising.
 
Coach Inouye-Perez (UCLA, ’93) and her all-UCLA coaching staff of Lisa Fernandez (’95) the former Bruin standout all-American and current pitching coach, Kirk Warner (’88) a gifted third base coach and recruiter and the former very successful HC at Oregon State (1995-2012), and former big-leaguer, Don Slaught (’83) and his warehouse of knowledge, are collectively and arguably one of, if not the top coaching staffs in the country. The UCLA style of play allows the Bruins to compete with any club at any level and has made them a 12-time National Champion. The 2022 edition is more than capable of winning the whole thing again.
 
For UCLA to advance to OKC they must first dispose of a gifted, talented, and determined Duke University club that has all of the makings of a final eight squad. The Devils are more than capable of taking down UCLA in Westwood.
 
Duke won the Regional in Durham last weekend defeating three very solid programs to advance to the Super Regional round. The Blue Devils pitching staff threw two shutouts against UMBC and Liberty defeating both by the respective scores of 4-0 and 5-0. The Blue Devils then tangled with perineal power Georgia for the right to advance. The Bulldogs won the first game 5-3, forcing the “if” contest. Coach Marissa Young’s gritty squad scored often in the final contest and imposed their will on UGA, defeating the Bulldogs, 13-5. The Blue Devils certainly earned their berth to the next round.
 
Duke is led by two outstanding pitchers who wear the strike zone out. Peyton St. George (22-3) will likely get the nod in the first contest against UCLA. She is capably supported by Jala Wright (13-4) giving the Blue Devils two strong arms to lean on.
 
The opportunistic and steady Duke offense, which features four hitters with at least 10 home runs, is led by Kristina Foreman, Jameson Kavel, and Caroline Jacobson. The Devils, not unlike their Super Regional opponent UCLA, can score quickly and can string together crooked numbers on the board in a hurry.
 
This series could be a pitcher and defense dominated three games. Then again, both offenses are capable of taking down even the best pitching staffs. Of the eight Super Regionals, this best-of-three series could be the most fun to watch. Both teams are well-coached and play with an obvious joy for their teammates and the game.
 
Fayetteville Super Regional
 
BUCKLE UP! The Arkansas Razorbacks (47-9) will host the Texas Longhorns (41-18-1) at Bogle Park in Fayetteville in a series that will have all of the emotion and passion that can be expected when two old rivals get together. These two old Southwest Conference foes, and soon-to-be Southeastern Conference opponents, have a long and sometimes acrimonious athletics relationship that dates back to the 1800s. When these two schools get together, sparks are sure to fly.
 
The Razorbacks, led by Coach Courtney Deifel, are one of the top teams in the country. In her 7th year at the helm in Fayetteville, Coach Deifel has transformed the once moribund UA program to heights never before seen in The Hills. The 2003 Cal grad, a former all-American catcher for the Golden Bears, has brought the same excellence she had as a player and the leader of the 2002 National Championship University of California club, to the Razorbacks.
 
The 2022 edition of Arkansas softball can play with any team in the country and beat them all. They have overpowered every program in the SEC the past two years and are playing, perhaps their best ball of the season right now. UA took down Princeton, 11-0 in opening the regional tournament last weekend. They then defeated tradition-rich Oregon, 6-2 and 9-3 to advance to this week’s Super Regional. 
 
Like most great teams, the Hogs are strong in the circle. Mary Haff (20-4) and Chenise Delce (18-2) are as good a one-two tandem that the sport has. Combined with an almost air-tight Razorback defense, UA doesn’t give much hope to opposition offense.
 
The back-to-back SEC champs can also drive the ball. They are strong up and down a line-up that can score and score often. Danielle Gibson, Linnie Malkin, KB Sides, and Hannah Gammill are all capable of carrying the club. Collectively, they are a force. They, however, are just four players who can swing the bat for Arkansas. There are others, too, who can punish a softball. The Hogs starting nine are fearless and unquestionably impressive when they are at the plate.
 
Uber successful Head Coach Mike White and his Longhorns were unquestionably disappointed that they were by-passed for a national seed, which they felt they both earned and deserved. They were also undoubtedly upset that they were chosen to travel to Seattle last weekend to play their regional round. The Horns proved the doubters wrong, overcoming a long flight and a very strong Washington club that protects their home field with the best of them, to capture the Seattle regional and advance to the Supers this weekend.
 
A Wellington, New Zealand native, Coach White has a long, accomplished, and storied history in the sport. He was a renowned pitcher in his day, before becoming the highly successful head coach at Oregon (435-111). He brought his wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and experience to the 40-Acres in 2018 and neither he nor the Horns have looked back.
 
The 2022 Longhorns have an impressive resume that includes a win over top-ranked Oklahoma. Last weekend, Texas played perhaps their best softball of the season. They bested Weber State, 6-0 to open Regional play and then took down the home-standing Washington Huskies, 8-2, in a game that really wasn’t that close. In the first game of the regional championship, Texas was defeated by a late UW two-run dinger, 2-1, but found a way to win the finale, 3-2 behind great pitching and defense and just enough offense to get the job done. Playoff softball at its finest.
 
Texas runs two solid pitchers out to the circle who are both very capable of dominating a game. RHP, Hailey Dolcini (21-9) a senior from Ferndale, Calif. and LHP, Estelle Czech (11-1), a sophomore from Downers Grove, Ill. have certainly taken advantage of having a coach who is in seven – SEVEN – Halls of Fame for his pitching prowess and coaching ability.
 
All-American Janae Jefferson leads the Horns with the leather and at the plate. She gets a lot of help from Mia Scott and Mary Iakopo who are standouts in their own right.
 
This Texas team is playing, maybe rightfully, with a chip on their collective shoulders. They have proven they can play with the best the sport has to offer. They are also peaking at the right time.
 
The series in Fayetteville promises to be exciting and emotional from the first pitch to the last. Hogs will be called. Horns will be hooked. Razorback red and Longhorn burnt orange will be the colors seen around the Ozarks this weekend. Look for this highly anticipated series to be well-played and well-coached on both sides. This three-game set is why this sport is so captivating.
 
First pitch is scheduled for Thursday at 6:00 pm central. Get your popcorn and settle in. This one could be a doozy.
 
Blacksburg Super Regional
 
Tech Softball Park will play host to a match-up of two teams that have very similar make-ups. Virgina Tech (45-8) will see the Florida Gators (46-16) roll into town for the best-of-three Super Regionals. Game 1 is set for Tech Softball Park on Friday at 2:00 pm eastern.
 
These programs are almost mirror images of each other. The Hokies and the Gators both have deep and talented pitching staffs. Each plays defense at an elite level. Both can strike fear into opponents with their ability to hit the softball. Each is so very well-schooled in fundamental execution by two outstanding coaching staffs, that there is very little wiggle room for mistakes. Finally, both of these teams play with great confidence in their teammates and a healthy respect for their opponents. As most old school coaches and fans would say, “They play the game the right way”. This series will be fun to watch, especially for the softball purest. Expect the final scores to be close and the play to be almost spotless.
 
Head Coach Pete D’Amour, in his fourth year at Virginia Tech, has quietly built a juggernaut. The Maryland native and University of Missouri grad has surrounded himself with a great coaching staff. Each assistant is an excellent teacher of the game. They have recruited far and wide and brought to Blacksburg some of the very best talent in the country. VaTech is worthy of any and all accolades and are certainly capable of winning, not only the Super Regional, but the WCWS.
 
The Hokies were challenged a bit in the Regionals but prevailed. They took down St. Francis of PA, 4-0 to open Regional play. Kentucky then surprised Tech, 5-4 in the second game, forcing the Hokies into the elimination bracket. Virginia Tech survived a tough Miami (OH) squad, 5-4 in their first elimination game before dominating Kentucky, 9-2 in the first championship contest. In the regional final, Virginia Tech scored three in the bottom of the 5th to overcome a 3-2 deficit, and then held off a furious UK rally in the 7th for a 5-4 win.
 
Like all championship caliber clubs, Virginia Tech has two quality arms they can hand the ball to. Keely Rochard (25-3) and Emma Lemley (16-5) can match any pitching staff in the country. They can spin the ball and can pitch to both sides of the plate. Coupled with the Hokies impressive, and seemingly flawless defense, Virginia Tech doesn’t give opposition offenses much to work with.
 
Emma Ritter, Cameron Fagan, and Bre Peck lead a steady Virginia Tech offense that hardly ever looks overmatched. As a team, they appear to understand and control the strike zone, rarely chasing. They use the entire field and hit the ball from line to line. When on base, the Hokies force the action with an aggressive running game that creates havoc for defenders.
 
The University of Florida Gators, under the guidance of veteran skipper Tim Walton, now in his 17th year in Gainesville, didn’t invent high-level fundamental execution, but they may have perfected it. The 2014 and 2015 National Championship program is looking to return to Oklahoma City after missing out last year. Coach Walton and his staff appear to have the Gators playing at a very high level right now as they rolled through their regional last week, defeating Canisius, 10-1, Georgia Tech, 7-1, and Wisconsin, 11-0. The ”Walton” formula that is well-practiced at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium and something Gator fans are accustomed to…..score early and often, throw strikes, and play defense, is what the 2022 club practices continually. Look for more of the same this weekend as the Gators travel north.
 
UF will share the pitching load among three quality arms. RHP Elizabeth Hightower (17-7) a senior from Monticello, Fla., RHP Lexie Delbrey (15-3) a sophomore from Bainbridge, Geo., and RHP Natalie Lugo (9-5) a senior from West Covina, Calif. are individually and collectively capable of dominating an opponent from the circle.
 
The Gators’ batting order is deep and talented. There are not too many holes, if any, from one thru nine. Kendra Falby, Skylar Wallace, Cheyenne Lindsey, and Charla Echols lead a UF offense that averaged almost 10 runs a game in regional play last weekend. Expect those bats to remain hot this weekend.
 
The Blacksburg Regional could go to the team that capitalizes on one of the very few mistakes their opponent may make. There probably won’t be too many opportunities to score multiple runs, so crossing the plate with a single tally at any time will be at a premium. These games should be played with pace and attention to detail. A run or two, here or there, could be the difference as to which team advances.
 
Palo Alto Super Regional
 
According to the so-called “experts” who get paid to pontificate on various TV shows, radio broadcasts, and computer podcasts, the two teams meeting up at Boyd and Jill Smith Family Stadium this weekend were supposed to be cleaning out lockers and packing bags to go home following their elimination from post-season play. It is probably a good thing for both the Stanford Cardinal (39-20) and the Oregon State Beavers (37-20) that they ignored the noise from the talking heads that cover collegiate fastpitch. These two solid programs out of the PAC-12 went on the road for regional action and beat two highly favored and powerful SEC programs to advance to the Super Regionals.
 
Although this match-up pits two teams that are very familiar with each other, the stakes, besides bragging rights in, arguably, the best softball conference in the country, are much larger than a three-game set in late March.  These two fine clubs met up in Corvalis this spring and OSU took two of three. The Beavers won the first two games in their conference series by the scores of 1-0, and 4-1. The Cardinal took game three, 1-0 preventing an Oregon State sweep.
 
Needless to say, these two teams couldn’t be more even. Their loss totals are the same. Stanford won two more games. They are both on an emotional high having defeated two goliaths of the sport, on the road, to advance to the Super Regionals this weekend. The only advantage, and it may be moot anyway, is the home field enjoyed by Stanford. Oregon State, as evidenced by winning last week in a very hostile environment, is completely unafraid of taking their show on the road.
 
How did Stanford get here? All Head Coach Jessica Allister’s program did was to travel to Tuscaloosa, home of the vaunted Crimson Tide of Alabama and take down Pat Murphy’s behemoth program. In front of a Rhoads Stadium crowd that is anything but friendly to the opposition, especially in playoff action, the Cardinal rolled the Tide in impressive fashion. Stanford beat Murray State to open the playoffs, 3-1. Then, almost shockingly, beat ‘Bama, 6-0. It’s one thing to beat a Pat Murphy team in Tuscaloosa, it’s entirely different, to shut them out...in REGIONAL play.
 
The Tide made it back through the elimination bracket to play Stanford once again. In game one of the championship final the Alabama squad the public was expecting showed up and handed Stanford their first, and what would be, their only loss of the regional tournament, 4-0. The final contest, which Stanford softball fans will probably long remember, and something Coach Allister, who is a decorated former Cardinal player and Stanford alum, and her staff will certainly use on the recruiting trail, the Cardinal, overcame all odds and won…and won BIG!
 
Locked in a scoreless tie going into the last two innings of the contest, Stanford scored two in the 6th and four in the 7th to salt away quite possibly one of the biggest wins in program history. This resilient Stanford team shut out mighty Alabama, 6-0, for the second time in two days. As an even bigger bonus, the Cardinal soon found out that they would get to host the Super Regionals.
 
Pacing Coach Allister’s Cardinal club are two noticeably talented pitchers, Alana Vawter (25-12), a junior righty from Kansas City, Mo., and Regan Krause (11-4) a sophomore righthander from Pontiac. Ill. Both of these hurlers are strike throwers who can change speeds and eye-levels and don’t back away from the zone.
 
The opportunistic Cardinal offense is disciplined at the plate and forces the action. Collectively, they hit the ball to all parts of the field and are heady base runners, taking an extra bag on defenses who lack focus. Leading the Stanford efforts at the dish are Taylor Gindlesperger, Sydney Huff, and Emily Young.
 
Coach Laura Berg and her Oregon State club had a task that, many would say, was every bit the equal of the challenge that faced the Stanford program in regional play. OSU had to travel east, which is never easy on the biological clocks of folks who live out west, and play at the home of another traditional power, in the Tennessee Volunteers. Walking into Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville and winning is a tough task for any team, just ask any program in the SEC. Beating a Karen Weekly coached team in Knoxville in late May, is nearly impossible and highly improbable.
 
But that is just what the Oregon State Beavers did. Their trip to the regional championship was just a bit different than Stanford’s. After taking down Ohio State in the first game of regional action, 4-3, the Beavers dropped their second game to the home standing Vols, 3-0. That loss forced OSU into the elimination bracket where they met the Buckeyes again and defeated the Buckeyes…again….this time by a score of 5-1.
 
In the first game of the championship final, Oregon State handled the Vols with relative ease, defeating UT, 8-3, setting up the winner-take-all final. OSU broke open a scoreless tie late, putting three on the board in the bottom of the 6th. The Beavers then held off a furious 7th inning comeback attempt by the Volunteers, to take the championship, 3-1.
 
Coach Berg and her staff have the choice of three solid arms that they can run out to the circle. Mariah Mazon (16-11) has pitched a lot of high-leverage innings for OSU this spring. Sarah Haendiges (12-6) and Tarni Stepto (9-2) have also seen their fair share of innings for the Beavers. Each of these pitchers is quite capable, so it may just be a matter of matchups or riding the hot hand.
 
The OSU offense can slug and run and has a little of both in their arsenal. The Beavers are paced by their speedy table setter, Kiki Escobar who has had a big year at the dish. She is backed up by sluggers Frankie Hammoude and Mariah Mazon, who is unquestionably a talented and gifted two-way player.
 
One of these two fine teams is going to come out of this region with opportunity to play for a national championship. Neither was expected to be here, but both are. The Cardinal and the Beavers have earned everything to date. Their road to the Super Regionals was as tough as any team in the country. They don’t have to pinch themselves. Both of these clubs are solid and quite capable. One will get to keep the Cinderella slipper in place after this week and make the trip to OKC.
 
Game one of this highly anticipated series is set for Friday at 7:30 PT.
 
Starkville Super Regional
 
Did you do a double-take? Yes, it reads Starkville Super Regional. That’s the home of Mississippi State University. This must be a typo or maybe intended for the baseball team, the 2021 NCAA Champions. A softball Super Regional? In Starkville?  For real?
 
For all you doubters, that is a reality. Softball season in Mississippi is not over. A coveted Super Regional at Nusz Park, on the campus of Mississippi State, is actual fact!
 
Head Coach Samantha Ricketts and her never-say-die Bulldogs are hosting tradition bound Arizona, coached by long-time UA assistant and Wildcat alum, Caitlin Lowe, in the Super Regionals. First pitch for this Super Regional is set for 11:00 am CT on Friday.
 
Unseeded Mississippi State (37-25), upset winners of the Tallahassee Regional, will welcome unseeded Arizona (36-20), who went on the road to the Columbia Regional and took down Missouri. That Arizona, a traditionally strong, tradition-rich program is in the Super Regionals is not that surprising. After all, they have won multiple National Championships and were at the 2021 WCWS in legendary coach Mike Candrea’s last season.
 
That MSU is here is somewhat of a shocker. The ‘Dogs went on the road last week to take on Coach Lonni Alameda’s second-seeded Florida State Seminoles. Only Coach Ricketts, her staff, players, and family members gave the MSU program a chance. Talk about shocking the softball world! Only Stanford’s defeat of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, may come close to topping what Coach Ricketts and her program did this past weekend.
 
A former two-time All-American at Oklahoma and a California native, Samantha Ricketts has turned MSU into a highly respected and competitive program. If one watches the Bulldogs much they would see a style that is very similar to what is espoused in Norman. The ‘Dogs prioritize pitching and defense, and they can swing the sticks.
 
Mississippi State took the tough road to regional victory. They lost their opening game to South Florida, 4-0, in a seemingly uninspired performance. That one loss was the last they would have on the weekend.
 
The Bulldogs flipped the switch in game two and defeated Howard, 6-3. With that win, the ‘Dogs found new energy and took off. They then shut out South Florida, 6-0, exacting a little revenge on the game  one loss and then took down Florida State in the first championship final game by a score of 5-0.
 
In the finale, Florida State took an early 3-1 lead and looked to be in control of the contest. This version of Bulldogs, however, would not give in, scoring three big runs in the top of the 5th. MSU then held off the hard-hitting Seminoles to claim the Regional championship.
 
The Bulldogs are for real and appear to be improving before our eyes. They are unquestionably playing their best ball of the season right now. They, most importantly, have a growing confidence and are riding an emotional high after their regional win at FSU.
 
They have three solid arms to chose from and all are big time strike throwers. All three are right-handers who can spin it. Juniors Kenley Hawk and Aspen Wesley have thrown the most innings for Coach Ricketts this year. In the tough SEC, they have more than held their own. They are ably supported by Annie Willis, a grad transfer from Troy, who lends experience and an ability to eat up innings.
 
Mia Davidson, Chloe Malau’ulu, and Paige Cook pace an offense that can hit the ball with force and drive it out of the ballpark. The ‘Dogs are a big-inning waiting to happen and can put crooked numbers on the scoreboard in a hurry.
 
Arizona, a program that is used to being in the national conversation, has a new look this year. Former Wildcat, Caitlin Lowe, who was a four-time all-American for UA, takes over for her mentor, long time Arizona Coach and Hall of Famer, Mike Candrea, who retired following the 2021 WCWS. While the transition to a new skipper would affect some programs, the one in Tucson, appears to have gone seamlessly.
 
Dominant pitching, steady defense, and a deep offense has long been the hallmark of all Arizona teams. This year, even with the change at the top, the Wildcat way of doing things has not changed.
 
The ‘Cats can pitch and pick it. They can score a lot of runs, playing base-to-base or driving the ball out of the park.
 
Arizona ran through the Columbia Region in straight games. They defeated Illinois, 8-3 to open the playoffs. They then shut out the home-standing Missouri Tigers, 2-0 and 1-0 to take the Regional championship back to the desert and prepare for a trip to Mississippi.
 
What is even most impressive about the 2022 edition of Wildcat softball is the fact that they are achieving at a very high level with a young, and all things considered, especially this time of year, relatively inexperienced club. Their everyday line-up is composed mostly of sophomores.
 
Four sophs front a solid offensive lineup. Jasmin Perezchica, Allie Skaggs, Carlie Scupin, and Sharlize Palacios are in the middle of almost every UA offensive uprising. In addition to their skills at the dish, they are all accomplished defenders. Red-shirt junior Izzy Pacho and freshman Paige Dimler are also vital pieces who contribute in a big way to the UA attack.
 
Pitching, long a strong suit at Arizona, is once again solid. Another sophomore, Devyn Netz (14-7) has thrown a lot of big innings for Coach Lowe this year. In addition to Netz, red-shirt senior, Hanah Bowen (12-10) and freshman, Madi Elish (8-3) have both seen considerable time in the circle.
 
The Wildcats, obviously, are very good now. WCWS capable good right now. They are on the brink of being, as is their custom, one of the most elite teams in the country. As accomplished as they are now, one would expect the next few seasons to be banner years for UA. The tradition and history are in place. The system at Arizona works and has worked for years. No one should take the Wildcats for granted.
 
Stillwater Super Regional
 
Bring your earplugs! This one is going to be loud. Cowgirl Stadium in Stillwater, has, since the arrival at Oklahoma State of Head Coach Kenny Gajewski, one of, if not the loudest venues in the country. This weekend will be not any different and could actually be more raucous than normal.
 
The Oklahoma State Cowgirls (44-12) are set to welcome the Clemson Tigers (42-15) to Stillwater in what promises to be a close, hard fought series between two evenly matched clubs. Game time for the first in the best-of-three is set for Thursday at 8:30 CT.
 
Both of these programs are well-coached. They are disciplined in all phases and play with a style that produces results. These squads are team-first oriented and carry themselves with a poise that is rarely found at any level of athletics. There is a fire that burns in each of these teams that reflects the passion of both coaching staffs.
 
Both OSU and Clemson are truly talented and understand the nuances of the game. Neither club is seldom in situations that they aren’t prepared for. This series should be a classic showdown. The squad that comes out on top should go to the WCWS confident in knowing that they are absolutely capable of winning the title.
 
The OSU Cowgirls are a force. Long-time Florida assistant, Kenny Gajewski, has taken the Tim Walton blueprint for success, injected some of his own touches, and turned the Cowgirls into one of the top programs in the country.
 
The Cowgirls dominated the regional held at their home ballpark last weekend, defeating Fordham, 12-0, Nebraska, 7-4, and North Texas, 2-0 to advance to the Supers.
 
If you are fan who likes pitching and defense, OSU can show you both. If you are a fan who likes a lot of high-powered offense, look no further than Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls can swing the bats. There are few, if any holes, in any part of the Oklahoma State game. They know how to play the game the right way and they will get after it from the first pitch to the last.
 
Coach Gajewski has three accomplished pitchers to call upon, each of whom has the stuff and disposition to dominate from the circle. Kelly Maxwell (18-4), Miranda Elish (13-4) who is a gifted two-way player, and Morgan Day (12-4) are all outstanding hurlers who show advanced stuff and the ability to control the strike zone. The fact that the Cowgirls can field it and throw it with the best teams in the country, makes the OSU defensive effort noteworthy.
 
The Cowgirls aren’t shy about swinging the sticks with authority and purpose. They, collectively, can damage the softball, and unnerve even the most confident and experienced pitchers. They take their hacks.
 
The aforementioned Miranda Elish, along with Katelynn Carwile, and Sydney Pennington lead a solid one-through-nine order that can overwhelm the opposition. There aren’t any “give me” outs in the Cowgirl line-up. Unless the entire batting order has a bad day, look for OSU to score often.
 
Clemson, led by John Rittman in his third year on the beautiful CU campus, has his Tigers on the brink of the WCWS. The veteran skipper who coached at Stanford for a number of years and has been an integral part of the USA National Staff, has built a program that takes a backseat to none in the country. There is a reason Clemson is one of the last teams remaining in the playoffs. They are that good.
 
It’s hard to lose when the other team doesn’t score. Last weekend, at the Clemson Regional, the three opponents the Tigers played, didn’t score. Clemson defeated UNC-Wilmington, 9-0 to open the playoffs and then took down an Auburn team that can slug the ball, 1-0. They captured the championship in fine fashion by shutting down a hard-hitting Louisiana-Lafayette club, 8-0. Three games. Three shutouts. One regional title.
 
Coach Rittman has two impressive arms he can give the ball to. Valerie Cagle (16-8) has thrown a lot of crucial innings this spring for Clemson. Millie Thompson (14-3) has also seen her share of time in the circle. Either of these pitchers is capable of shutting down any offense. Look no further than this past weekend.
 
When the Tigers are on offense they have a trio of outstanding hitters who lead the way. McKenzie Clark, Alia Logoleo, and two-way standout, Valerie Cagle can strike the ball with authority. The line-up is deep and talented and can put runs on the board in a hurry. They can, and often times do, overwhelm the opposition.
 
This series should be fun. The atmosphere in Stillwater will be electric. There will be a LOT of orange in the stands and around town. The homestanding Cowgirls will have their orange trimmed in the traditional black of Oklahoma State. The visiting Tigers will see their Clemson orange trimmed in purple. The only negative about this series is that one of these two outstanding teams will have their season come to an end. Hang on to your hats! This series could go the distance and have an epic conclusion.
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