NCAA Tournament preview: Breaking down SEC's 12 softball teams in regionals
How good is SEC softball? Well, 12 of the 13 schools that play the sport (Vanderbilt does not) have earned a bid in the NCAA Tournament field of 64. It is the culmination of a decade-long run to the top that began with Alabama taking the 2012 Women’s College World Series. It was the first SEC national championship since the tournament began in 1982. Since then, the SEC has grown into the premier conference in the sport.
The first stop on the road to the Women’s College World Series is regionals, which run May 20-22. Of the 12 SEC teams that qualified for regionals, 5 will host. Each region is made up of 4 teams with a double-elimination format.
Each region champion advances to the Super Regionals, May 26-29, with those 8 winners earning a berth in the Women’s College World Series, June 2-9/10 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Here’s a quick look at every SEC team at regionals and the opening game pairings, beginning with those that are among the Top 16 national seeds, earning the right to host.
No. 4 seed Arkansas (44-9) vs. Princeton (27-15-2)
Oregon (31-17) vs. Wichita State (33-16)
Outlook: The SEC regular-season and tournament champions will have their hands full with a Wichita State squad that ranks No. 3 in the nation, 1 spot ahead of the Razorbacks. Wichita hit .353, led by Sydney McKinney, the nation’s top hitter (.512). But Arkansas will counter with Chenise Delce, the SEC Pitcher of the Year. Fresh off a 2-hit shutout over Missouri in the SEC Tournament Championship Game, Delce brings a 17-2 record and a 2.19 ERA in the regional tournament.
No. 6 seed Alabama (41-11) vs. Chattanooga (29-25)
Stanford (36-19) vs. Murray State (40-16-1)
Outlook: It’s all about Montana Fouts. As she goes, so go the Tide. This region could come down to a pitcher’s duel between Fouts and Murray State’s Hannah James, the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year. A 20-game winner James (20-5) tossed 10 shutouts this season and stands at 226 strikeouts for the season with an ERA of 1.19, which ranks 11th in the country.
No. 11 seed Tennessee (39-16) vs. Campbell (37-17)
Ohio State (35-15) vs. Oregon State (33-19)
Outlook: If you like the long ball, check out the Vols in this region. Tennessee hit 88 home runs during the regular season, 3rd-best in the SEC behind Arkansas (102) and Georgia (101), but also gave up 59. Among SEC pitching staffs, only South Carolina (60) yielded more.
No. 14 seed Florida (43-16) vs. Canisius (32-16)
Georgia Tech (37-16) vs. Wisconsin (28-19)
Outlook: The Gators begin their quest for a 3rd national title after back-to-back championships in 2014-15. But first they’ll have to solve Canisius pitcher Megan Giese, whose 1.58 ERA this season is most impressive. So are her 7 shutouts, including 1 no-hitter and 2 1-hitters. She blanked Sienna 4-0 in her latest outing at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament final. That should prove to be an interesting matchup considering the Gators led the SEC with 481 hits.
No. 15 seed Missouri (36-20) vs. Missouri State (27-18)
Illinois (34-20) vs. Arizona (33-20)
Outlook: The Tigers look to bounce back after falling to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament final. But they have a tough field in which to navigate. Arizona ranks 10th in the country with a team batting average of .329 in a highly-competitive Pac-12 Conference. In addition, Missouri opens with Missouri State and standout pitcher Steffany Dickerson. The veteran senior comes in with a 1.66 ERA for the season having thrown shutouts in 2 of her past 6 starts.
Texas A&M (29-26) vs. Minnesota (26-24-1)
No. 1 seed Oklahoma (49-2) vs. Prairie View A&M (20-28)
Outlook: In a word: bleak. The Aggies are paired in the region with the top team in the country and defending national champion. A&M’s Haley Lee should be fun to watch after posting a .410 batting average during the regular season with 14 homers and 41 RBIs. But Oklahoma has just too much power on both sides of the ball, leading the nation in both home runs (125) and ERA (0.75). The Sooners feature college softball’s all-time home run leader, Jocelyn Alo, who has 25 this season and 113 for her career.
Mississippi State (33-24) vs. South Florida (44-14)
No. 2 seed Florida State (52-5) vs. Howard (31-22)
Outlook: The Bulldogs couldn’t have drawn a tougher regional. A team that finished 12th in the SEC with a team batting average of .278 is pitted against some of the best pitching in the tournament. South Florida ranks 3rd in the country with a team ERA of 1.50 — led by Georgina Corrick (36-5, 0.53 ERA and a nation-leading 407 strikeouts). Only Oklahoma (0.75) and UCLA (1.45) were better nationwide. The Bulls won 44 games this season, 26 of those by shutouts. In addition, Florida State is among the top pitching staffs in the country with a team ERA of 1.92 for the regular season.
Kentucky (35-17) vs. Miami, Ohio (39-15-1)
No. 3 seed Virginia Tech (41-7) vs. Saint Francis, Pa. (37-16)
Outlook: The Wildcats have a puncher’s chance if they can get some pitching. They’ll score runs. They hit .332 during the regular season. Only Arkansas (.337) was better among SEC teams. Kayla Kowalik (.413) and Erin Coffel (.412, 17 HRs) led the way during the regular season. They could challenge a Virginia Tech pitching staff that compiled a team ERA of 1.90.
Los Angeles Regional
Ole Miss (39-17) vs. Loyola Marymount (36-15)
No. 5 seed UCLA (43-8) vs. Grand Canyon (38-14)
Outlook: This is a sneaky tough regional. Of course, UCLA is the favorite with that stifling pitching staff. The Bruins ranked 2nd in the nation with a team ERA of 1.45. Then you have a Grand Canyon team that tore it up at the plate, hitting .333, which ranked 7th nationally. The Rebels will be hard-pressed to get out of this regional, although they did compile a 27-5 nonconference record this season.
LSU (34-21) vs. San Diego State (37-14)
No. 8 seed Arizona State (39-9) vs. Cal State Fullerton (36-20)
Outlook: The Tigers’ roller-coaster season swings through Arizona this weekend. Falling in 4 of their past 6 games, the Tigers look for a little consistency. But that will be tough to accomplish against an Arizona State team that hit .323 and a San Diego State pitching staff that posted a 2.04 ERA.
Auburn (39-15) vs. Louisiana (45-11)
No. 10 seed Clemson (39-15) vs. UNC Wilmington (32-13)
Outlook: The Tigers could pull the upset if they can turn things around. A solid season ended in a disappointing 5-game losing streak. It all depends on what pitcher Maddie Penta has left. She posted a 23-9 record with a 1.77 ERA but did not win a decision in her last 4 outings. If she’s on top of her game, the Tigers are alive in this regional.
Georgia (40-16) vs. Liberty (43-16)
No. 12 seed Duke (41-8) vs. UMBC (31-10)
Outlook: Duke will be tough to upset, but the Bulldogs can do it. But the pitching will have to improve. In 3 consecutive losses to Ole Miss, leading up to regionals, the pitching staff gave up 23 runs. That won’t get it done in Durham, especially against a Blue Devils team that compiled the 5th-best team batting average (.337) in the country.