Yes, the home runs continue to fly out of ballparks across the country at a record pace. In the SEC, they left the park more times than ever before. The 13 teams (Vanderbilt does not field a softball team) combined for a total of 883 homers, most in one season.

But guess what, at the end of the day pitching still rules. Just look at the stats. It’s no coincidence that 3 of the top 5 pitchers in SEC games play for 1 of the top 4 seeds in the tournament. Those teams earned byes into the quarterfinals on Thursday. (Here’s a friendly guide to the quarterfinals.)

That shouldn’t be too surprising. Here’s what is: Montana Fouts sits on the bottom of that list, not the top. No, Fouts ranks 5th in ERA (2.85) during SEC games this season. Still, she led Alabama to a No. 2 seed, winning an SEC-best 11 games.

So, while home runs are bringing college softball fans to their collective feet like never before, the teams that are winning on a consistent basis have the league’s best pitchers.

These are the best team’s best.

No. 1 seed Arkansas

Chenise Delce has been money when it’s counted most. Ranked 2nd in SEC play with a 1.87 ERA, Delce recorded 9 conference victories, topped only by Fouts (11).

She leads a solid Razorbacks pitching staff that by far is the SEC’s best with a team ERA of 2.90. Couple that with the league’s top offense (.318 team batting average) and it’s easy to see how Arkansas was able to defend its regular-season SEC pennant (tied Florida for first place last year).

She keeps the opposition off the base paths. Opponents hit just .207 against the junior right-hander. She struck out 84 batters over 67 2/3 innings of work in SEC play this year.

No. 2 seed Alabama

This is how good Fouts is: In a somewhat “down” year for her, Fouts led the SEC with 150 strikeouts during conference play. No other pitcher had more than 90. In addition to the most conference wins, Fouts led the league with 95 2/3 innings pitched. Her 15 SEC starts also tied for the conference lead.

Overall, this year, Fouts is 22-5 with a 1.97 ERA. She struck out 254 batters over 159 2/3 innings and walked just 49.

As Fouts goes, so goes Alabama. The Tide is looking to repeat as SEC Tournament champions. At her best, Fouts is virtually unbeatable. It’s how the Tide won last year’s tournament. They’re hoping for an encore.

No. 3 seed Tennessee

Tennessee’s team ERA in conference play is a bit deceiving. Yes, statistically it shows a 4.01 team ERA, but opposing teams are batting just .244 against the Vols. That’s 4th-best in the league.

Left-hander Erin Edmoundson is the ace of the staff. The graduate transfer from Texas Tech has fit in nicely for the Vols, winning 7 conference games while striking out 59 batters over 71 innings that included 7 starts and 18 total appearances, 2nd-most in the league.

No. 4 seed Kentucky

Tatum Spangler may very well be the best pitcher you’ve never heard of. The senior left-hander helped lead Kentucky to a No. 4 seed with an SEC-low 1.78 ERA. Spangler posted a 9-1 record with an overall ERA of 1.42. She’s not overpowering: 46 strikeouts in 39 innings, but she’s been a consistent winner.

A two-way player, Spangler started 23 games this season and hit .229.

But she’s seeing more and more time in the circle as Kentucky surged to the 4th seed. Three of her last 5 appearances have been starts, and in 10 of her 16 appearances this season, she has allowed 0 earned runs.

Cover photo of Arkansas ace Chenise Delce via Twitter @SEC.