Will the SEC send a team to the Women's College World Series?
Twelve teams went in. It was a bold statement on how far SEC softball had come. Far and away the most teams from one conference, the SEC looked to dominate the 2022 NCAA softball regionals. The Pac-12 was a distance second, earning 7 spots at regionals. The SEC nearly had that many teams hosting (5).
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Super Regionals, and the perennial power Pac-12 had the last laugh. In a year that the SEC was poised to claim softball supremacy, 3 of those nationally-seeded (hosting) SEC teams got knocked out by Pac-12 squads.
It started with No. 6 Alabama and highly-touted Montana Fouts falling to Stanford. Oregon State ended the season of No. 11 Tennessee, and No. 15 Missouri was stopped by Arizona. In all, the Pac-12 had 5 teams win their way to Super Regionals, while the SEC had to settle for 3. And it’s not the 3 you’re thinking of.
Here’s a look at those 3 SEC teams that advanced to the best-of-3 Super Regionals, the opposition they’ll face, and an outlook of their chances to take the next step to the Women’s College World Series, which runs June 2-9/10 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
No. 4 Arkansas (47-9) vs. Texas (41-18-1)
The Razorbacks took care of business on their home field, scoring 26 runs over the 3 regional games, all victories, and now make their 2nd consecutive Super Regional appearance and 3rd overall. They’ll host Texas next week as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won their past 8 games and 16 of their past 17. The Razorbacks scored in bunches against regional foes Princeton and Oregon State, posting an 8-run inning and two 6-run innings.
As a team, Arkansas hit .292 (21-for-73) at regionals with KB Sides, Taylor Ellsworth, Danielle Gibson and Linnie Malkin all contributing multi-hit games. They hit with power as well. Gibson, Malkin and Kacie Hoffman belted 2 home runs apiece while Sides added another.
And the pitching wasn’t too shabby, either: 3 games, 3 complete games. Mary Haff and SEC Pitcher of the Year Chenise Delce combined to allow just 3 earned runs and posted a team ERA of 1.10 (3 R, 19 IP).
Outlook: Texas might just be getting hot at the right time. The Longhorns have won 10 of their past 13 games after being swept by Oklahoma State and now look like a team playing with a lot of confidence. Second baseman Janae Jefferson was a leader on offense and now has a school-record 20 hits in regional games despite having her career-high 24-game on base streak snapped in the Horns’ 2-1 loss to Washinton, forcing a deciding game. That’s when senior pitcher Hailey Dolcini took over, notching her 21st win (21-9) of the season with a complete-game performance in the Horns’ 3-2 region-clinching win over the same Huskies team on Sunday.
Taking her out of her comfort zone is what the Razorbacks can and must do. Staying on course and playing Arkansas softball should be enough to send the Razorbacks to their first-ever Women’s College World Series. But in a season of firsts (first SEC Tournament championship) this could be the next big hurdle cleared.
No. 14 Florida (46-16) at No. 3 Virginia Tech (45-8)
The Gators were never really threatened over their 3 games in front of the home crowd. It was really no contest. Florida outscored the opposition (Canisius, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin) 28-2, run-ruling 2 of the 3. The Gators hit .461 (35-for-76). Their 10-run first inning against Wisconsin was a program record for runs in a single inning during regional play.
Six players turned in multiple-hit games. Hannah Adams tied her career-hit in hits with a 4-for-4 game against Wisconsin. Kendra Falby batted .636 (7-for-11) from the lead-off spot in the 3 games, Skylar Wallace compiled a .667 (6-for-9) average, and Reagan Walsh was 5-for-8 (.625).
The 3 bases stolen by the Gators in the tournament finale brought the season total to 129, which ties the program record originally set in 2007.
To go along with the run production, Florida pitching allowed just 8 hits for the tournament. Solid starting pitching from Lexi Delbrey and Elizabeth Hightower (combined 12 IP, 2 runs, 6 hits, 9 K), combined with lockdown relief work from Rylee Trlicek and Natalie Lugo (combined 5 IP, 0 runs, 2 hits, 7 K).
Outlook: Playing your best baseball at the right time is how you advance to the World Series. That’s what the Gators are doing. If they continue to hit the ball up and down the lineup, run the bases and get solid pitching, they’ll be difficult to stop.
Virginia Tech had its hands full with Kentucky at regionals, playing the Wildcats 3 times with 2 of those ending in 1-run games. But they did bounce back after losing the tournament opener to Wildcats, beating UK twice to advance. The Hokies were 3rd in the ACC this season both in hitting and pitching. They’ll need to step up their game if they hope to derail this Gators team.
Mississippi State (37-25) vs. Arizona (36-20)
What can you say about this feisty Bulldogs team? They’re the first team to ever eliminate a national No. 2 seed in a regional. And they did it the hard way, falling 4-0 to South Florida in the tourney opener. That meant all the Bulldogs had to do to advance to the Super Regional was to win 4 straight — including 2 straight against No. 2 seed and host Florida State.
No problem, the Bulldogs took down FSU’s Kathryn Sandercock twice. The Seminoles’ ace was 30-1 previously, and the pair of losses snapped Florida State’s 24-game regional tournament win streak. The Bulldogs were the only nonconference opponent to beat the Seminoles (54-7) this season.
Back-to-back shutouts from Annie Willis (9-8) and Wesley Aspen (9-7) propelled the Bulldogs to the championship game where they were able to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Outlook: The Bulldogs will host Arizona at Nusz Park where they are 25-10 this season. The Super Dogs are 1-3 all-time vs. Arizona, having lost the past 3 meetings. They’ve never played on the Bulldogs’ home field. The Bulldogs’ bats will need to heat up. They had more than 6 hits in just 1 of their 6 regional games. And they hit just 2 homers; one each from Mia Davidson and Matalasi Faapito.
Arizona is somewhat of a Cinderella Story itself, finishing 8-16 in the Pac-12 and barely making the field of 64. But the Wildcats, like the Bulldogs, are making the most of their opportunity. They shut out host Missouri twice (2-0, 1-0) in the region tournament to advance. Hanah Bowen (12-10) tossed a complete-game 4-hitter, striking out 6 before Devyn Netz (14-7) fired a complete-game 2-hitter, striking out 3. The Wildcats have been there before. This will be their 8th consecutive Super Regional appearance and 16th overall. Home-field advantage could be the deciding factor for Mississippi State. Arizona is 7-8 in away games this season.