Top seed Oregon leads off tonight against visiting Kentucky in Eugene, Florida and Texas A & M in an SEC clash in Gainesville, and in a Pac-12 match-up, Arizona and UCLA meet up in Los Angeles
By Arnie Leshin
The Southeastern Conference, with 15 of its schools with softball programs,
managed to get all of them into the 64-field NCAA Women’s Softball Tournament that features the 16-team Super Regional this weekend.
And the SEC still has nine survivors in the chase for the Elite Eight World Series in Oklahoma City. There are eight supers and the SEC is playing in seven of them.
Three play in tonight’s start of the best-of-three. The 16th seed Kentucky is at top seed Oregon., In a clash of SEC teams it’s 2nd seeded Florida playing host to 15th seed Texas A & M., and at 3rd seeded UCLA, it’s a match-up of Pac-12 school when the Bruins welcome long-time rival Arizona, the 14thseed.
That’s the opening night schedule. On Friday, the first round will be completed with five more contests. By the end of the weekend or even on Monday, the lineup for the World Series will be announced.
At this stage, the Pac-12 has the second-most entries with five, the Big 12 is now down to two-time defending champion Oklahoma, and the ACC has Florida State remaining.
Another SEC match-up is on Friday and pairs 7thseeded host Georgia with 10th seed Tennessee. And there are a pair of SEC-Pac-12 encounters, with a Friday super sending SEC 14th seed Arkansas to 3rd seed Oklahoma, 12th seeded Alabama of the SEC to 5th seeded Pac-12 Washington.
And leading off tonight will be the top-seeded Ducks getting a visit from Kentucky. Let’s start there.
OREGON (50-7) vs. KENTUCKY (34-19): For the second straight year, the Wildcats make their way to Eugene, losing 4-0 and 6-5 in last season’s super. Kentucky has had no trouble slugging the ball, winning all three games in the Regional it hosted in Lexington, outscoring its opponents 28-1.
But the Ducks can no doubt handle these hard-hitting teams behind the hurling of Miranda Elish and Megan Kleist. The two didn’t allow a run in the Regional, and enter the supers with identical 0.92 ERAs, fifth best in the country.
The three games were low scoring, but the Ducks can hit, clouting a seventh-best 73 home runs. They can hit them long, bunt their way on, slap the ball, and run the bases well.
Again, Kentucky will be sent home by Oregon, probably in two games again.
FLORIDA (53-8) vs. TEXAS A & M (43-16): The teams played three times in March and it was no contest as the Gators outscored the Aggies, 23-4, in a sweep. A & M has been swinging the bat well, but Florida can send the one-two punch of Kelly Barnhill and Aleshia Ocasio to the circle.
Both have shut down bats all season, although the Aggies won its Region by outscoring its opponents 29-5. No matter, none of those teams can match up with the Gators’ pitching, hitting and fielding.
This will be Florida’s 11th trip to the Super Regional, Texas A & M’s seventh. The Aggies do have a quality pitcher in Samantha Show, and she and Sarah Hudek did hit two of the 17 home runs allowed by Barnhill. Show tossed a one-hitter in the Regional.
But Florida, which won it all in 2011, has just too much experience and overall balance for A & M to contend with. The Aggies could get lucky and force three games, but the Gators are good enough to wrap things up in two games.
UCLA (53-5) vs. ARIZONA (43-14): This a long-time rivalry that dates back to when the Bruins and Wildcats were two of the best teams in the land.
They settled championship seasons amongst themselves for much of NCAA Division I softball. Seven times they played each other in the championship game or series, and UCLA, with 12, has won the most titles.
Now they hook up again. The Wildcats are not a high seed, but have put together a solid campaign. But when they played host to the Bruins in Tucson early in the season, they swept the three games
Home field advantage will now be in UCLA’s corner. In their Regional, the Bruins were almost eliminated by state rival Cal-State Fullerton, but barely survived. They should be more into things this time before the home crowds, and should get by Arizona in a possible 3-game series.
On Friday, it will be Oklahoma hosting Arkansas, Washington home to Alabama, LSU at FSU. South Carolina at Arizona State, and Georgia getting a visit from Tennessee in an SEC match-up.
Extra Hits: The SEC will definitely get two schools to Oklahoma City because of its two conference contests. The Pac-12 will have UCLA or Arizona at the World Series. Otherwise, it’s the SEC against the Pac-12 three times, versus the ACC once, and once against the Big 12.
For viewers, the ESPN channels will air every game. Catch it!
Surprises? You never know.
Florida has two schools left, the Gators and the Seminoles. The same with Arizona, the Sundevils and Wildcats.
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, and Washington all have one team still in the running. The three New York State schools, Albany, Fordham and Hofstra, were all eliminated but played well.
Oklahoma (53-3) has the best record, Kentucky (34-19) the worst. But records do not matter here, only the games.