By Arnie Leshin
It’s sweet 16 time, the last stop before the Elite Eight meet up in the NCAA Division I Softball tournament World Series in Oklahoma City.
Two games lead off the best 2-of-3 format on Thursday, with the rest to be played Friday.
Play will begin in Tallahassee, the home of the defending champion Florida State (54-8), and the No. 4 seed will face up with 13th seeded Oklahoma State (42-14) in a scheduled 7 p.m. start on ESPN.
Play continues Friday, with Saturday, if necessary, the deciding contest.
Next comes the other Thursday night opener in Tuscaloosa, when 8th seeded Alabama (55-7) gets a visit from 9th seeded Texas (45-15) in a dandy pairing slated to start at 9 on ESPN.
Friday concludes the opening round, with No. 1 seed Oklahoma (52-3) home in Norman against 16th seeded Northwestern (46-11). The two had played twice before back in March, with the Sooners winning both times. This one is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start on ESPSU.
Next comes 7th seeded Minnesota (44-12) playing host to 10th seeded Louisiana State (43-17) in Minneapolis, with the start of play scheduled for 5 p.m. on ESPNU,
Two other sites are slated to start at 7 p.m. At Gainesville, 5th seeded Florida (47-15) meets SEC rival Tennessee, the 12th seed at 42-15 on ESPN2.
And at Tucson, on ESPNU, 6th seeded Arizona (45-12) welcomes 11th seeded Mississippi, with Ole Miss at 41-18.
Following these two is the 9 o’clock contest in Seattle as 3rd seeded
Washington (48-7) is home to 14th seeded Kentucky (36-22), and on ESPN2.
And, weather permitting, the day will wind up in Los Angeles, with 2nd seeded UCLA (49-5) greeting unseeded James Madison (51-8), which is disappointed in not hosting the Regional, so it took it out on 15th seeded Michigan after a day’s weather delay, and won the deciding game on Monday, which got it to this Friday, 9 o’clock, ESPNU test.
Picking favorites is always a guessing game. But in a double elimination, it’s always safer to stay with the home team, although surprises at this stage do happen.
The Seminoles should get a tough test from the Cowgirls, but should survive behind their home fans to stop the current run of Oklahoma State.
Same with Alabama, but Texas is primed for an upset and depending on its hurling after battling back at home from the loser’s bracket, but the Blue Tide is tough to beat at home.
Oklahoma has to start a new win streak after having to go seven games and win the deciding one over Wisconsin, who it lost to in game six, but should be fine before the usual packed stadium.
Minnesota-LSU sounds like a tight one, but the Bayou Tigers are capable of winning one on the road, while the Gophers are playing at their best now.
Florida-Tennessee has No. 8 versus No. 9, which should make it close, but the Volunteers will have to bat out the hits to offset the Gators advantage in the circle.
It’s off to Tucson, where the Wildcats are accustomed to the dry, hot weather, and get chilly-hot support, but Ole Miss is on a roll and the 11thseed did come from behind to rout Louisiana, 10-0, in the deciding game.
Kentucky is rolling along, but is a long way from Seattle and might not have enough to overcome the Huskies’ quality pitching. But if the Wildcats surprise, it will have to do so far from their old Kentucky home.
James Madison is riding high after getting past Michigan in Ann Arbor, and UCLA had to overcome a loss at home to Missouri to win the deciding game, but the Bruins do have solid pitching, same with the Dukes, but have the advantage in the hit parade.
James Madison was one of the Regional surprises, the only visiting team to advance.
Otherwise, Florida, FSU, Washington, Arizona, Northwestern, won all three of their starts, although the Seminoles had to rally to edge South Carolina, 7-6, LSU had to defeat Texas Tech a second time, Tennessee had to recover from a 1-0 loss to North Carolina by nipping the Tar Heels, 2-1, in the deciding game.
Minnesota barely got past Georgia, 2-1, in eight innings, Ole Miss came away with a key win over Louisiana following a 2-0 setback to the Ragin’ Cajuns, and there was Oklahoma and UCLA avenging defeats via wins over
Wisconsin and Missouri.
And a happy sweet 16.