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Oklahoma, Louisiana State advance in softball Super Regionals

Oklahoma, Louisiana State advance from their respective loser’s brackets to gain the weekend NCAA DI softball Super Regionals at eight sites  

Sooners sweep state-rival Tulsa and Tigers the same over state-rival Louisiana-Lafayette in Monday’s deciding tests

Divisions II and III set for their Super Regional field of eight

Arnie Leshin

By Arnie Leshin      

It wasn’t easy, but defending NCAA Division I softball champion Oklahoma and LSU came out of the loser’s bracket Monday to fill the final two spots for the weekend Super Regionals, with the next stop the Elite Eight at Oklahoma City.

The Bayou Tigers had it just a bit easier. The Baton Rouge host at Tiger Park opened with a tough 2-1 win over Fairfield but then lost to state-rival Louisiana-Lafayette, 4-2, and dropped into the loser’s bracket.

LSU than did what it had to do, first routing McNeese, 10-1, and following with a Sunday-Monday sweep of the Rajun Cajuns while the rain fell both days. There was a one-day weather delay in the Tigers-McNeese game, and the rain still fell lightly on Monday.

Now 43-19, the LSU took the deciding game, 6-1, by scoring once in the second inning, twice in the third, once in the fourth, and two more times in the top of these sixth.

Right-handed junior Carley Hoover was in charge from the circle, allowing only five hits, striking out six and walking none. She made 129 pitches in going the distance.

The LSU hitters were led by junior Emily Griggs’ 4-for-4 and an RBI, and solo home runs from senior Savannah Jasquish and sophomore Amber Serett. Louisiana-Lafayette finished at 47-6.

Oklahoma, hosting its Norman Region at Martha Hayes Field, had to win four in a row after losing its opener, 4-2, to North Dakota State, one of three teams in the 64-school field with losing records.

Thus, the 10th seeded Sooners (58-9) were now on a mission to become only the eighth school out of 416 since 2005 to win the region after dropping its first contest.

That they did. First they avenged the loss to the Bisons, 10-1, on Sunday morning, than they came from behind with a dramatic 10th inning victory to force Monday’s deciding game.

The extra-inning thriller on Sunday didn’t look good for the home fans after Tulsa, which defeated McNeese and the Bisons by one run, broke a 4-4 tie by scoring twice in the top of the 10th.

But Oklahoma responded quickly. Freshman Nicole Mendez, batting the tournament-best .579, singled on the first pitch to extend her hitting streak to 20 games, and on the second-pitch, sophomore Caleigh Clifton drove the ball over the left field fence to tie the score much to the delight of the home crowd.

Next, sophomore Shay Knighton singled to right, and up stepped sophomore Sydney Romero to clout a 2-1 pitch into the seats in left, and the wild celebration followed via the 6-4 triumph.

But there was still another game to be played, and left-handed junior Paige Parker was up to the task with her best game of the region. She scattered eight hits, struck out 10 and walked her lone batter with two down in the seventh. She advanced to 25-6 for the campaign and 16-2 in the post-season.

“I was proud of my team,” she said, “for hanging in there and giving us a chance to still win the region. I was happy to be the starter against a very good team.”

She bested the Golden Hurricane’s right-handed star pitcher, junior Emily Watson (30-6), who lost for the second-straight day.

She fell behind 1-0 when Mendez homered to left field on the first pitch, than yielded a run each in the fifth, one a solo home run from the team’s lone senior, Macey Hatfield, and the other a double in the sixth. She struck out two, walked one, and allowed six hits.

This will be the Sooners’ eight-straight time in the Super Regionals and they move on to play at 7th seeded Auburn (48-10). LSU will be traveling to 4th seeded Florida State (54-6).

Elsewhere, top-seeded Florida (52-7) plays host to 16th seed Alabama (45-16) as two of the eight SEC schools out of 13 remain in the 16-team field.

The others are 9th seeded Texas A & M (45-10) at 8th seeded Tennessee (47-10), LSU at FSU (54-6) of the AAC, 14th seed Kentucky (41-7) at 3rd seeded Oregon (50-6) of the PAC 12, as well as 2nd seeded Arizona (51-7) home to 15th seeded Baylor (45-12) of the Big 12. Plus there’s 12th seeded Mississippi (43-18), heading to 5th seeded UCLA (45-13), and Auburn versus Oklahoma.

Then there’s 6th seeded Washington (46-11) hosting 11th seeded Utah (36-14) to round out the eight Super Regionals.

All except Oklahoma and LSU went 3-0 in its region, with some of the unexpected contests becoming tight ones. Here, too, nothing came easy. There have also been seven no-hitters pitched so far, two by Baylor. And once again, the last stop is the Elite Eight in Oklahoma City. From 283 schools in DI, the 64-team field is now down to 16.

. . . The Super Regionals field of eight’s best-of-three has been set for Divisions II and III, with the Final Four in D2 to move on to the World Series in Salem, Va., while D3 gets to play its Final Four in Oklahoma City.

In Division II, top-seed Angelo State (57-5) is home to 8th seed Humboldt State (43-3), and in the same upper bracket, 4th seed West Virginia Wesleyan (49-8) hosts 5th seeded Molloy (37-16). In the bottom bracket, 2nd seeded Minnesota State (56-7) gets a visit from 7th seeded Southern Indiana (46-12), and 3rd seeded Armstrong (36-12) will be home to 6th seeded West Florida (45-13).

While Angelo State is favored, it could have a tough go against Humboldt State, and West Florida can not be overlooked.

. . . In Division III, the Super Regional lists the upper bracket of Amherst (40-6) at Trine (34-8) and Virginia Wesleyan (45-2) at Texas-Tyler (41-4). The lower bracket finds St. Catherine (34-11) at Illinois Wesleyan (37-12) and Williams (33-8) at St. John Fisher (38-6).

 St. John Fisher is favored here, but Williams is almost certain to be a tough task, and Texas-Tyler figures to be right in the hunt.

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