For the fourth straight NCAA tournament, Oklahoma is the No. 1 overall seed. But can the Sooners reign atop the college softball world for a third straight time?
The 64-team tournament field was revealed on Sunday, and Oklahoma looks to make history as the third team in NCAA history to three-peat as Women’s College World Series champions.
The Sooners are riding a 43-game winning streak, second-longest in NCAA history, and lead the country in scoring (8.1 runs per game), ERA (0.86) and fielding percentage (.989).
Can anyone stop the Sooners? There’s UCLA, which is the last non-Oklahoma team to win the WCWS back in 2019 and had won 25 straight games before falling in the Pac-12 championship game. There’s ACC champion Florida State, which has won 16 straight games. SEC champion Tennessee has one of the best pitching staffs in college softball.
But if history serves us right, don’t be surprised if a sleeper team makes it to Oklahoma City. Last year, three unseeded teams reached the WCWS. In 2021, James Madison played Cinderella and reached the WCWS semifinals.
What can we expect for this weekend’s games? Who are the players that will define the NCAA tournament? And who will advance? Our softball analysts break down the NCAA regionals.
Which regional host has the toughest road to OKC?
Michele Smith: Definitely Clemson, in my opinion. The Tigers are going to have to get through their own regional first, which means they need to beat Auburn, a team that surely thought it was worthy of a host yet was denied. Then if they do advance to the super regionals, they would be playing Oklahoma in Norman. Trying to beat OU isn’t easy, and even more so when the Sooners play at home.
Jenny Dalton-Hill: Clemson is a tough one knowing Oklahoma would likely await in the supers, but after them, Oklahoma State has the hardest regional to advance out of. They lost to Wichita State twice in the regular season and have struggled offensively as of late. They also have UMBC with Courtney Coppersmith, who has led the Retrievers in strikeouts her whole career. The Cowgirls are on a five-game losing skid at the moment and need to turn things around quickly knowing if they advance, they would have to face a difficult Arkansas regional winner.
Madison Shipman: Outside of Clemson, I think that Stanford has a tough road to the WCWS. Florida is a very tough team that can hit the ball very well. They put up 17 runs on Tennessee in a three-game series earlier this year, so it will be a tough regional in Palo Alto.
Jen Schroeder: For me, it’s without a doubt Clemson. First, they have to get through a dangerous Maddie Penta and Auburn in their own region — and then, if they do, they have to go to Norman and beat the Sooners twice — something no team has done since 2019.
Which unseeded team has the best chance to make the WCWS?
Smith: If Montana Fouts isn’t able to compete for Alabama, I think Central Arkansas has a chance to upset and win the Tuscaloosa Regional, but will need to do so at the Rhoads House, which is an intimidating environment. If the Sugar Bears do advance, they would face off against the winner of the Evansville Regional for supers. They have a great pitching staff and defense. Kayla Beaver and Jordan Johnson are both 20-game winners and could find their way to OKC and the WCWS if they play their best ball in May.
Dalton-Hill: I think Kentucky has a shot to advance. The Wildcats have started to gel offensively behind Kayla Kowalik and Erin Coffel, and with the return of Stephanie Schoonover, they have the extra firepower they need against a tough Northwestern team.The caveat is whether Alabama has Montana Fouts back. Without Fouts, I think Kentucky has a really good path to OKC.
Shipman: I have been really impressed with the way South Carolina has been playing lately. The Gamecocks made it all the way to the SEC championship game as a 10-seed in the conference tournament. Between the timely hitting and Donnie Gobourne in the circle throwing 71+ mph, they could be a tough team this postseason.
Schroeder: Two unseeded teams that I think have a chance to make it to the WCWS are Oregon and Florida. Oregon faces off with Arkansas in the Fayetteville Regional. The Ducks have wins against Standord, Washington and UCLA and they’re fearless and feisty. They’d have to get through Arkansas in the region and then Oklahoma State, which has lost 11 of its last 13 games, in the super regionals. If Florida, led by SEC Player of the Year Skylar Wallace, can get through a great Stanford pitching staff, the Gators would face a Duke team that has losses against Longwood, Notre Dame and Louisville. Tim Walton’s Gators could find themselves back in OKC.
Which potential super regional matchup would be the most captivating?
Smith: I think if both Texas and Tennessee advance through their regionals, this super regional will be outstanding — an experienced Tennessee team at home against a young Texas team on the road. Texas played OU on the road, and that experience will help the Longhorns embrace playing in a tough Knoxville environment against the SEC champions.
Dalton-Hill: Looking at the UCLA and Utah regionals could be dicey. Knowing Utah just beat UCLA in the inaugural Pac-12 tournament, we could see a repeat of the championship game when Halle Morris hit a huge pinch-hit homer and Mariah Lopez threw a fantastic outing in the circle. The Utes got swept by UCLA in the regular season but have gotten hot lately and are playing their best softball now.
Shipman: I think a super regional with Florida State and Georgia would be very exciting. Florida State is a team that does all of the little things right like moving runners, taking the extra base and working matchups with their pitching staff. Georgia has a ton of power top to bottom in the lineup. From Jayda Kearney to Sara Mosely to Jaiden Fields, there are a bunch of different hitters with the ability to leave the yard.
Schroeder: When I look at this bracket and the potential super regional matchups I get goosebumps. From the potential of Utah vs. UCLA, knowing Utah just beat the Bruins to win the first-ever Pac 12 championship, to Georgia having to travel to Tallahassee and the offense we’d possibly get to witness, to the battle of the orange with Texas facing off against Tennessee, I think this is one of the deepest, most competitive brackets we have ever seen.
Who is the biggest must-watch player in the tournament field?
Smith: Kiki Milloy is my must-watch player. She’s dynamic and explosive, yet moves like her sport is her artwork — with an ease that makes you appreciate just how athletic she is. She’s a leader, and this is an experienced Tennessee team that wants to get to OKC and the WCWS to cap their careers.
Dalton-Hill: I am still on the Valerie Cagle train. She is absolutely the best two-way player in the country. She is either first or second in the ACC in multiple offensive categories, and in the circle she’s thrown 20 complete games and is 23-5 on the season with a 1.22 ERA. She is a key player to the success of Clemson.
Shipman: Skylar Wallace is my must-watch player. We have always known that she has a ton of speed on the base paths, but the power that she has shown at the plate has been incredibly impressive. She is also someone who thrives in the high-pressure moments against the best teams. She is batting well over .400 against top-25 teams this year, so I can’t wait to see what she does in the postseason.
Schroeder: Maya Brady must be in this conversation. Not only has she made the move to shortstop this year, she is one of the best all-around athletes in NCAA softball and the heartbeat of the No. 2 seed Bruins. She’s one of only three players in the entire country with at least a .450 batting average, 55 RBIs and 15 home runs. She finished Pac-12 play as the batting champion and 50 points ahead of the second-place finisher. She’s on pace to have the best slugging percentage in school history since Megan Langenfeld (a former POY). Her four multi-homer games are second most all-time at UCLA, behind only Stacey Nuveman (a former POY). And when the season ends, if she hasn’t won the Triple Crown in the Pac-12, I’d be shocked — she is only one home run and five RBIs away. She’s one of the most dynamic players in the game.
What is your bold tournament prediction?
Smith: With all the parity we saw this season, I believe we’ll have some upsets and new faces in OKC at the WCWS. Maybe not as many unseeded teams as last year’s three, but this year’s play bodes well for the mid-majors who are very talented and have a lot of confidence right now.
Dalton-Hill: I cannot imagine the WCWS without an unseeded team advancing this season. I don’t see the field as clear cut as years past. Even with all the parity, the seeds are all strong. I think seven seeded teams will advance with just one unseeded emerging to OKC — either Kentucky or Louisiana I see with the potential path to make it.
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