Division I Super Regionals Preview
Arizona State looking to extend Pac-10's reign of titles
Of the 16 seeded teams in the 2011 NCAA Division I Softball Championship, 13 have advanced to the second weekend of play. All eight Super Regional sites will be televised by the ESPN family of networks for a third consecutive year. Play begins on Thursday evening with the Stanford-Alabama Super Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
All Super Regionals feature a best-of-three format with a single game on Day 1, and a potential doubleheader on the second day of competition.
No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 1 Arizona State
Both the Aggies and Sun Devils played at home on the opening weekend, and both teams had relatively simple paths to Super Regionals. In College Station, Texas, the Aggies opened with a 10-2 (6 inn.) defeat of Sacred Heart, dispatched Syracuse, 13-5 (7 inn.) and topped LSU, 3-1, in Sunday’s regional final. Pac-10 champion Arizona State run-ruled North Dakota State in its postseason opener (10-0, 5 inn.) and posted a similar margin of victory against Long Beach State (8-0, 5 inn.). Only San Diego State went the full seven innings against ASU, falling 6-1 in Sunday’s final. The five-run margin of victory is a bit deceiving, as it was a one-run game heading to the top of the seventh inning. The Sun Devils boast one of the three finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award in junior infielder Katelyn Boyd.
No. 15 Stanford at No. 2 Alabama
Second-seeded Alabama cruised through its first games at Rhoads Stadium since Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado in late April. The Crimson Tide dispatched Jackson State, 8-0, before defeating Memphis 7-1 and Chattanooga by an 11-1 margin. The SEC regular season champions, Alabama takes aim at a return trip to the WCWS after a devastating walk-off loss to Hawai’i in the third and deciding game of last year’s Super Regional. Stanford also played at home last weekend, advancing with a 3-0 record albeit with closer scores. The Cardinal, who are headlined by junior shortstop Ashley Hansen who was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year and is a top-three finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award, topped Pacific, 3-0, Fresno State (3-1) and Nebraska (4-1) to advance to the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.
No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 8 Arizona
Oklahoma advanced to Super Regionals from the Norman, Okla., regional site. The Sooners breezed through wins against Iona (7-1) on Friday and Tulsa (6-0) on Saturday before the Golden Hurricanes scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning for a 4-3 win in Sunday’s first game to force the “if necessary” game. OU responded in the winner-take-all final contest, putting up five runs in the top of the third inning for the 5-0 victory. In Tucson, Ariz., eighth seeded Arizona opened with a 10-0 (6 inn) pasting of Harvard, followed by an 8-0 victory against New Mexico State that went the full seven innings and a six-inning 10-2 victory against Texas Tech to advance to Super Regionals. Wildcat senior Stacie Chambers continues to inch closer to the NCAA Career home run record (90, Stacey Nuveman, UCLA, 1997-2002), having hit her 87th career round-tripper in Saturday’s win.
No. 13 Oregon at No. 4 Florida
The 13th-seeded Ducks hit the road for regional play, traveling to University Park, Pa. Oregon opened postseason play with a 3-1 victory against Albany and a 2-0 triumph against Fordham. In Sunday’s final, host Penn State took an early 1-0 lead that held until the top of the sixth inning, which saw Oregon plate three runs to account for the 3-1 final. The Ducks now travel to Gainesville, Fla., where the Gators will play their fourth and fifth games against a Pac-10 team on their home field this postseason. Florida opened postseason play with an 8-0 (5 inn) victory against Bethune-Cookman, then started what turned out to be a best-of-three series with defending NCAA Champion UCLA. Florida took Saturday’s winners bracket match-up by a 4-2 margin, but the Bruins captured Sunday’s first game with a walk-off hit to earn a 3-2 victory. Florida stormed back in the “if necessary” game, plating nine runs in the bottom of the first inning en route to the 11-3 (5 inn.) victory. Megan Bush took sole possession of UF's career RBI mark last weekend, helping the Gators advance on to Super Regional play.
Houston at Oklahoma State
The Super Regional that features the tournament’s two “upset specials” will take place in Stillwater, Okla., starting on Friday. The host Cowgirls from Oklahoma State were the upset winners of the Knoxville, Tenn., regional. OSU opened with a 2-1 victory against Georgia Tech, then stunned host Tennessee with a 6-1 win on Saturday, leading wire-to-wire. On Sunday, Oklahoma State took an early 3-0 lead against the Lady Vols, and as soon as UT had regained the lead in the top of the fifth, the Cowgirls responded with three more runs to take the lead for good, eventually winning 6-5. In Austin, Texas, Houston opened tournament play with a 7-2 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette, then stunned the third-seeded host Texas with a first-inning run that turned into a 1-0 victory in Saturday’s winners bracket game. When the Ragin’ Cajuns topped the Longhorns later that day, it set up a Sunday rematch with Houston prevailing 4-1 to advance to Super Regionals.
No. 12 Washington at No. 5 Missouri
The first team to advance to Super Regionals, Washington opened last Thursday with a 6-2 victory against Portland State before topping BYU by a 4-1 margin on Friday. A rematch with the Cougars also went Washington’s way, with a 7-5 victory against BYU in the regional championship game. The Huskies will now travel to Columbia, Mo., where the fifth-seeded Tigers survived a five-game regional crammed into just two days to advance. After rain washed out Friday’s opening-day schedule, Mizzou’s journey started with a 12-3 (5 inn.) victory against Illinois State, followed by an 11-inning marathon that saw DePaul plate the game-ending run in the bottom of the 11th inning for a 2-1 win. After an elimination game victory against Illinois State (8-4) in the Tigers third game of the day, Mizzou got a good night’s rest and was able to sweep a Sunday doubleheader with DePaul, winning 7-3 and 8-0. The Tigers are led in the circle by redshirt sophomore Chelsea Thomas, the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and a USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year finalist.
No. 11 Baylor at No. 6 Georgia
Baylor traveled to College Park, Md., for regional play, topping Lehigh 4-0 in the opener and advancing to Sunday’s final with a 2-0 victory against East Carolina. The Pirates and Bears would have a rematch on Sunday with Baylor’s Whitney Canion twirling a seven-strikeout one-hit shutout as her team prevailed, 1-0. Canion did not allow a run at regionals, pitching 27 consecutive scoreless innings in College Park. In Athens, Ga., the host and sixth-ranked Bulldogs put the disappointment of an SEC Tournament championship game loss squarely in the rear-view mirror, sweeping through regional play. The Bulldogs opened with an 8-0 (5 inn.) pasting of Georgia State, followed by a 9-2 victory against UAB that saw UGA tie a school record with five home runs in the game. In the title game, Florida State fell 10-2 (6 inn.) as Georgia advanced. Bulldog senior Megan Wiggins enters Super Regional play needing to score just one more run to become the first SEC player and 11th NCAA Division I player to record both 200 runs scored and 200 career RBI.
No. 7 California at Kentucky
The perennial road warriors of the NCAA Division I Softball Tournament, the seventh-seeded bears travel once again, this time to Lexington, Ky., for Super Regional play. Last weekend, the Golden Bears played in Louisville, Ky., topping Jacksonville State (6-3), and host Louisville (4-0 and 3-0) to advance to Super Regionals. Although California is the higher seeded team in this Super Regional match-up, Cal’s Levine-Fricke Field does not meet NCAA qualifications for a Super Regional venue, sending the Golden Bears on the road for the length of their postseason participation. Kentucky advanced to the program’s first Super Regional on the strength of their performances in what most consider to have been the most dramatic regional in the country last weekend. Kentucky started off on Friday with an 8-0 (5 inn.) drubbing of Notre Dame before the dramatics started on Saturday. The Wildcats built a 7-0 lead against host and 10th-seeded Michigan during the first five innings of play, before surrendering a run in the top of the sixth. The seventh inning saw a grand slam from the Wolverines Ashley Lane, but Kentucky held on for the 7-6 victory. Sunday’s championship game was no less dramatic. Michigan plated a single run in the top of the fourth inning, but Kentucky saw senior Meagan Aull hit a game-tying home run before classmate Annie Rowlands delivered a one-out bases-loaded single into shallow right field for the win. The Lexington, Ky., regional has sold out all of its 1,200 available tickets for this weekend’s play.