Super regional matchups intriguing
Also: Kansas women on track; Williams wins Hogan award
Memorial Day weekend always is a great time to get together with family and friends for a backyard barbeque, but make sure you have at least one television or smartphone within viewing distance at all times because you won’t want to miss a minute of postseason action.
Several spring sports, with the noted exception of Division I baseball, are in the midst of NCAA championship action, so pick your sport and log on to NCAA.com to find out where to watch. Meanwhile, the “Boys of Summer” will spend the weekend trying to impress the selection committee or earn an automatic bid by winning their conference before the 64-team bracket is released on Monday.
|DIVISION I SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP|
Follow all eight super regionals and every step toward the Women's College World Series with our interactive bracket.
With so much on the schedule, here’s a rundown of what to look for this weekend, starting with a quick breakdown of the eight NCAA Division I Softball Super Regionals:
No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 1 Oklahoma: Former Big 12 rivals reconnect as the Sooners play host to the Aggies for a best-of-three series starting at 7 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN. OU is looking for its third consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, while the Aggies hope to pull the upset for their first appearance since 2008. The Sooners hold a 43-30 advantage in the series dating to 1977, and have won eight of the past 10 meetings. The squads have met just twice in NCAA play with OU winning both games in 2002.
Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 8 Michigan: This one is shaping up as a pitcher’s duel between a pair of sophomore right-handers as the Ragin’ Cajuns travel to Michigan at 2 p.m. ET Friday on ESPNU. Michigan’s Sara Driesenga (26-6, 1.67 ERA) tossed three complete games in the Ann Arbor Regional, allowing just one run during the weekend. Louisiana’s Jordan Wallace (31-7, 1.73 ERA) one-upped Driesnga’s performance as she threw three consecutive shutouts and the Cajuns upended No. 10 LSU.
No. 12 Kentucky at No. 5 Arizona State: Since 2006, the Sun Devils have been practically unstoppable when playing host to a super regional in Tempe, Ariz. ASU has advanced to the WCWS in six of the past seven years, only missing out in 2010 -- all under head coach Clint Myers. Kentucky, which set a school record for wins with 41 this year, advances to super regional play for only the second time in school history. The series begins at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2.
Florida State at No. 4 Texas: The Longhorns swept their way through regional play on their quest for their fifth trip to the WCWS and first since 2006. Texas head coach Connie Clark was an assistant coach at FSU (1990-95) before landing her current gig at Texas. Clark helped guide the Seminoles to four WCWS appearances during her tenure. After an amazing comeback against South Alabama last Sunday, the Seminoles earned the right to vie for their first WCWS appearance since 2004. The series starts at 9 p.m. ET Friday on ESPNU.
No. 14 Nebraska at No. 3 Oregon: The Ducks will play host to their first super regional as they welcome Nebraska beginning at 5 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU. The Ducks are looking to return to Oklahoma City for the second consecutive season and third time in program history. Nebraska head coach Rhonda Revelle is a former Oregon player who has mentored the Huskers for 21 seasons, leading them to the WCWS in 1998 and 2002.
No. 11 Washington at No. 6 Missouri: The Tigers are just one of three programs in the country to advance to the super regional round three consecutive years (joining Alabama and Arizona State), and will play host to their fourth consecutive super regional, while the Huskies are making their fifth consecutive super regional appearance. This series has the makings of a pitcher’s duel as Missouri two-time All-America pitcher Chelsea Thomas (24-4, 1.14 ERA) ranks fourth in the nation in ERA, and Washington junior Bryana Walker is coming off a no-hitter against Hawaii in the Seattle Regional championship game. Missouri’s most recent trip to the WCWS was in 2011 when the Tigers beat Washington in the best-of-three series. The series begins at 9 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN.
No. 10 Alabama at No. 7 Tennessee: These two Southeastern Conference squads are certainly not strangers as they already have met three times this season with the Lady Vols taking two of three games in Knoxville, Tenn. Last year, the pair met in the WCWS as Alabama topped Tennessee 5-3. Alabama is the only team in the nation to appear in the super regional round every year since the format began in 2005. The Crimson Tide are seeking their third consecutive trip to Oklahoma City, while the Lady Vols are vying for their sixth appearance in the past nine years. Tennessee’s sister pitching duo of Ivy and Ellen Renfroe combined for 23 scoreless innings in regional play last week. The series opens at 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN2.
UAB at No. 2 Florida: In their first NCAA postseason appearance, the Blazers are on to the super regional round after surviving a 13-inning marathon against UCLA, 3-2, at the Louisville Regional. With the victory the Blazers reached the 40-win mark for the first time in program history. UAB’s task will not be an easy one when the Blazers travel to Florida at 1 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) as the two schools meet for the first time. After missing out last year, the Gators are looking to punch their ticket to their fifth WCWS in the past six seasons.
• The Syracuse-Denver matchup in the Division I Men’s Lacrosse semifinals on Saturday in Philadelphia will be a meeting of two of the top head coaches in the nation as John Desko (Syracuse) and Bill Tierney (Denver) clash for the 19th time and fifth time in the NCAA tournament. Desko owns a 13-5 advantage against Tierney, including a 4-1 mark in NCAA tournament action. Desko is the winningest active coach in Division I men’s lacrosse at .765 (186-57), while Tierney follows at .742 (322-112). The two have combined to win 11 national championships. Tierney won six NCAA titles during his 22-year tenure at Princeton before taking the position at Denver, while Desko has led the Orange to five championships since 1999. Saturday’s game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET.
• The preliminary rounds of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships get under way on Thursday with the East teams competing in Greensboro, N.C., and the West squads in Austin, Texas. The No. 1 Florida men’s team begins its defense of the program’s first NCAA title as the Gators compete in the East with 22 qualifiers, including a top-seeded 4x400 relay and top-seeded men’s triple-jumper Omar Craddock. Texas A&M is the highest-ranked team in the West as the Aggies look to reclaim the NCAA title with 24 qualifiers, including 13 athletes seeded in the top 10 of their events.
On the women’s side, No. 1 Kansas begins its journey to win its first NCAA title when the Jayhawks compete in Austin with 22 qualifiers and 13 performers ranked in the top 10 nationally, including Diamond Dixon (400 meters), Natalia Bartnovskaya (pole vault) and Andrea Guebelle (triple jump), who have all won national titles in their events.
• The Division II Softball Championship kicks off on Thursday in Salem, Va., with six of the eight-team field seeking their first NCAA title. Valdosta State, the defending champion, and Humboldt State, winners in 1999 and 2008, are the only programs in the group that have captured the trophy. Grand Valley State is the only other team to have reached the championship game (in 2002). This year’s GVSU squad (44-7) boasts the fewest losses of any team remaining in the tournament, and advanced to the national championship after knocking off No. 1 Indianapolis in the Midwest Super Regional.
• The Saint Augustine’s University men’s track and field team will be shooting for its 11th title, and the track program’s 33rd championship under head coach George Williams, as 16 qualifiers compete in the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships beginning Thursday in Pueblo, Colo. The Falcons won the indoor title in March, and have 23 entrants in the meet -- the most of any men’s team.
• There is a good chance a first-time champion will be crowned at the Division II Baseball Championship that begins Saturday as seven of the eight teams in the field have never won a title. Coker College, Grand Canyon and St. Edward’s are playing in the national tournament for the first time. Tampa is the only one of the group to have claimed the ultimate prize, winning back-to-back titles in 2006-07, and a total of five championships in program history. The Spartans will represent the South Region, which has been very successful at the national level with teams from the region winning six championships since 2004.
• Ithaca College is hoping to recreate the glory days of the program as the Bombers compete in the Division III Baseball Championship for the 12th time in program history, but the first time since 1994. The 18-year drought between appearances was the longest in program history. The Bombers won NCAA titles in 1980 and '88, along with three runner-up finishes in 1976, '81 and '86. Ithaca faces No. 1 Linfield on Friday as two of the nation’s top pitchers clash. Senior right-hander Pat Lemmo (11-1, 1.44 ERA) will take the mound for the Bombers, while sophomore righty Chris Haddeland (13-1, 0.99 ERA) will get the nod for the Wildcats. You can catch all the games live on NCAA.com, including the Ithaca-Linfield matchup at 2:15 p.m. ET Friday.
• The top-ranked and undefeated Maryland women’s lacrosse squad (21-0) looks to remain flawless as the Terrapins go for their first NCAA title since 2010 when they face No. 4 Syracuse in the NCAA semifinals at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday in Villanova, Pa. The Terps are scoring 15.19 goals per game (fourth in the NCAA) led by Alex Aust, who is averaging 5.67 points per game. The Orange will counter will the nation’s second-best scoring offense, tallying 15.33 goals per game. The Terrapins' most recent loss was to Northwestern in last season’s NCAA semifinals, while Syracuse has won 13 consecutive games since Maryland downed the Orange 19-11 on Feb. 17.
• Washington senior men’s golfer Chris Williams garnered the 2013 Ben Hogan Award on Monday, honoring the top collegiate golfer during the past year. The selection committee considers all collegiate and amateur competitions. The recipient is awarded an exemption to the PGA Tour’s 2014 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Williams also earned a $50,000 grant for the Washington men’s golf scholarship program, including $25,000 donated under his name.
Williams is the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and Scratch Players World Rankings, and earned a berth into the 2013 U.S. Open and the Open Championship. Collegiately, he posted a 70.97 scoring average and was a first team All-Pac-12 selection.
"This is pretty surreal for me," Williams said in his acceptance speech. "I grew up in Moscow, Idaho. I never thought I'd be here today. Our golf season is about three weeks long. We don't get a lot of time to play, but I took advantage of it."
Williams and the Huskies head to the NCAA championship in Atlanta on May 28.
• The St. Edward’s baseball team is making its first appearance in the Division II Baseball Championship this weekend, and senior pitcher Brannon Easterling is a big reason why. A native of College Station, Texas, Easterling transferred to the program from Division I’s Texas Tech and has been a workhorse throughout the season. Easterling has compiled a 13-3 record and 2.26 ERA, and leads the nation with 123.2 innings pitched and 13 complete games. In the NCAA South Central Regional last weekend, he tossed eight solid innings in a win against Angelo State on Thursday and returned on two days' rest to throw a complete-game, 7-1 win against Texas A&M-Kingsville in the championship game.
Easterling is tied for second in the nation in victories, and enters the national championship tournament as one of six (of 11 total) finalists for the Josh Willingham Award who are on teams still competing. The award is presented to Division II baseball’s most valuable player -- “an individual who not only excels on the field, but in the dugout, clubhouse and practice field, as well, and leads his team to national championship-caliber status.” The winner will be announced at the conclusion of the championship.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy