There are road trips teams make where they will try to rise to the challenge, but in the end just hope to survive.
The opponents they’ll face aren’t invincible. No program has ever finished a season of Division I softball undefeated. But the margin for error tightens. Passionate fans roar. Opponents play inspired. It’s tough enough to pick up a win against these teams without the added pressure.
RANKINGS: Florida State holds on to No. 1 spot
So as the 2019 season continues, as you follow your favorite team, its rival and the teams they’ll all face along the way, circle the dates they go on the road to match up against these five teams. Because if they win there those are the games you won’t want to miss. These five programs are never easy outs at home:
No. 2 UCLA
The Bruins (17-1) entered the 2019 season in search of their 13th national championship and first since 2010, and would still be undefeated if not for a two-run loss against Michigan. Four of their 17 wins have come at home, against Ole Miss, Fresno State, UC Riverside and Loyola Marymount. In those victories is a taste of what life will be like this year for opponents who journey to Easton Stadium. UCLA combined to outscore them 32-4. Two games finished in five innings.
And it’s just a continuation of what transpired during the 2018 season when UCLA finished 27-3 at home. Its only losses came against Stanford, Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State, and the Bruins outscored opponents by an average of four runs each game.
UCLA has not lost more than six games at home in any of the past five seasons, and that’s not going to change in 2019. Not with players like Bubba Nickles batting .379 with six home runs and 22 RBIs, Briana Perez batting .460 with 14 RBIs and seven doubles and Rachel Garcia pitching with a 0.58 ERA and a 7-0 record. Of course, the Bruins have been dangerous just about anywhere. They're already picked up two neutral-site wins against Florida and one over Oklahoma.
No. 3 Oklahoma
The Sooners (16-2) could be on track for a fourth national title in seven years. They already have a number of noteworthy wins. Their only two losses came against the two teams above them in the latest USA Today / NFCA Division I Top 25 Coaches Poll. And with a 3-0 mark at home with wins against No. 11 Louisiana, McNeese and previously-ranked Oregon State, they are also on track to repeat what they accomplished last season. That, of course, being a 30-0 record in Norman.
Oklahoma was not the only team to go unbeaten at home in 2018, but no other team that did played even half the number home games OU did. The Sooners tallied 16 shutouts and 14 run-rule games on Marita Hynes Field, too. Any team that wants to be the first to beat them since North Dakota State on May 19, 2017, will have to get past a lineup that features Shay Knighten and Sydney Romero and a pitching staff with ace Mariah Lopez.
No. 4 Florida
Florida’s march toward its first national championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 is off to a fast start. The Gators (21-2) have top 25 wins. Their only losses are against UCLA. And during seven games in mid-February, they showcased how tough it’d be for opponents to visit Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium and win.
Florida outscored North Florida, Illinois State, Florida A&M and Syracuse in those matchups by a combined margin of 47-6 and recorded three shutouts. This after a 2018 season during which the Gators finished 32-3 at home on their way to the Women’s College World Series and 2017 season that saw them go 28-3 in Gainesville and do the same. Try being the first team to top the Gators there against a pitching staff that has a 1.29 team ERA and one of the best in the nation in the circle in Kelly Barnhill. Good luck quieting an offense led by Amanda Lorenz’s .443 batting average, six home runs and 19 RBIs.
No. 8 Georgia
Georgia (19-2) will challenge Florida and others for the SEC crown this season as it tries to go on a run for its first national title in program history. The Bulldogs certainly have the offense to get them there. But it’s at home in Athens the past few years where Georgia has proven to be the most formidable.
Georgia finished 36-4 at home last season and is already 14-1 at Jack Turner Stadium a month into the 2019 slate. Yes, the Bulldogs suffered a loss at home. But they’ve also played more games at home already than UCLA, Oklahoma and Florida combined. Georgia is also still outscoring its opponents by an average of more than seven runs each game there. And if it keeps this pace, it’ll win 34 or 35 games at home. Right now there’s no stopping Alyssa DiCarlo or Justice Milz at the plate or taming the Bulldogs’ balanced and skilled pitching staff.
No. 10 LSU
The Tigers (19-4), like the Bulldogs and Gators, will challenge for their conference title and be a factor in the national championship conversation all season long. It’ll be because they average more than seven runs per game and have scored as many as 19. It’ll be because they’ve shown 10 times they can shut out opponents. And it’ll be because they play 34 games at Tiger Park this season and are already 15-2.
Last season LSU finished 35-4 at home. It’s not out of the question the Tigers could finish 30-4 and then host a regional to rack up more wins as they did last year.
The Tigers have one of the best hitters in the nation in Shelbi Sunseri and her .481 batting average, 11 home runs and 32 RBIs. They have two of the nation’s best pitchers in Shelby Wickersham and Maribeth Gorsuch headlining a deep staff. And if they play anywhere near how they did in the first six games of the season at home, all run-rule wins by a combined score of 73-2, it’s a big ask for a team to match up with that.