This softball season is going to be fun.
From Notre Dame’s win against No. 3 Washington to a no-vote-getting Indiana team’s victory against No. 6 Georgia to No. 22 Oklahoma State, Illinois and Houston all getting the better of No. 13 Kentucky, opening weekend feels like it's already delivered a season's worth of upsets and exciting finishes.
It’s true that 11 of the initial top 25, as voted by the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Coaches Poll, went 4-0 or better in their opening weekends.
No. 1 Florida State out-scored three different teams 31-2 to go 5-0 at the JoAnne Graf Classic in Tallahassee. No. 2 UCLA out-scored its opponents 39-5 to go 5-0 at the Hawaii Paradise Classic in Honolulu. No. 11 LSU didn’t play more than five innings in any game as it out-scored its opponents 73-2 and went 6-0 at the Tiger Classic in Baton Rouge.
But then there was North Carolina State's takedown of No. 7 Arizona. BYU beat No. 18 Baylor. North Texas rocked No. 20 Texas A&M.
Indiana and Notre Dame could be two of this season's rising stars
Last season six teams that weren’t in the top 25 to start the season found themselves ranked at season’s end. Some had received votes, such as South Carolina (finished No. 12), Arkansas (finished No. 16), Mississippi State (finished No. 23) and Texas State (finished No. 25), and proved those supporters right. Others, Long Beach State (finished No. 20) and Hofstra (finished No. 24), rose from relative anonymity.
The 2019 softball season’s opening weekend began to bring into focus which teams could make similar runs this spring. The Fighting Irish, second among unranked teams to receive votes to start the year, proved as much. The Hoosiers, who started the season with a five-game winning streak at the FAU First Pitch Classic in Boca Raton, Florida, did the same.
“We had everybody chip in this weekend,” IU coach Shonda Stanton said in a video posted on the Hoosiers’ Twitter account. “We talked so much at the beginning of the week about owning the moment. We owned the stage this weekend. We talked about being yes to possibilities, and that’s what it was about this weekend.”
It’s still unclear whether those two programs are capable of keeping Florida State from back-to-back national championships. And that’s just the reigning champs.
No. 4 Oklahoma started 5-0 and is searching for its fourth title since 2013. No. 5 Florida started 5-0, with wins against No. 19 Michigan and No. 7 Arizona along the way, as it starts its trek toward a third championship since 2014. LSU’s undefeated start included a no-hitter thrown by a freshman, Shelby Wickersham, in her college debut.
It was one of three no-hitters thrown Friday by three different teams. No. 15 Louisiana’s Kandra Lamb, also a freshman, threw one of them.
In total, ranked teams started the season a combined 99-20. No. 23 James Madison didn’t play and starts the season Friday in Clearwater, Florida, at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational. Thirteen of the 20 losses came against unranked opponents.
The coming weeks will show if that’s an outlier or the norm. There will be shuffling in each top 25 and often new faces, maybe some that dropped out and have returned. But if this opening weekend was not an outlier softball fans in 2019 should get out to as many games as possible.
Just listen to the confidence Notre Dame infielder MK Bonamy had after the Fighting Irish upset Washington in this video posted on the team’s Twitter account, “It was a great team win,” Bonamy said. “Our pitching staff dominated and we just went out there and did what we know how to do.”