The bracket is out and the stage is set. Each NCAA softball team can now see their path to reaching the Women’s College World Series.
Sunday night, the 64-team field for the 2019 NCAA Division I softball tournament was announced. Oklahoma is the No. 1 overall seed and they’ll face America East champs UMBC to start the tournament. The Sooners’ regional in Norman also includes Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
UCLA and Washington are the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, Detroit Mercy and Seattle are appearing in the tournament for the first time, and the SEC overflowed the field with 13 teams.
There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get into a few reactions from the bracket.
Tucson could be decided by the long ball
If home runs are your thing, the Tucson regional will be the one you want to keep an eye on. There will be dingers galore.
The regional will feature three of the nation’s top 12 home run hitters in Arizona’s Jessie Harper (25) and Dejah Mulipola (21), and Auburn’s Kendall Veach (20). Auburn’s Tannon Snow also has double-digit homers, slapping 13 over the fence this year.
Also in this region is Colorado State, which is 18th in the nation in team home runs per-game, driving 1.27 balls long per contest. The Rams have three players who have hit double-digit home runs this season, with Tara Shadowen leading the way with 14.
Harvard isn’t one of the top hitting teams in the country, but freshman Teagan Shaw has shown potential to go yard, hitting six homers this year.
Minneapolis regional looks tough
Out of all the regions, it’s hard to pick a favorite from Minneapolis. The regional features three teams ranked in the top 25 in the latest USA Today and NFCA Coaches Poll in No. 12 Minnesota, No. 13 Georgia, No. 25 Drake. Rounding out the field is North Dakota State, winners of 42 games and the Summit League champs.
There’s a case to be made for each team. Minnesota has one of the country’s top pitching staffs, ranking 10th in the nation in ERA with a 1.72 mark. The Gophers are also 12th in home runs per-game (1.28) and seventh in fielding percentage (.978).
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Georgia is 19th in home runs per-game (1.25), 19th in slugging percentage (.517), and has two of the most patient batters at the plate in Alyssa DiCarlo and Lacey Fincher. DiCarlo is seventh in the country in walks, drawing 0.88 per-game, while Fincher is 13th with a .82 mark.
Drake is armed with arguably the best arm in college softball in Nicole Newman, who recently tossed her fifth perfect game of the season. Newman is among the top three in the country on leaderboards for ERA, hits allowed per seven innings, shutouts, strikeout to walk ratio and total strikeouts. Drake also notched regular season wins over tournament teams in Toledo, Southeastern Missouri State and Southern Illinois.
North Dakota State is 12th in country in fielding percentage (.976) and 25th in batting average (.309).
Watch out for an upset in Ann Arbor
One region that definitely has potential for one of the seeded teams to get upset is in Ann Arbor.
The Michigan Wolverines were awarded the No. 15 seed and are hosting the regional after winning the Big Ten title. Michigan is legit, having been ranked No. 21 in the latest USA Today and NFCA Coaches Poll. The Wolverines are 17th in the nation in batting average (.319), 24th in ERA (2.08), 28th in slugging (.494) and 13th in on-base percentage (.408).
But also nestled in this regional are the James Madison Dukes, ranked No. 16 in the latest national poll and recently crowned CAA champs, winning each of its three conference tournament games by way of the mercy rule.
The Dukes won 47 games this season and notched wins over tournament bound teams in Tennessee, Drake, Longwood, Virginia Tech and Michigan, beating the Wolverines 3-0 in nine innings on March 7.
James Madison is arguably one of the most well-rounded teams in the country, ranking second in the nation in batting average (.349) and sixth in ERA (1.67). The Dukes are second in the country in on-base percentage (.443), third in home runs per-game (1.72), 21st in shutouts (15) and second in slugging (.617). Leading James Madison on offense is Kate Gordon, who is 17th in the nation in hits with 74 and 15th in home runs with 18. Sophomore Sara Jubas is 16th in the nation in RBIs with 58.
The Dukes not only have a chance to win the Ann Arbor regional, but have the resume to potentially make a run to the World Series.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.