The 2019 NCAA Division I softball tournament kicks off Thursday with the first regional games. Here’s everything you need to know about the 64 teams competing for a spot in Oklahoma City.
The tournament will run as double-elimination for the first round of games hosted by the 16 seeded teams. The winners of each region will advance to the Super Regionals, where teams will play a best-of-three series with the hopes of booking a ticket to the Women’s College World Series. Oklahoma holds the top seed in the tournament and will host UMBC, Wisconsin and Notre Dame in Norman with the goal of moving on to win the program’s fifth national title. Here’s how each of the initial regional games break down:
Norman Region: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. UMBC, Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame
The Sooners are the favorites, both in this region and in this tournament. Ranked No. 1 in the NFCA poll for the last five weeks, Oklahoma has racked up a 49-2 record and remained dominant throughout its competitive schedule. Weather ended the Big 12 conference tournament early, but Oklahoma didn’t even need all of the tourney games to extend its win streak (currently the second-longest in NCAA history) as the Sooners racked up their 39th straight W against Texas Tech on May 10.
Oklahoma will play unranked UMBC in its first game of the tournament, a team the Sooners have not yet faced this season. The UMBC fan base is already buzzing about another potential upset from the famous underdog school, but the Retrievers will need an all-time performance to stop the top batting average team in the country. Unranked Wisconsin and Notre Dame will also play in this region with the winner of that game facing the winner of Oklahoma-UMBC. Oklahoma played Notre Dame on Feb. 14 and beat them 6-2. The Sooners have not yet played Wisconsin or UMBC this year. UMBC has not played Wisconsin or Notre Dame this year, and Notre Dame has not played Wisconsin.
Evanston Region: No. 16 Northwestern vs. Detroit Mercy, Southern Illinois vs. Louisville
🎙 | “It speaks to the commitment that our team has made. And it also speaks to the history of our program.”— Northwestern Softball (@NUSBcats) May 13, 2019
Hear from Kate Drohan and the #B1GCats on what it means to be hosting an NCAA Regional. pic.twitter.com/DaTRSlkwL6
The path to Oklahoma City is not easy for the winner of the Evanston region, but this could still be one of the more interesting set of games in this first round. Northwestern, the top seed in the region and the host of up to seven games in this region, enters with a 43-10 record and will face the 31-26 Horizon League Champions, Detroit Mercy. Seeded No. 2 in its conference, the Titans took down UIC to earn a tournament berth, but they’ll need a huge upset win to avoid an early NCAA tournament exit. The other game in this region involves a battle between Louisville and Southern Illinois, two teams that lost in the first game of their respective conference tournaments and will be looking for redemption. Louisville holds a 33-21 record, and while Southern Illinois has the same number of wins, the Salukis have played eight fewer games. They’ll work to extend their season even a few more with a win over Louisville in the opening round of the tournament.
Austin Region: No. 9 Texas vs. Sam Houston State University, Texas A&M vs. Houston
The Texas Longhorns have cruised through the regular season and secured a ranked spot after finishing in the Top 25 in every NFCA poll this season. Ranked as high as eighth nationally, the Longhorns have established themselves as one of the best teams in the country, and they should have a reasonably easy time breaking through to the Super Regionals. Sam Houston State, a 34-21 Southland conference team, is playing with the momentum of a conference championship win last weekend, but they’ll need another level to take down Texas. Less than two hours from the site of the regional tournament, the Texas A&M Aggies should be thrilled to find themselves in this position. After finishing 28-25 and losing in the first round of the SEC tournament, the Aggies earned an at-large bid to lengthen their season and take on Houston. The Cougars defeated Texas A&M once already this season back in February, but all eyes will be on this Austin game to see if the Aggies can reserve this outcome when it matters most.
Tuscaloosa Region: No. 8 Alabama vs. Alabama State, Lipscomb vs. Arizona State
As is the case in many of these first regional games, the unranked pairing could be the more interesting of the two games in this region. Alabama looks like a team that could easily push past Alabama State after a stellar season and an SEC regular season title to boast. The Lipscomb vs. Arizona State battle, though, offers much more intrigue. Arizona State had some big wins and some tough losses, but after picking up three consecutive wins against Oregon leading into the tournament, the Sun Devils are on a hot streak and will be a fun test for Lipscomb. The Lady Bison quietly cruised to an ASUN conference title with an 8-2 win over North Florida, and they’ll hope to bring some ASUN conference representation into a second game against the winner of Alabama and Alabama State.
Gainesville Region: No. 5 Florida vs. Boston University, Boise State vs. Stanford
The Gators are rolling into the @NCAAsoftball Regionals with a ton of momentum‼️Check out our postseason guide for information on the this upcoming weekend and recap our run to our 2⃣nd consecutive @SECSBTourney Championship. #GoGators🐊 #RoadToWCWShttps://t.co/97iD6qACf9— Gators Softball (@GatorsSB) May 14, 2019
Florida couldn’t have ended its SEC season any stronger, taking the conference tournament title away from Alabama in the final game and earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gators will take on the Patriot League champion Boston Terriers in a first-round matchup. These two teams haven’t met since 2000 when Boston picked up a 4-3 win, but since then, the Gators have put together an incredible streak of tournament representation, earning a top-five seed every year since 2007. Florida ranks third in the country in shutouts (21) and should be a defensive force.
The second game in this region will also be fun with Stanford, a team that recently beat UCLA, taking on Boise State, a 34-14 squad with a hunger to stay alive in this tournament. Both teams have won more than 30 games but lost more than 10, so this game will come down to which team can perform the best under NCAA tournament pressure.
Knoxville Region: No. 12 Tennessee vs. Longwood, Ohio State vs. North Carolina
The Tennessee Volunteers fell one win shy of the 40-win mark after suffering a quarterfinal SEC tournament loss to Auburn. But the national tournament is a time for redemption for the Vols, and they’ll take on Longwood in a game that should be a comfortable win for head coach Ralph Weekly’s team. The Vols are hitting .309 compared to Longwood’s .274, but if the Lancers can pull off the upset, they’ll face the winner of Ohio State vs. North Carolina. The Buckeyes will make their fourth-straight tournament appearance when they play the Tar Heels in Knoxville. North Carolina lost 8-0 after six innings to Florida State in the ACC tournament, but previous wins against Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina and Northwestern show that the Tar Heels can be dangerous behind the plate.
Stillwater Region: No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. BYU, Tulsa vs. Arkansas
Seven times prior, the NCAA Tournament has found itself in Stillwater. We take a look back at the Pokes' immense success during those instances. #okstate— Cowgirl Softball (@CowgirlSB) May 15, 2019
▶️ https://t.co/sWqxvcsdap pic.twitter.com/rKDz3Y6jGy
Oklahoma State would be considered one of the best teams in the Big 12 and within the top 10 best teams in the country if the nation’s top team didn’t play just 90 minutes up the road. The Cowgirls have been hiding in the shadow of the No. 1 Sooners all year, but now is their time to shine on their home field. Oklahoma State will play BYU in a game that puts the 29-24 Cougars against a powerhouse program. The Cowgirls have taken some rough losses this year, including Ls against Colorado State and UT Arlington. Those losses should be encouraging for BYU as the Cougars attempt to earn the right to play the winner of the second regional game between Tulsa and Arkansas.
Tulsa defeated Arkansas in March, and beat them in this same tournament two years ago. Now is Arkansas’ time to reverse that outcome. The team's 38-18 record does include wins over ranked teams such as Ole Miss and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU and Auburn, a positive sign for the Razorbacks. This game could go either way, as Tulsa has proved its might against the Razorbacks already. But anything can happen in the national tournament.
Tallahassee Region: No. 4 Florida State vs. Bethune-Cookman, South Florida vs. South Carolina
Florida State knows what winning the Women’s College World Series feels like. The Seminoles know what it’s like to lift the trophy and overcome all the challenges. They felt it all in 2018. In order to do it again, they’ll have to top Bethune-Cookman first. Then they'll have beat the winner of South Florida vs. South Carolina.
The Seminoles have not played any of these three teams yet this year, but they have the best winning percentage of any of the other teams in their region at .864. South Florida edges out South Carolina in this same statistic by .23.The Bulls won the regular season American Athletic Conference title and earned an automatic bid to the national tournament after their conference tournament was also cancelled because of weather. South Florida faces a South Carolina team that has made the tournament for a school-record seventh straight time. Of the two first regional games to watch, South Florida vs. South Carolina will be can’t-miss action.
Seattle Region: No. 3 Washington vs. Fordham, Seattle vs. Mississippi State
Fordham, like Washington, earned its bid after the remainder of its conference tournament was rained out, but the Rams’ first game in this region will be a rude welcoming to the national tournament. No. 3 seed Washington has lost just seven times this year and boasts 45 wins, good for sixth in the country in win-loss percentage. The winner of Washington-Fordham will play Mississippi State or Seattle, both teams that Washington has beaten. The Huskies have not played Fordham, but they’ll need a win against the Atlantic 10 champs to earn the chance to play the winner of the other regional game. Seattle comes into the tournament with an 39-15 record while Mississippi State carries a 33-21 resume. The Bulldogs of Mississippi State are one of 13 SEC teams to make this tournament, and if they advance to the Super Regionals, there’s a high possibility that they’ll meet a conference foe.
Lexington Region: No. 14 Kentucky vs. Toledo, Illinois vs. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech probably had a chance to host an NCAA regional if the Hokies had put up a better performance in the ACC tournament, but instead they’ll travel southwest to the home of the Wildcats where they’ll face Illinois in the first round. The Hokies fell to North Carolina State in their first game of the ACC tournament while Illinois battled a tough Michigan team to extra innings in its second Big Ten tournament battle. Pitcher Taylor Edwards will be Illinois’ biggest threat to the Hokies if the Illini hope to upset Virginia Tech and earn a shot against the winner of Kentucky and Toledo. Kentucky battled Alabama in the SEC Semifinals, but its 33-22 record and previous wins against Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina and North Carolina gave the Wildcats all they needed to earn hosting rights. If the Wildcats make it past Toledo, they’ll either face an Illinois team they defeated by one run to open the season or a motivated Virginia Tech team that will be looking to prove they deserved a seed in this tournament.
Oxford Regional : No. 11 Ole Miss vs. Chattanooga, Southeast Missouri State vs. Louisiana
This southern regional is full of fun, with Ole Miss hosting Chattanooga, and Southeast Missouri State playing Louisiana in what will be a great series of matchups. The Rebels take on Chattanooga in the first game of the regional, and will hope to roll through this first game and add a second win against the winner of Louisiana-Southeast Missouri State. After a solid season and a Sun Belt title, the Ragin' Cajuns have no goals left except to pick up wins against Southeast Missouri State and whoever wins the Ole Miss-Chattanooga game. Two wins in Oxford would give Louisiana its status back and propel the Ragin' Cajuns into what could be a wild Super Regional. For now, the focus needs to remain on the 45-16 Redhawks, who also won their conference and could pose a challenge to the nationally ranked Ragin' Cajuns.
Tuscon Regional: No. 6 Arizona vs. Harvard, Colorado State vs. Auburn
Since the bracket was released, the Tuscon region has been one drawing great interest, with top home run hitters across three of the four teams. Arizona earned the top seed in this region and the right to host these games as a result of its 42-12 record powered by a roster full of All-Pac 12 stars. Reyna Carranco and Jessie Harper remain two of the most dominant hitters in the country for the Arizona Wildcats, but Arizona is not No. 6 Arizona without the rest of its squad. Taylor McQuillin, Dejah Mulipola and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, the remainder of Arizona’s All-Pac 12 team, helped Arizona keep a national ranking and book its 33rd-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament in program history, the longest tournament streak of any softball team in history. The Crimson will have a challenge ahead of them, and the road beyond Arizona isn’t much easier. Auburn and Colorado State will play in the second game of this region, with the Tigers looking to regain some rhythm and the Rams looking to prove themselves against an SEC power program. A win for Harvard and Colorado State and two wins for Auburn would be headlines coming out of this region with Arizona clearly leading this group and aiming to book its ticket to the Super Regionals on its home field.
Minneapolis Region: No. 7 Minnesota vs. North Dakota State, Drake vs. Georgia
The Minnesota Gophers set a goal early in the season to host a 2019 regional in Minneapolis. On Friday, they’ll welcome in North Dakota State as a formal acknowledgement of a goal achieved. But the Gophers are still looking for more. After falling to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota wants to roll through both its games at home and book a place in the Super Regionals. First, the team will have to survive a 42-14 Bison team that just won the Summit League championship for the 10th time. Led by pitcher Paige Vargas, North Dakota State will be striving to upset the Gophers and take on the winner of Drake vs. Georgia. Drake has not played North Dakota State or Georgia this season, but the Bulldogs did lose to Minnesota 2-0 back in early March. Georgia has an impressive resume of wins including Ws over Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but a loss to Alabama in the conference tournament played a role in losing hosting rights. Now the Georgia Bulldogs will face the Drake Bulldogs in Minneapolis, both fighting for the same opportunity: the chance to survive and advance.
Baton Rouge Region: No. 10 LSU vs. Monmouth, LA Tech vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech and LSU both held top-15 spots in the most recent NFCA poll. Now both teams will convene in Baton Rouge, facing different opponents with the hopes of winning not just one, but two games to advance to the Super Regionals. LSU will take on Monmouth, while Texas Tech with play LA Tech. The Tigers hold a 40-16 record and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the competitive SEC regular season race. Texas Tech just missed the 40-win mark while Louisiana Tech picked up 44 wins and just 14 losses. Monmouth and LA Tech both picked up conference tournament wins while Texas Tech and LSU failed to accomplish such a goal, but the two nationally-ranked teams should have the upper hand in their initial regional game
Ann Arbor Region: No. 15 Michigan vs. St. Francis, DePaul vs. James Madison
Michigan paced the Big Ten this season, completing its conference success with a tournament title. The Pioneers come into the game with a 29-29 record, but they too have momentum on their side having just won the Northeast Conference championship over the weekend. Michigan ranks in the top 25 nationally in shutouts, earned run average, batting average, fielding percentage, scoring, stolen bases-to-walk ratio and win-loss percentage, highlighting its versatility. St. Francis faces a tough fight. The winner faces the victor of DePaul vs. James Madison. The Blue Demons won the Big East title to earn their 21st appearance in the NCAA tournament, while James Madison will head to Ann Arbor after winning the CAA and holding an impressive 47-7 record.
Los Angeles Region: No. 2 UCLA vs. Weber State, CSU Fullerton vs. Missouri
Getting closer to the Regional opener! pic.twitter.com/euSJDeXtRG— UCLA Softball (@UCLASoftball) May 15, 2019
UCLA had its sights set on a top ranking earlier this year, but Oklahoma has proven too strong for the Bruins to overtake. Losses against Oregon and Stanford in the back half of the season hurt UCLA in the rankings, but the Bruins still managed to pick up the No. 2 seed and should have a smooth path to the Super Regionals. The first game against Weber State puts the Bruins against the Big Sky Champions, but with one of the strongest pitching teams in the country, UCLA shouldn’t have a problem against the Wildcats. The winner of this game will play the winner of CSU Fullerton vs. Missouri, both of whom have been in the Women's College World Series previously. Missouri last advanced to that stage in 2011 while CSU Fullerton has not played in the championship round since 1995.