Opening weekend of the 2020 DII softball season did not disappoint. A bevy of nationally-ranked teams converged on Conroe, Texas, for the Arkansas Tech Winter Invitational including defending champion Augustana (SD) and national runners-up Texas A&M-Kingsville.
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There was plenty of action to be seen, and plenty to take away after just three days of the DII softball season. Let's take a look at a few that stood out.
Augustana (SD) had an up-and-down weekend
The Vikings came out of the six-game tournament sitting at 4-2. They picked up an opening win against nationally-ranked Cameron, but fell to unranked Texas Woman's in the nightcap. Augustana closed the weekend with a masterful four-hit shutout of No. 10 Texas A&M-Commerce, but fell to No. 21 Tarleton State in Game 2.
Look, by no means are we saying the Vikings are in trouble in their title defense. In fact, it's quite the opposite: to come out ahead in this field is impressive. The biggest thing we learned is Ashley Mickschl is looking a lot like the Most Outstanding Player she was at the 2019 DII softball championship. Thus far, she's out to a 3-0 start with that impressive four-hitter over the Lions. She also has nine hits in her first 20 at-bats, including a home run, while swiping four stolen bases already. That's quite the statement on opening weekend.
Texas A&M-Kingsville was perfect in the opening weekend
The Javelinas played four ranked foes in six games and came out 6-0, outscoring their opponents 36-15 over. It's the second straight year that the Javelinas pulled off the perfecto in Conroe and, well, we know how that turned out for them last year.
Saidi Castillo and Breanna Smith look just as scary in the circle as they did last season, going a combined 5-0 and allowing just seven earned runs over 34 innings while striking out 37. Smith came out of the gates hot, shutting down a very good Central Oklahoma offense in a complete game, three-hitter allowing just one run and striking out nine.
The Javelinas have so much back from last year's run, but also have a very difficult schedule ahead. Getting off to a start like this sends a big message and gives this team some swagger.
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The Arkansas Tech Winter Invitational was loaded with DII softball talent
Eight ranked teams made up the field in Conroe. Only the Javelinas escaped unscathed. Here's a quick look at how the other six teams fared.
- No. 7 Central Oklahoma, 1-5: It was certainly an unexpected start for the Bronchos, their lone win coming against a ranked Cameron team that struggled as well.
- No. 10 (tied) Texas A&M-Commerce, 4-1: Not a bad opening week when you're only loss is a tough 1-0 pitcher's duel to the defending champs. The Lions host their own tournament this weekend with a couple of more ranked foes awaiting.
- No. 14 Southern Arkansas, 3-1: Chelsea Fagan is off to a red-hot start hitting .467 with a home run. She'll need to keep it going as the Muleriders head to Commerce for another big tournament.
- No. 15 Cameron, 1-4: The Aggies simply didn't hit this weekend, coming out of the five games hitting a combined .245 with no home runs. That won't last with this lineup.
- No. 21 Tarleton, 4-2: Securing a winning weekend with a win over No. 1 Augustana is a good momentum builder.
- No. 23 Arkansas Tech, 3-1: The hosts squeaked out three-straight one-run wins before running into the red-hot Javelinas in the final game of their weekend.
No. 4 West Florida dominated No. 9 Florida Tech on opening day
In a battle of South Region heavyweights from the Sunshine State, the Argos prevailed with little issue, winning 11-2 over the Panthers. It was the largest victory for the Argos at the Gulf Coast Invitational, leaving with a split over their four games.
West Florida earned its lofty preseason ranking due to a bevy of returners that helped lead the Argos to the DII softball championship finals a year ago. Those key returners had themselves a a day: Teala Howard went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, Grace Gilbert went 4-for-5 with four RBI and Jacquelynne Poling went 2-for-3 with an RBI. In the circle, Kelsey Sweatt had a strong showing in her debut, going five strong and allowing just one run.
While neither West Florida nor Florida Tech got off to the start they were hoping, they get right back to it this weekend facing off on Saturday, Feb. 8, in the Florida Tech Invitational.
Chico State made a loud statement at the Concordia Kickoff Classic
Concordia (CA) came into the season with high expectations, returning every starter from its Super Regional run in 2019. The Eagles opened the season winning every way possible, with ace Callie Nunes tossing a 1-0 shutout and then the bats exploding for a 19-4 victory.
And then came No. 20 Chico State.
The Wildcats showed why they are still very much a force in a tricky West Region, shutting out the Eagles 4-0. Brooke Larsen picked up her second of three wins on the weekend, hurling a complete game two-hitter while striking out 13 and walking none. She had a remarkable weekend in the circle, going 3-0 with three complete games, two shutouts and 27 strikeouts. Surprisingly, Chico State outscored its opponents 22-5 without hitting a single home run.
The Wildcats left the tournament 5-0 and wasted no time getting right into conference play this coming weekend. We'll see what kind of momentum this big opening weekend gives them which will be much-needed with California Collegiate Athletic Association rival and No. 6 UC San Diego also off to a 5-0 start after sweeping the Desert Stinger Tournament.
One more note: Kylee Smith is unbelievably good
North Georgia is off and rolling, going 4-0 at the Gulf Shores Classic. The Nighthawks ace is off to another fantastic start after her incredible 2019. Both of her starts were shutouts as she allowed just six hits and struck out 22 in her 14 innings of work. We thought it would be tough to match last season (30-4, 0.73 ERA, 318 strikeouts), but we're starting to wonder if there's anything Smith can't do.