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D1Softball Staff | | February 10, 2020

What we learned during college softball's opening weekend

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It was an exhilarating first weekend of college softball action and the D1Softball staff takes an in-depth look at what caught its attention over the past few days.

Texas was en fuego

The fire emojis were out in force on social media as the Longhorns charged out the gates with record-breaking fury, led by Miranda Elish’s complete domination in the batter’s box. Elish is a pitcher who can rake. She batted .818 (9-for-11) with four home runs — including a grand slam — three doubles and 17 RBIs in six games at the Texas Classic in Austin. The senior also went 2-0 in the circle with a 1.40 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10 innings.

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Texas (6-0) run-ruled six straight opponents for the first time in program history in beating Wichita State (twice), Maryland, Lamar, Colorado State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The 78 runs by the Longhorns were the most in program history over the first six games of a season. As a team, Texas hit .486 with seven home runs, three triples, 19 doubles, 74 RBIs and an OPS of 1.365. The Longhorns are averaging 2.9 runs per inning and 13 runs per game.

JoAnne Graf Classic

Opening weekend games can be full of unexpected stories and that was certainly the case at the JoAnne Graf Classic in Tallahassee, FL, last weekend. The storylines from this four-team tournament are just as much about the teams who who won games as the teams that lost them.

Alabama, a hot pick to win the national title in the preseason, won its opener over North Carolina, 5-2, then lost 8-7 in 8 innings to Florida State in a game that was extended by a caught third strike deemed dropped by the umpires. The Crimson Tide was unable to bounce back from that dramatic loss, falling to North Carolina (9-8) and Florida State (8-0/5 inn) in Saturday’s action. All eyes will be on the St. Pete Clearwater Elite next weekend to see if Alabama can get back on track.

The tournament finished on a high note for the host Seminoles. With the Friday wins over North Carolina (2-1, 8 innings) and Alabama, Saturday wins over Detroit Mercy (22-5, 5 innings), and Alabama (8-0, 5 innings), FSU’s 12-0 (5 innings) victory over Detroit Mercy on Sunday gave head coach Lonni Alameda her 700th career victory. Alameda has been coaching for 17 years, 12 at Florida State.

Three players hit .500 or better for the weekend’s games, led by FSU’s Kiersten Landers' .579 (11-for-19) with seven runs scored, seven RBIs, and two steals. Megan Dray of North Carolina and Devyn Flaherty of Florida State each hit .500 for the weekend. Dray went 7-for-14 with two runs scored, two doubles and six RBIs, while Flaherty was 5-for-10 with five runs scored, two triples, two home runs and five RBIs.

Florida State’s Caylan Arnold turned in the top pitching performance of the weekend, tossing 12.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA, seven strikeouts and two walks.

New look for the Bruins  

UCLA unveiled a new blue and gold outfield banner last Thursday night before its season opener at the Stacy Winsberg Tournament at Easton Stadium. The 2019 champions unveiled a new offense as well with five different hitters in the lineup. The Bruins posted a .423 average, scoring 60 runs in six games. The offense was led by redshirt junior Aaliyah Jordan (.583) with seven hits, three doubles and six walks. There was plenty to go around as UCLA started six true freshmen throughout the weekend, batting in a combined 26 runs in their debut. Maya Brady smacked four home runs on the weekend while Seneca Curo blasted a grand slam in the first inning against Pitt.

Megan Faraimo, Holly Azevedo and Lexi Sosa shared the load for the Bruins in the circle. The staff surrendered just two free passes on the weekend striking out 50 in 35 innings of work.

Callin’ Baton Rouge

LSU’s freshmen came through in the clutch to help the host Tigers go 5-0 in the Tiger Classic. Freshman Taylor Pleasants made her first career home run memorable, launching a walk-off solo shot in the bottom of the seventh on Saturday to lead LSU to a 3-2 win over Oklahoma State. Freshman Ciara Briggs tied the score at two for LSU with an RBI double in the sixth. It was the second tight game between the evenly-matched teams, with LSU beating the Cowgirls 1-0 on Friday night. Pleasants is batting .692 (9-for-13) to start her career.

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Despite the losses to LSU, Oklahoma State (2-2) showcased its pitching potential. Redshirt freshman Kelly Maxwell threw a perfect game in her debut, a 21-0, five-inning victory over Florida A&M. Virginia Tech senior transfer Carrie Eberle allowed just one run with three strikeouts through six innings of her OSU debut in the first loss to LSU. She struck out a career-high 11 in five innings as the Cowgirls wrapped up the event with a 6-2 victory over FAMU. In a classy move by LSU head coach Beth Torina and staff, the Tigers recognized FAMU head coach Veronica Wiggins with a bouquet of flowers at home plate. Wiggins is retiring at the end of the season following 29 seasons at the helm. The honors will continue for Wiggins on Wednesday night when FAMU plays Florida State. The Seminoles plan to hold an on-field ceremony prior to the game for Wiggins.

Down in Mexico 

Shorts and gallons of sunscreen were on hand for the fifth installment of the Puerto Vallarta College Classic. The tournament spans over the first two weekends of the season with session one showcasing seven teams from seven different conferences. BYU and George Washington kicked off the entire Division I season, with the Cougars proving victorious with a walk-off win.  The Cougars defeated the Colonials on a single to the right side by freshman Huntyr Ava. Ava started off her collegiate career going 3-for-5 with four RBIs and a home run.

The tournament included two top 25 teams this year — Oklahoma and Oregon. The Sooners finished opening weekend 4-0 with two players, freshman Kinzie Hansen and senior Shannon Saile, receiving all-conference honors. Hansen went .533 on the weekend with eight RBI and a pair of doubles. Saile tossed 14 innings giving up just two hits and punched out 24 for the Sooners.

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As preseason polls were released, so were the comments on the only team in the top 25 with a losing record in 2019 — the Oregon Ducks. Oregon (5-0) certainly made a statement and proved the pollsters right this weekend. The pitching staff combined for a whopping 52 strikeouts with 0.44 ERA in 32 innings pitched. The UC Davis transfer, Brooke Yanez, fanned 25 in 14 innings of work.

What’s Buzzin?

Washington emerged with a 5-0 record at the Buzz Classic in chilly Atlanta. As expected, Sis Bates and Gabbie Plain played key roles in the victories. Bates showcased her trademark defense and provided timely offense. The senior shortstop hit a walk-off in an 8-7 win over UAB on Saturday. Plain gave up four earned runs to Georgia Tech in the first meeting but rebounded to take a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the rematch. The Huskies are heading straight to Florida for the stacked St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational, where they will face Alabama, Florida State, Liberty, South Carolina, Texas Tech and Team USA. The much-anticipated matchup with Alabama has a bit of a different feel now with the Crimson Tide (1-3) having already lost three games, including being run-ruled by Florida State and losing to North Carolina for the first time in program history. UAB (4-1) had a strong weekend in Atlanta, with its only loss coming in walk-off fashion to Washington. Redshirt sophomore Sierra Frazier batted .563 in the tournament, with three home runs, four doubles, four walks and nine RBIs while slugging 1.375.

NFCA Leadoff Classic

Four teams finished the weekend without a loss at the Eddie C. Moore complex in Clearwater, FL, on opening weekend. That list included Missouri (5-0), Illinois (4-0), Kentucky (4-0), and Mississippi State (4-0)

Of the 16 teams at the Leadoff, Minnesota was the highest-ranked in the preseason poll and was D1Softball’s pick as the league’s preseason favorite. The Gophers posted wins over Missouri State, North Carolina State and South Alabama, but lost to two of the undefeated teams on the weekend, Missouri and Kentucky. MaKenna Partain earned all-tournament notice, hitting .389 on the weekend with three doubles, a triple, five RBIs and four walks.

This was Mizzou’s first unblemished opening weekend since 2016, and it had five different pitchers earn wins in the circle this weekend. Jazmyn Rollins hit an eye-popping. 529 for the weekend with two home runs, six RBIs, six runs, three stolen bases and a 1.059 slugging percentage.

Wins over Liberty, Texas State, North Carolina State, and Minnesota got Kentucky off to an undefeated start. The Wildcats most dramatic win over the weekend came against NC State, with an eighth-inning walk-off grand slam from Autumn Humes for a 6-2 win. All-tournament honoree Rylea Smith hit .364 for the weekend, going 4-for-11 with three RBIs and two runs scored.

Illinois also came out of the gate hot, posting wins over Liberty (8-2), Ole Miss (3-1), South Alabama (5-4) and Auburn (2-0). All-tournament honoree Sidney Sickles went 2-0 with two saves on the weekend, compiling a 0.00 ERA in 15.2 innings in the circle. She tossed two complete-games with 14 strikeouts and held opposing batters to a .080 batting average.

Under first-year head coach Samantha Ricketts, Mississippi State posted five wins on the weekend, topping Missouri State (5-0), Liberty (9-2), Louisville (3-2, 8 innings) and North Carolina State (9-0, 5 innings). Fa Leilua earned all-tournament honors, hitting .500 (6-for-12) with three runs scored and seven RBI. Three different pitchers earned wins for FSU, and the Bulldogs were named the tournament champions based on run differential average.

Notre Dame’s Joley Mitchell was the top hitter of the weekend, going 6-for-10 with three runs scored and two doubles. Five additional players hit .500 or better for the tournament, most notably Missouri’s J Rollin who went 9-for-17 with six runs scored, six RBIs, a double, a triple and two home runs.

Illinois’ Sickles had the weekend’s best pitching line, though several other pitchers posted a 0.00 ERA. Sickles was the only pitcher with more than two appearances on the weekend, pitching in four games.

The “Stand Beside Her” tour played its first games this week, including five games as part of the Leadoff Classic. The tour opened with a 3-0 win at USF. At the Leadoff, Team USA defeated Mississippi State (4-0), Illinois (11-0, 5 innings), Baylor (9-1, 5 innings), Kentucky (7-0) and Texas State (5-2).

Also earning all-tournament honors were Tannon Snow (Auburn), Taylor Ellis (Baylor), Denay Griffin (Liberty), Taylor Roby (Louisville), Steffany Dickerson (Missouri State), Tatyana Forbes (NC State), Alexis Holloway (Notre Dame), Mikayla Allee (Ole Miss), Shelby Sloan (South Alabama), and Dalilah Barrera (Texas State).

Arizona dominates the Kajikawa  

The Wildcats dominated the weekend going 5-0 with a run-rule against No. 12 Tennessee on a picturesque Sunday evening at Farrington Stadium. Arizona flexed some serious muscle at the plate as Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza homered three times while Jessie Harper went yard twice. Harper moves to 68 career home runs, just 27 shy of the career home run record. Arizona’s toughest game came from a 6-3 win against Portland State. The Vikings seemed unfazed by the other shirts in the dugout putting on a defensive clinic against Wildcats.

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The tournament started with a bang as unranked Utah upset No. 14 Northwestern on a three-run home run in the top of the sixth inning by Ellessa Bonstrom. The Utes were able to fend off the Cats in the bottom of the inning to pick up their first victory of the season. Arizona State split Day 2 with an upset loss to Western Michigan and a win over Northwestern on a walk-off home run by Kindra Hackbarth. 

Tennessee (2-1) should really be at 3-1 as the Lady Vols were leading WMU 13-6 in the fourth inning before a hard stop travel time of 1:30 PM was enforced. The NCAA requires each team to complete five innings or a game to count on a team’s record. The Lady Vols missed their ace, Ashley Rogers (injury), in the circle and relied on freshman Callie Turner and transfer Samantha Bender as starters. Tennessee still has one game remaining against ASU as the event wraps up tonight.

— Tara Henry, Rhiannon Potkey and Amy Symons Hughes contributed to this story.

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