NCAA SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
Louisville softball had plenty to celebrate Sunday night after hearing their name called in the NCAA Tournament. Paulie broke down Louisville's schedule and regional yesterday. But how does the rest of the field look? Who are some of the favorites or dark horses?
The Sooners more than earned the top seed. Oklahoma is on pace for the best record in NCAA softball history and is chasing a three-peat.
The Bruins historically are the best softball program of all-time. They were nearly unbeatable in the dominant Pac-12.
3-seed Florida State
The Seminoles have been great as long as Lonni Alameda has been their coach. FSU won the ACC again and just won a national championship a few years ago.
The Lady Vols took the SEC title and have arguably the best overall pitching staff in the country... oh, and the top home run hitter in the country.
There were quite a few people questioning the high seed for the Crimson Tide- a team that finished tied for fourth overall in the SEC and recently loss ace and Louisville native Montana Fouts to an injury for an unspecified amount of time.
6-seed Oklahoma State
Another team that folks felt was seeded too high is the Cowgirls. Oklahoma State is riding a five-game losing streak including a pair of losses to teams not in the tournament. Half of their 14 losses came at the hands of Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida State.
The Huskies had one of the toughest schedules in the country. They're also just a few years removed from back-to-back WCWS semi-finals appearances.
The "baby" of the bunch is Duke. The Blue Devils' inaugural season was in 2017 and now they're on pace to host a Regional and Super Regional.
The Cardinal finished fourth in the Pac-12, but two of those teams are already seeded above them. Stanford is one of 24 teams to break 40 wins this season.
A rough conference season hurt the draw for the Tigers, but they got a favorable match-up in the Regional.
The Razorbacks are the fourth SEC team in the tournament, just more proof to show how good the SEC is this year. They took series wins against many of the top foes in their conference.
The Big Ten champs weren't given the respect they deserved, according to many. The Wildcats are no strangers to playing host in the Regional round and have earned that honor again.
Finishing runner-up in the Big 12 in softball is like finishing runner-up in women's basketball during the UConn streak- the best you can get. Getting swept at home against Baylor to close out the regular season appears to have done some damage in the Longhorns' seeding.
The Bulldogs finished runner-up in the SEC in the regular season, but ride a three-game losing streak into the NCAA Tournament, including bowing out in their first game of the conference tournament.
The Utes have been hot as of late and even upset UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.
The Tigers snuck in the national seedings. They're another young team, after starting their program in 2017.
Besides Oklahoma, who has the best chance of winning the championship?
I think UCLA or Tennessee is the best team not named Oklahoma in the tournament. Both teams are well-rounded on offense and pitching, and are familiar with blowing out opponents.
Who is over-seeded?
Alabama comes to mind. A team that finished fourth in the SEC doesn't really deserve the fifth overall seed. Losing their top pitcher, who has two perfect games this season, raises questions on how well they can compete.
Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12, a conference that only has seven teams, and they were just a hair over .500 in conference play. They've slumped big time as of late, losing 11 of their last 13 games.
Are there any double-digit seeded dark horses?
Texas' kryptonite has been Oklahoma, going 0-4 against the Sooners this year. Outside of that, they are great. They have one of the best batting averages in the country and scored on about 70% of their hits. They also rarely strike out.
Clemson was overshadowed but quietly put together a 46-9 record. Valerie Cagle is one of the best dual-threat players out there, having recorded 74 hits at the plate and a 1.20 ERA in the circle with 177 strikeouts. Getting no hit against Duke in the ACC semifinals feels more like a fluke than anything.
Which non-seeded teams have the best shot of advancing to a Super Regional?
Wichita State compiled a 43-10 record but being a part of the AAC caused them to get overlooked by many. Sydney McKinney is the only player in the country with a batting average above .500 (.519) and was taken first overall in the Athletes Unlimited draft. She's .33 points ahead of the next highest batting average. As a whole, the Shockers hit the ball well. They're matched up in a Regional against Oklahoma State, a team I think is already over-seeded.
Charlotte played half the ACC this year and went 4-2 in those games. They faced Duke, the host team in their Regional, and lost by one earlier this year. The 49ers are not an offensive-minded team with a .264 team batting average, but they hit a high amount of extra base hits, allowing them to score higher than what their batting average would suggest. This is a gritty team that can surprise some folks.
Auburn finished third in the SEC and broke the 40-win mark, but their 8-7 road game record hurt. They have series wins against seeded teams like Alabama and LSU. Maddie Penta is one of the best pitchers in the country with a 1.10 ERA and 287 strikeouts.
Virginia Tech is the nation's top home run hitting team. Louisville was reminded of that in the ACC Tournament. What the Hokies have lacked in pitching this year they have made up for on offense at six runs per game.
Boston University (not College) coincidentally faces Virginia Tech in the opening round of the Georgia Regional. Yeah, Georgia, I'm putting you on upset alert. The Terriers went 51-8 this season that includes wins against Baylor, Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Cal State Fullerton. Their 1.55 ERA is top five in the country.
Central Arkansas got a good draw in a Montana Fouts-less Alabama Regional. Defense wins championships and the Bears are great at it. The pitching staff carries a 1.36 ERA and their fielding percentage of .980 is tied for sixth-best in the country. Central Arkansas' opponents scored less than 100 runs in 54 games this year.
Only four teams have scored double-digit runs in the final game dating back to the first softball championship game in 1982.
18 games resulted in the loser being shutout. Nine more games resulted in the loser scoring one run.
UCLA has won the most championships with 13. If you deduct the 1995 vacated win, the Bruins have won 12 times.
Oklahoma has six titles, all since 2000, and all under current coach Patty Gasso. They've won four of the last six titles. There was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Florida State is the only ACC team to win the national championship, defeating Washington in 2018.
While we aren't doing a Pick Em for the softball tournament, you are more than welcome to create your own if you'd like. Spoiler: mine would have Oklahoma winning it all if I made one.
Happy Tuesday and Go Cards!