In the world of Fastpitch Softball, the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) is a chance for the best-of-the-best to battle it out for a chance to be dubbed the NCAA Champions.
Being that fastpitch softball was cut from the Olympic roster after the 2008 games, the Women’s College World Series is one of few tournaments left for elite competition. And just as can be expected from collegiate sports, there is no-telling what might happen this year in Oklahoma City between the eight teams.
What can be first-noted about this year’s bracket and probably the most interesting tidbit to take away is that five of the eight teams competing for the championship are from the Southeastern Conference aka the SEC. This is first time since ’99 a single conference has sent five teams to the tournament, when the Pac-12 (then the Pac-10) did it. We are seeing a new powerhouse in the SEC as they have sent at least three teams to the tournament in in the last five seasons. So can the SEC repeat as tournament champions? Or will one of the two Pac-12 teams or the single Big-10 team take the title this year? Let’s take a quick look at what this year’s NCAA Women’s College World Series of Softball looks like…
Game 1 – 5/28 @ 12pm (EST)
Florida (SEC) vs Tennessee (SEC)
Florida enters the tournament with the biggest target on their back. The Gators enter Oklahoma City as the regular season SEC champions, defending NCAA Champions and the #1 overall seed going into the tournament. They have a lot to defend going into the big dance, but with five NFCA All-Americans, they have the players to back it up.
Coming off a tough semi-final SEC tournament (2-1) loss to Tennessee on 5/8, the Gators are looking for a little redemption in the first game of the tournament. With the only time seeing Tennessee being at the SEC tournament this season, Florida would definitely like to even-up-the-score and jump out to an early (1-0) record at the WCWS. And with Florida boasting the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year and SEC Pitcher of the Year in Lauren Haeger, along with the SEC Player of the Year Kelsey Stewart, the odds of a big-time win look better and better.
Some key players from Florida:
The USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year and SEC Pitcher of the Year is the first player in NCAA Div1 history to collect 60 Wins as a pitcher and 60 Homeruns as a hitter in a carreer. As the ultimate dual-threat player, Haeger’s performance both on the mound and at the plate will be crucial to Florida’s success.
The SEC Player of the Year does whatever she can to get to stretch out her base hits. Batting .448 this season with 17 doubles and a whopping 10 triples, Stewart is a threat at the plate and on the bases. It’s no doubt that her 10 triples and 23 stolen bases have assisted in her 68 runs scored. Needless to say, when Stewart gets on base, she’s probably going to cross the plate.
Tennessee comes in with a chip on their shoulder. With six total appearances in the WCWS and two appearances in the championship game, the Lady Vols have never hoisted the trophy. Could this be their year? They are certainly hoping so. With the last five meetings against Florida, UT has gone 5-0, outscoring the Gators 32-13 – so maybe Tennessee has Florida’s number. Tennessee also comes into the tournament with as the lowest remaining seed – #8 in the tournament and #9 overall. This gives them an everything-to-gain and nothing-to-lose attitude, which could definitely work to their advantage. However they will need some help from some of their best to get the job done.
Some key players from Tennessee:
This is her 3rd appearance at the NCAA WCWS and you can bet Lewis is itching for that final Win in the championship game. Lewis leads the Lady Vols at the plate with a .333 batting average – if she can get on base, she’ll be looking to Taylor Koening to knock her in.
Koening is a power threat at the plate. With every at-bat, there is a chance for a big hit. Leading UT with 17 Homeruns this season, Koening will need to harness that power and come up in clutch situations for the Lady Vols if they want to pull out these Wins.
Their ace is a threat in the circle and in the box. Gaffin comes into the series with a 17-3 record and 2.19 ERA – so she’s used to winning and only giving up a couple of runs along the way. At the plate, she has a .318 Batting Average with 11 stolen bases, 5 Homeruns and has stretched out 15 doubles. Tennessee needs big play from Gaffin if they plan on going deep in this tournament.
Game 2 – 5/28 @ 230pm (EST)
LSU (SEC) vs Auburn (SEC)
Rounding out the all-SEC top-half of the bracket, LSU vs Auburn, Tigers vs Tigers. Going into this year’s WCWS, the LSU Tigers are not just happy to be there, they’re out to win it all. Having made it to the tournament in ’01, ’04 and most recently 2012, LSU has never seen a championship game. However, even having little experience with the big dance, they have luckily drawn an even more inexperienced team in facing Auburn for the first-round. Although Auburn may have come away as the SEC champs this year and seed higher as a #4 over LSU’s #5, LSU entered the postseason as the overall #2 rank on the RPI standings with some big series wins against both Florida and Tennessee (won 2-out-of-3 against both) during the season. The Tigers will rely heavily on their five All-Americans for big wins in this tournament.
Some key players from LSU:
Only a Sophomore and already an NFCA 2nd Team All-American, Landry is leading the team at the plate with a .431 batting average and an impressive 5 triples on the year. LSU will need Landry to get key hits and get on to get some runs on the board.
The team’s only NFCA 1st Team All-American, although edged out by Landry, comes into the tournament with an impressive .430 batting average. Bell’s big bat has also cranked 17 Homeruns with 72 RBI’s, boasting an .813 slugging percentage. If there’s a runner on base, chances are Bell is going to get her across.
In the circle, the Tigers will look to Hoover with a 17-5 record and 1.59 ERA. They are going to need to keep the sub-2 ERA to remain competitive and Hoover looks to get that done on the mound.
The Cinderella, the Underdog, the “feel good story” – whatever you want to call them, the Auburn Tigers have finally made an appearance at the Women’s College World Series. For most, the task is daunting and the atmosphere overwhelming with no prior experience – but the Tigers don’t lack experience, from a coaching standpoint at least. Being lead by coach Clint Myers, Auburn has the leadership it needs to go deep into the tournament, even if the players haven’t been there. This will be Myers’ 8th trip to the WCWS, with 2 championships under his belt as the head coach at Arizona State University. He will be key in keeping his team on the ground and composed during the tournament. Coming into the postseason, Auburn took the SEC championship with a team best 54-9 record and the SEC’s top hitting team. They certainly have the confidence and respect going into this first game against LSU, even without ever being to Oklahoma City for the WCWS.
Some key players from Auburn:
An all-around threat at the plate, Carosone enters the first game with a .453 Batting Average and 18 Homeruns. Not to mention the striking 80 RBIs and .851 slugging percentage. If there’s a big-bat LSU needs to be cautious of, it’s Carosone’s.
Just when you thought the threat was tamed with Carosone, Cooper has stepped up with her own 18 Homeruns on the year in tandem with a .408 Batting Average. Her also impressive 63 RBI’s leaves Auburn with two key hitters to put runners across. If one gets walked and avoided, you can bet the other will step up and come through.
Although the ERA stands on the high-side at 4.04, her 24-2 record is definitely notable. She may give up a few runs, but Davis is tough on the mound and knows that she has her offense backing her up. So when she is behind in a game, don’t expect her to crumble under the pressure of being back a few runs, Davis does everything she can to keep her team in the game.
Another Junior pitcher that Auburn will turn to, with an 18-3 record and 2.96 ERA, Walters is a great off-set from Davis and will complement her well when either starting or in relief. This 1-2 combination will be key in the big games this coming tournament.
Game 3 – 5/28 @ 7pm (EST)
Michigan (Big 10) vs Alabama (SEC)
Michigan is not new to the world of elite college softball. With a championship under their belt from 2005 and 2 more appearances in the WCWS following in ’09 and ’13, the Wolverines are looking to put another trophy in their case. Ten years ago, Michigan made history by becoming the first team East of the Mississippi to win the NCAA Championship. They made a statement and gave some hope to teams on the East Coast by taking that win and are looking to keep it that way with another championship run this year. With the help of their 5 NFCA All-Americans, Michigan is definitely a big player in this year’s WCWS.
Some key players for Michigan:
The Junior was a finalist for the National Player of the Year title and although she didn’t take it home, that won’t slow her down at this year’s tournament. The 1st Team All-American is a multi-tool player – she can run, hit for contact, hit for power and field. Hitting .472 with 20 stolen bases and 83 Runs scored, if she finds a way on, she’s going to move herself around and cross that plate. That is if she doesn’t hit it over the fence. With 21 Homeruns, you don’t want to leave it for her to hit it, but you don’t want to put her on the basepaths either.
You may think Romero is the only threat, but along with her you have Kelly Chrisler. Chrisler is also hitting over .400 this year with a .404 batting average in an insane 193 At Bats. With 20 Homeruns and a few 8 stolen bases, Chrisler is as much of a threat as any.
With the 1-2 punch that Michigan has been riding since the injury to Sara Driesenga in February, Betsa has been effective on the mound and helped carry her team through. With a 30-4 record and sub-2, 1.56 ERA, Betsa can be sure to keep her team in the game.
Teamwork has been key for Betsa and Wagner’s success this season and a big part of that is they complement each other’s style. The southpaw will give other teams a different look and will be tough to adjust to when throwing before or after Betsa. With another sub-2 ERA at 1.82 and a 22-2 record, Wagner rounds out the pitching staff with an overall best ERA of the remaining teams at 1.59. With a stat like that, it will be tough for other teams to get confident at the plate.
By beating their Big-12 foe Oklahoma by way of a go-ahead Grand Slam to punch their ticket to the WCWS, the Crimson Tide are looking for redemption. As the runner-up in last year’s championship and Champions in 2012, Alabama is no stranger to success on the big stage. And although coming in second is a great accomplishment, they lost in both games at the Finals and are looking to Roll on to that #1 spot this year. And with 4 NFCA All-Americans in tow, they just may do it.
Some key players for Alabama:
The hero from the Super Regionals. The swing that changed it all. Runyon came to the plate and hit the go-ahead Grand Slam against Oklahoma that would prove to be enough to get ‘Bama back to the WCWS. With a clutch swing like that, you can expect Osorio to step up and come up big, even as just a Sophomore – with a .335 Batting Average and 19 Homeruns, Runyon’s granny over Oklahoma wasn’t a fluke. This girl can hit and hit she will.
McCleney is no stranger to playing with the big girls. She has played with the best-of-the-best and will looks to continue her outstand performance throughout the tournament. Batting an incredible .453 and 14 doubles, McCleney’s speed doesn’t slump and with 31 Stolen Bases, you can be sure she will move herself around if the Bama bats don’t.
The Freshman standout has been a big factor in Alabama’s success. In the circle, Osorio is 21-8 with a 1.64 ERA and a whopping 211 K’s in her Freshman campaign at Bama. She’s a young pitcher throwing like a veteran, leaving the #2 batting lineup, Sooners batting just .136 against her.
Game 4 – 5/28 @ 930pm (EST)
UCLA (Pac-12) vs Oregon (Pac-12)
Finally, we get to see some Pac-12 action. And as strange as it sounds, the only 2 Pac-12 teams in the tournament will face each other in the first game of the tournament. UCLA enters their first game with a well-known tradition. Carrying the most NCAA Softball Championships than any other team in history, with 11, when UCLA is in the WCWS they are expected to bring home the trophy and nothing less. With their last appearance in 2010, the Bruins have been in what seems like a drought for the World Series. However, their last appearance was a successful one, as they took home the win, becoming the champions of the 2010 season. They enter this WCWS with a team-best .370 overall batting average, but with only facing Oregon this season out of all of the other teams, they may have a disadvantage, not knowing the other teams. In their only matchup vs Oregon, they lost two of the three games, so the Bruins are looking for some redemption in the first game.
Some key players for UCLA:
A top-10 finalist for Player of the Year, Bennett is #2 in the nation in Batting Average, batting .516. That’s not to mention her .549 OBP and 20 stolen bases. Her speed is her biggest asset, so Oregon will need to get rid of the ball quick in order to punch her out, because if she’s on base (which she will be more than half of the time), she’s going to get around.
A solid complement to Bennett, Spalding also carries an impressive Batting Average, batting .408. But more importantly, Spalding has put out 20 Homers and is slugging .891% – but don’t expect her to chase every pitch, she’s got an eye at the plate, walking 37 times this season.
UCLA has been riding Carda this season and for good reason – the kid can pitch. With a 31-6 record and 2.77 ERA, Carda has been baffling batters with 270 K’s on the year. To keep Oregon at bay, Carda will need to be smart with mixing her pitches, which so far, seems to be going pretty well for her.
Oregon made a trip to last year’s WCWS as the #1 overall seed, but found themselves going home after a tough loss to Alabama in the Semi-Finals. So Oregon has experienced recent success with being #1 overall and incredible loss when they couldn’t pull through last year. They have the experience and they will take what they learned from last year’s run, through this year’s. Facing UCLA in the first game, they took 2-of-3 earlier this season, so although they are certain not to underestimate the Bruins, they must be feeling some confidence when facing a fellow Pac-12 team. In the 3 games they played UCLA, they lost, came back to win and mercied them – so they have experienced it all and won’t stand to be surprised by what UCLA has to throw at them.
Some key players for Oregon:
Leading the team with a .433 Batting Average, Lilley has found herself on first by way of a walk 39 times and driven in 44 runs this year. The Ducks will look to Lilley to keep offense going and score the key runs.
With her own, impressive .416 Batting Average, the speed of Takeda has notched her a ridiculous 35 stolen bases this season. If Takeda can get herself on base, she will get herself around – whether she’s hit around or has to steal the base herself. Having a threat like Takeda on the basepaths makes Oregon dangerous from an offensive standpoint.
A finalist for Player of the Year, Hawkins is looking to carryover an impressive Sophomore campaign as a Junior. With the #10 ERA in the nation at 1.41, a 30-3 record and 269 Ks this year, Hawkins knows how to win and will keep her team in the game. The southpaw will move the ball around and keep hitters off-balance.
Hovinga is a great complement to Hawkins with a 2.71 ERA and 12-1 record. Although Hawkins is the Ace, Hovinga has been consistent in backing her up and showing teams another look when necessary.
We’d like to wish good luck to all of the teams competing in this year’s Women’s College World Series!
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