>In the next couple posts, I’m going to preview the NCAA Softball Tournament, which starts Thursday. The softball tournament, like the basketball one, is made up of 64 teams. It has 16 national seeds. The first round is called ‘Regionals,’ where four teams come together for a weekend to play a double-elimination set of games. The winner then moves on to the Super Regionals round, which is the equivalent to the Sweet 16. The Super Regionals are a best 2-of-3 series between two teams. The winner of this moves on to the College World Series which also is double-elimination. If you lose, you must come out of the winner’s bracket.
I’m going to look at the top three seeded Regionals and some intriguing others.
Regional # 1: Hosted by the University of Alabama
UAB. Lipscomb and Alcorn State join the host Crimson Tide, who were surprisingly awarded the top overall seed in the tournament. All three visitors are making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The only reason I say surprising top seed is because given the fact that Washington won the title last year and stayed at No.1 all year, one would have thought that the Huskies would have been the top seed. That’s not to say the Tide didn’t deserve it because they did and I’m about to show you why.
Alabama: Alabama is trying to make their third consecutive trip to the College World Series after finishing the year with a 48-9 record, while winning both the SEC regular season and tournament championships in the same season for the first time in school history.
The Crimson Tide faced 17 opponents that made the NCAA tournament this year, including UAB, whom they defeated twice this year. The team complied a 25-8 record against those teams, including wins over Missouri, Michigan, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and Georgia Tech, all teams that received national seeds. All-time they are 8-0 against UAB and 2-1 against Lipscomb. This will be the team’s first meeting with Alcorn State.
The team boasts a prolific offense led by Charlotte Morgan. The senior from California leads the team with 16 home runs, 11 doubles and 67 RBI. The offense features five players who have over 30 RBI, with two more at 28. After losing speedster, Brittany Rogers to graduation, the team doesn’t seem to have lost anything on the base paths as they replaced Rogers with a freshman speed demon by the name of Kayla Braud. She has 40 steals in 44 attempts, while Jennifer Fenton has swiped 26-of-27 bases. Two more players have combined to steal 32-of-38 bases as well.
Not only has the offense been amazing, but so has the Crimson Tide pitching. The staff is led by Kelsi Dunne, who boasts a 27-4 record and a 2.00 ERA. She has struck out 308 of 662 batters faced and hitters are hitting a mere .180 against her. Along with Dunne, Lauren Sewell, Amanda Locke and Morgan comprise a staff that has struck out 477 batters with a combined 2.49 ERA.
UAB – The Blazers (36-20) are making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Unlike Alabama, the Blazers did not face as many teams that qualified for the tournament. Of the five teams they faced that qualified for the tournament, they went 7-6, including splitting a doubleheader with their first opponent, Lipscomb.
While the UAB offense may not be as dynamic as some of their opponents, they do have a steady lineup, led by Martina Landrum, Kayla Orr and Mandy Lowman. Landrum leads the team with an impressive .376 batting average, while Orr and Lowman lead the team with 40 RBI each. Landrum adds speed at the top of the lineup, as she has stolen 35 bases in 41 attempts.
The pitching staff may be what is most impressive about the Blazers. The team is led by a two-headed monster of Lauren Webster and Alisha Smith, both of whom have ERA’s below 2.00. Webster leads the staff with a 17-5 record, 1.77 ERA and 7:1 K:BB ratio.
Lipscomb – The Lady Bisons (48-11) split a doubleheader with UAB at Draper Diamond April 20. They won game one 1-0 on a no-hitter by Whitney Kiihnl, the Player of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Lady Bisons lost the second game 7-5.
The team has faced four teams including the team they play first UAB. Two of those teams, California and Hawaii, are two of the top teams in the nation. They managed to pull off an upset of California in the first game of the Hawaii Spring Fling and held its own in other games against the two stronger teams.
The Lady Bisons also have a balanced lineup, as seven of their eight regulars have a batting average of over .300. Kellie Sirus and Abby Keese lead the team with 17 and 14 runs, respectively. Sirus leads the team with 55 RBI, while Keese is third with 38.
Whitney Kiihnl has to have one of the most impressive resumes in the country. The sophomore pitcher boasts a 31-3 record and a sparkling 0.73 ERA. She has pitched 12 shutouts and struck out 319 of the 696 batters she has faced. Hitters are batting a mere .107 against her.
Regional # 2: Hosted by the University of Michigan
The No. 2-ranked University of Michigan softball team will be the No. 2 overall seed for the 2010 NCAA Tournament and host a regional for the ninth straight season. Michigan is joined by regional No. 2 seed Notre Dame, No. 3 seed Illinois State and No. 4 seed Wright State in the double-elimination event.
Michigan – If you were to say that Michigan (46-6) has played one of the toughest schedules, including one of the, if not the toughest non-conference schedules, you would not get many people to disagree with you. The team faced 17 non-conference teams that made the NCAA Tournament before Big Ten play started, where they faced two more tough NCAA teams, Illinois and Ohio State. In one stretch, the Wolverines played 24 out of 31 games against tournament teams. Michigan won its third straight Big Ten title by going 18-1.
Michigan has always been known as a team that has a dynamic offense and this year was no different. The Wolverines outscored their opponents by 278 runs (378-100) on their way to bashing 74 home runs and 76 doubles. The team features five hitters who hit over .350 and three who hit over 13 homers. Dorian Shaw leads the team with 18 homers and 55 RBI, while teammate Maggie Viefhaus added 17 round-trippers and 53 RBI of her own.
And while their offense has been prolific as usual, you would be hard=pressed to find a better 1-2 punch than Jordan Taylor and Nikki Nemitz. Taylor leads the squad with a 24-3 record, while posting a 1.43 ERA. Nemitz counters with a 20-3 record and a 1.67 ERA. Taylor hasn’t lost since a 5-3 setback to Ohio State on April 28, while it has been nearly three months (Feb.27) since Nemitz dropped a decision. Taylor leads the team with 278 strikeouts, while walking only 39, while Nemitz has retired 167 via the strikeout and walked 30.
The Wolverines are 11-5 against Notre Dame, 2-2 against Illinois State and 3-0 against Wright State.
Notre Dame – For the 12th consecutive season Notre Dame learned it had earned a spot in the NCAA Championship when the NCAA Division I Softball Championship Committee announced the 64-field team on Sunday evening. Notre Dame (45-10) will head to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the opening round of the 2010 tournament.
The Irish faced 10 NCAA Tournament teams this year, going 8-7 against those foes. They have won 10 of their last 11 games heading into the tournament, their only loss being in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.
Sadie Fitzenberger leads the offense with a .410 average. Christine Lux and Heather Johnson lead the Irish with 17 and 16 home runs, respectively. The Irish as a team lead the country in batting average, hitting at a solid .346 clip.
Notre Dame has ridden the arm of Jody Valdivia, who has a 36-5 record and an impressive 1.72 ERA. She has struck out 260 of the batters she has faced, while allowing hitters to only bat .195 against her.
Illinois State – Illinois State will be making its seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament and earned its third at-large bid to the tournament, with the last coming in 2007, which is also the last time they made the tournament. Coincidentally, they defeated Notre Dame the last time they were in the tournament 2-1.
The Redbirds faced 10 teams that are in the tournament this year, finishing with a 5-9 record against them. While the record may not look that great, one of the five wins was against Arizona State, which is the 13 seed, in Tempe.
Ashly Olson is the big bopper on the team, leading ISU with 18 homers and 55 RBI. Her .808 slugging percentage leads the team by more that 200 points. Her .370 batting average is second on the team, only behind Kara Nelson, who is hitting an even .400 on the season.
Illinois State is led by a pitching staff of Megan Warner and Jordan Birch. Both have almost identical records with Warner having a 15-9 record and Birch 15-8. Birch has struck out 124, while Warner has 119 K’s to her name.
Wright State – The Raiders (30-28-1) are coming to Ann Arbor after having won the Horizon League Tournament. They have faced five teams in this year’s tournament and have lost to each of them.
The Raiders offense is led by Kristen Bradshaw, who is coming off of an MVP performance at the Horizon League Championships. Bradshaw boasts a .353 average and has swiped 36-of-39 bases. Jamie Perkins and Justine Shilt lead the offense with 38 and 35 RBI, respectively.
Melanie Heyne leads the team in victories with 13 and ERA (3.03) and has won her last five decisions.
Regional # 3: Hosted by the University of Washington
Washington - The defending National Champions and top ranked team all year might have some gripe with the selection committee after “earning” the 3 seed. The team is joined in their Regional by Nebraska, North Carolina and North Dakota State. The Huskies will make their 17th consecutive NCAA postseason appearance this week and first as the defending National Champion. The Huskies (46-5, 17-4) are coming off one of their most successful non-conference seasons in school history, including winning the Pac-10 Conference for the third time in school history; it was their first since 2000 and the first out-right title since 1996.
The Huskies faced yet another challenging schedule, having to face seven NCAA Tournament teams from the Pac 10, as well as 11 nonconference teams that made the tournament. The team amassed a 23-4 record against NCAA Tournament opponents on the year.
Danielle Lawrie is the star of the team and has not disappointed. She leads the team with 14 home runs and 55 RBI. Kimi Pohlman leads the team in average, hitting at a .385 clip, while also leading the team with 20 steals. Sharon Wright and Niki Williams have some power as well, as they hit 11 and 10 homers respectively.
As good as Lawrie was at the plate, she was even better on the mound. Lawrie compiled a 35-2 record, 0.99 ERA and struck out 407 of 857 batters. She had a 12.3:1 K:BB ratio. She recently became the PAC 10′s career strikeout leader, while moving up to second for career wins with 131.
North Carolina – Carolina earned its eighth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament with this year’s berth and gathered 40 wins in a season for the fifth straight year this season. The team is coming off of a loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
The Heels faced 12 teams that made the tournament, going 8-12 against them.
Danielle Spaulding leads the team in hitting with a .356 average and 33 RBI. She leads a balanced offense, which features six players with over 20 RBI, including Kelli Wheeler, who leads the team with 12 home runs. Christine Knauer has been a paid on the base paths, as the speedster has swiped 41 bases in 45 attempts.
Like Washington’s Lawrie, Spaulding is a dual-threat on the diamond, as she heads a two-man pitching staff. Spaulding has compiled a 19-5 recors, while posting a 1.32 ERA. It is her teammate Amber Johnson, however, who leads the team in wins with 20, while amassing a 2.26 ERA. Both pitchers have struck out over 200 batters, with Spaulding having K’d 294 batters and Johnson 216.
The Heels are 2-2 against Nebraska, 1-0 against North Dakota State and 0-1 against Washington.
Nebraska - The Nebraska softball team will make its 20th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance this weekend when the Huskers travel to Seattle, Wash. Nebraska will be playing its first-ever games in the state of Washington this weekend, but the Huskers are no strangers to the postseason. The trip to Seattle will mark Nebraska’s 20th all-time NCAA Tournament appearances, a total that ranks ninth in NCAA Division I history. The Huskers have been a frequent participant in the postseason under 18th-year Head Coach Rhonda Revelle, who has guided her team to the NCAA Tournament in 15 of the past 16 seasons.
Eight of the Huskers’ last nine games have come against NCAA Tournament teams, including seven contests against teams currently ranked in the national top 20. Overall, Nebraska played 22 total games against 13 teams in the NCAA Tournament field, posting a 7-15 record in those games. The Huskers posted a 2-8 record against six teams that earned a national seed, with victories against eighth-seeded Georgia Tech and ninth-seeded Missouri.
Ashley Guile leads a balanced Husker offense with a .391 average, 15 doubles and 40 RBI. Heidi Foland and Brooke Thomason provide the power for Nebraska, as they have knocked out 12 and 11 home runs, respectively.
As it seems like with many teams, the Huskers use two pitchers, Robin Mackin and Ashley Hagemann. Hagemann leads the team in victories (14) and strikeouts (208), while Mackin leads the two in ERA (2.61) and batting average against (.202).
North Dakota State – North Dakota State advances to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season after winning the Summit League tournament in Fargo this weekend. The Bison went 3-2 in its first Division I tournament appearance in 2009, winning three games to take the NCAA Norman Regional title and dropped a pair of games at Arizona State in the NCAA Super Regional.
North Dakota State is 0-9 against the Pac-10 all-time including a 6-0 loss to then 6th-ranked Arizona on Feb. 13 at Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. The Bison are 0-4 against the Wildcats, 0-2 against Arizona State, 0-2 vs. Cal and 0-1 against Stanford. NDSU is 0-14 against Nebraska and 0-1 vs. North Carolina.
It’s the ninth tournament appearance overall (including Division II) for North Dakota State. The Bison have compiled a 27-17 record in NCAA competition and is 3-8 against NCAA teams this year.
The Bison are led by the big bat of Melissa Chmielewski who leads the team in average (.398), home runs (10) and RBI (59).
Whitney Johnson is the horse of the pitching staff, poating a 26-16 record and 2.53 ERA. She has nine shutouts amongst her 32 complete games and has struck out 315 hitters.