Arizona softball begins NCAA tournament play against Baylor Friday
After a Pac-12 conference swoon had the season headed south, the Arizona softball team won four of its last six and was selected to its 27th straight NCAA tournament.
The suddenly red-hot Wildcats (32-24, 9-15 Pac-12) now have a chance to keep things rolling with a first round matchup against Baylor (39-15, 9-8 Big 12) Friday at 2:30 p.m. to open the double elimination, four-team College Station Regional.
No. 16-seed Texas A&M (39-15, 10-13 SEC) hosts the regional and plays Penn (30-18, 16-4 Ivy League) in its first game. If the UA beats Baylor, it then faces the winner of the Texas A&M/Penn game on Saturday; lose and the Wildcats’ season is already on the line.
The last two teams standing will meet on Sunday. All of the games in the College Station Regional will be televised live by ESPN2.
Baylor is ranked No. 18 in the USA Softball poll, hit .291 as a team and have stolen 100 bases this year. The Bears finished third in Big 12 and ended the regular season with two losses in a row.
Last week the UA won two of three at then-No. 13 Stanford. After stumbling to last place in the Pac-12 after being swept at Oregon State, Arizona won the series against then-No. 5 Arizona State before beating the Cardinal.
This is Arizona’s first road trip in the regional round of the NCAA tournament since 2009. The Wildcats are 151-45 all-time in the NCAAs and 78-6 in the regional round.
UA is 14-4 all-time against Baylor and 25-12 against Texas A&M but have never faced Penn.
In his NCAA tournament preview, ESPN’s Graham Hays included the College Station Regional in his list of three to watch, specifically because it features teams from three big conferences— the Pac-12, SEC and Big 12.
Texas A&M is hosting despite a ninth place finish in the SEC and a loss in the first round of the conference tournament. The Aggies are ranked No. 20 in the USA Softball poll, led the nation in home runs with 1.67 per game, hit .303 as a team and have six batters hitting .300 or better.
ESPN analyst Michelle Smith said it was the toughest regional during the selection show.
“I think this College Station Regional is going to be hard all the way around,” Smith said on ESPN’s selection show. “You gotta love this regional, I think this is gonna be a battle down in Texas.”
Penn is making its NCAA debut after winning the Ivy League. Arizona finished in seventh in the Pac-12, which had eight of its nine softball teams selected to play in regionals.
Arizona is 12-17 away from the friendly confines of Hillenbrand Stadium this season, including a 7-8 mark in neutral site games.
The Wildcats have not lost a regional game since the NCAA tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 2005. Arizona’s last loss in regionals was in 2004, to Louisiana Lafayette in Tucson.
Win and advance
Should the UA advance out of the College Station Regional, it will face the winner of the Norman Regional, hosted by top-seeded Oklahoma, in the Super Regionals.
The Sooners beat the Wildcats in the Super Regionals the last two years and feature Shelby Pendley, Arizona’s former starting shortstop until she left the team in December.
Wilson, Goodacre named first team All-Pac-12
The Pac-12 announced Wednesday that sophomores Hallie Wilson and Chelsea Goodacre were named first-team All-Pac-12 and five other Wildcats were honored.
Wilson, an outfielder/first baseman, was second team All-Pac-12 last year and is hitting .371 on the season. Goodacre, a catcher, is batting .343 and has 17 home runs and 58 RBI.
Senior shortstop Brigette Del Ponte, freshman third baseman Lauren Young, junior utility player Kelsey Rodriguez and freshman outfielder Mandie Perez were honorable mentions.
Young and Perez were named to the All-Freshman team while pitcher Nancy Bowling was honorable mention.
Del Ponte was honored by the Pac-12 all four years she played in Tucson. She was first-team All-Conference as a sophomore and second-team as a freshman and junior.
College Station Regional Schedule
Friday, May 17
Game 1 4:30 p.m. CDT ARIZONA vs. Baylor
Game 2 5:00 p.m. CDT (16) Texas A&M vs. Penn
Saturday, May 18
Game 3 2:00 p.m. CDT G1 Winner vs. G2 Winner
Game 4 4:30 p.m. CDT G1 Loser vs. G2 Loser
Game 5 7:00 p.m. CDT G3 Loser vs. G4 Winner
Sunday, May 19
Game 6 2:30 p.m. CDT G3 Winner
vs. G5 Winner
Game 7 (if necessary) 5:00 p.m. CDT G3 Winner vs. G5 Winner