After the Arizona softball team defeated Ole Miss 12-6 in a wild game on Sunday, May 23 to win the Tucson Regional, they will now face its toughest opponent of the playoffs, No. 6 Arkansas.
With a regular-season record of 43-9, the Razorbacks finished the year ranked No. 5 in the nation and earned the No. 6 seed in the tournament.
Arkansas also pounded its opponents into the dirt in its home regional, outscoring them 19-3, including two shutouts in the first two games.
Here is a breakdown of Arkansas and what the Wildcats should look out for.
Home is where the heart is
Since Arkansas is a higher-seeded team than Arizona, they will have the advantage of hosting the Super Regionals at their home field, Bogle Park. Arkansas was virtually unbeatable at home this season, posting a record of 24-5. As a team, Arkansas batted .286 at home during the regular season and .307 during the playoffs.
The road is not somewhere the Wildcats thrived during the regular season. Arizona finished the year 11-10 on the road and only batted .252 as a team. Arizona also only won three out of their eight road series. The Wildcats have not played on the road since Sunday, May 9, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to a different stadium and hostile crowd.
Since the SEC boasted the most teams in the top-10 at the beginning of the tournament, it is no secret that Arkansas faced a lot of ranked teams during the regular season. The Razorbacks finished an incredible 14-6 against ranked opponents, including three series sweeps on the road.
Compare that to Arizona who finished 5-13 against ranked opponents and never won a series against a ranked opponent. The Wildcats also batted an abysmal .217 against ranked opponents.
Pitching is lights out
If Arkansas cannot beat an opponent with their offense, their pitching can be relied on to shut down anyone. The Razorbacks are led by their ace and SEC pitcher of the year Mary Haff. Haff’s record is 26-6 with an ERA of 1.44. Haff also pitched 194.0 innings with 195 strikeouts and only allowed 16 home runs, 14 doubles, one triple and a batting average of .187. Hitters are lucky if they get on base, let alone make contact with the ball.
Behind Haff is pitcher Autumn Storms. Storms finished 7-1 with an ERA of 1.35, along with 77.2 innings pitched and 60 strikeouts. Storms is also a very tough pitcher to hit, allowing only four home runs, eight doubles, two triples and a batting average of .199.
While Arizona may have a potent offense, Arkansas has the antidote to cure the lethality of the Wildcats.
While nobody in Arizona will know that name, everyone in Arkansas does. Shortstop Braxton Burnside is by far Arkansas best player and one of the best offensive players in the country. Burnside finished the year batting .349 with 25 home runs, 53 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.388. Burnside usually bats second, so Arizona will have to deal with her early on.
One weak side to Burnside’s games is errors, where she finished with a team-high 11 during the season. However, Burnside has not committed an error throughout the playoffs. Arkansas cannot afford any errors on the left side of the field, especially with all the power hitters Arizona has that hit from the right side.
Arizona will face Arkansas in game one of the Fayetteville Super Regional at Bogle Park on Friday, May 28 at 4 p.m. MST.
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