With the regular season now over, it is playoff time for the No. 11 seeded Arizona softball team. The Wildcats were fortunate to have been selected as a host team since they finished the year 25-3 at home. Arizona will open play against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. On the other end, Villanova will face Ole Miss.
Since Arizona saw neither of these three teams in the regular season, not much is known about them. Here is the breakdown of each team.
While UMBC may be a small school in Maryland, its softball team is not to be taken lightly. The Retrievers finished the season 25-11 with a team batting average of .285, 161 runs scored and an OPS of .756. UMBC also won its second straight American East championship this year, defeating Stony Brook 1-0. It was this stellar play that earned the Retrievers their first-ever appearance in the NCAA championship tournament.
UMBC is lead by their star left fielder Sierra Pierce. Pierce finished the year batting .306 with four home runs, 23 RBI’s and an OPS of .844. Pierce is also an excellent defender, committing only one error the entire season. Another batter who is very effective is shortstop and leadoff hitter Maddie Daigneau. Daigneau batted .348 and scored a team-high 31 runs. In essence, if Daigneau gets on base, she will likely come around to score.
The Retrievers are also solid in the circle, let by their ace, Courtney Coppersmith. Coppersmith threw 140.0 innings with a whopping 233 strikeouts and only allowed 13 earned runs with a 0.65 ERA. It is probably safe to say that this is the starting pitcher the Wildcats would be facing, so they better be ready.
This is another championship team Arizona could potentially face. Villanova captured the Big East title against Connecticut by a score of 6-1. This was their first conference championship in program history and much like UMBC, it will be Villanova’s first time in the NCAA tournament. Even with no playoff experience, that is no reason for Arizona or any team to sleep on Villanova. They finished the year with a record of 36-13, the same as Arizona. Villanova also finished with a better conference record (15-2) and away record (15-7) than Arizona did.
When you compare players, Villanova matches up with Arizona and is even better in some instances.
Take Villanova’s leadoff hitter and right fielder Paige Rauch. Rauch batted .420 with nine home runs, 43 RBI’s, 45 runs scored and an OPS of 1.269. Compare that to Arizona’s Janelle Meoño who batted .441 with one home run, eight RBI’s, 37 runs scored and an OPS of 1.008.
If that was not scary enough, Rauch is also a pitcher and has a better stat line than Arizona pitcher Alyssa Denham. Rauch finished the year 20-3 with an ERA of 1.97, throwing 163.2 innings, 182 strikeouts and allowed 35 walks. Denham finished the year 18-7 with an ERA of 1.72, throwing 126.0 innings, 99 strikeouts and allowed 43 walks. That means that one of Villanova’s players is better than two of the best players on Arizona’s team.
This is the one team that Arizona does have a history with. Back in 2019, these two teams met in the super regionals in Tucson, and Arizona sent Ole Miss home in two games. With that fresh on Ole Miss’ mind, there is no doubt they will come for the Wildcats with a vengeance should these two teams meet. Ole Miss had a bit of a down year, finishing 34-20 in the regular season, including a 12-12 conference record and 6-12 on the road.
Ole Miss’ best player is arguably third baseman Paige Smith. Smith batted .301 with 11 home runs, 35 RBI’s, 30 runs and an OPS of .981. Other than Smith, no other player hit double-digit home runs or has an OPS in the .900 range.
Pitching is another area that is a problem for the Rebels. Their two best starters are Anna Borgen and Savannah Diederich, yet both pitchers have ERAs above 2.35. Ole Miss should be careful with what they wish for because on paper they are not a better team than Arizona.
This is the playoffs so there are no easy teams, and the Wildcats will have their hands full with every opponent they face.
Arizona will take on UMBC in the Tucson Regional at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m. MST.
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