The softball regionals are set and the No. 6-seeded Arizona Wildcats will be at home until they either get eliminated or finally get that nine-year-old monkey off their backs and return to the Women’s College World Series.
Now comes the challenge of figuring out how to advance.
UA coach Mike Candrea admitted Monday morning that he hadn’t yet had time to look at Arizona’s regional opponents. His staff is getting ready to devise a game plan for Harvard and whomever Arizona might face after that.
“Video. Lots of video out there,” Candrea said about what his staff is preparing to dive into. “You know, back in the day, there wasn’t much video. So you always had an element of surprise. You never knew much about teams. But in today’s world with the internet, there’s video about any team that you want to see. So it’s just a matter of taking the time to go find it—whatever platform it’s on—and be able to utilize and hope it’s good video. Some of it’s pretty bad; you don’t learn much from it. But hopefully we can find some good stuff.”
While Candrea and his staff are just getting started on their scouting, the numbers tell at least part of the story. The major storyline in Tucson will likely be hitting. Despite the absence of Pac-12 batting champion Reyna Carranco, the Wildcats and their opponents are bringing plenty of offense to the table.
The power game should be of special significance in the Tucson Regional. Nine players in the region have double-digit home runs, including four Wildcats. In fact, there are three batters with over 20 round-trippers so far this season. Two of those—Jessie Harper and Dejah Mulipola—wear cardinal and navy. The other plays for Auburn.
Let’s get acquainted with the three teams the Wildcats need to conquer in order to host a Super Regional.
Auburn Tigers (37-19, 10-14 SEC)
Team ERA: 2.60
Team BA: .285
Runs scored per game: 5.5
Fielding percentage: .970
The No. 2 team in the regional comes in with a below-.500 record in the SEC, but they put together a nice run in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers advanced to the semifinals, beating Missouri and Tennessee, before falling to Kelly Barnhill and the Florida Gators.
Arizona first baseman Rylee Pierce faced Auburn the past three seasons before transferring from Missouri.
“They just are a very well-rounded team,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one facet of their game that’s super dominant. So, I think it’s just going to be about us going out there and executing our plan and playing Arizona softball. I think if we do that, it should take care of itself.”
Their numbers back that up. Auburn’s team ERA of 2.60 is solid, but is almost a full point higher than Arizona’s 1.67. More worrisome for Auburn is the fact that their team ERA includes the work of senior right-hander Makayla Martin.
Martin leads the team with an 11-2 record and a 1.31 ERA. She strikes out 1.08 batters per inning. The problem? Martin last pitched on Mar. 17, a game she left early due to an injury to her right hand.
Auburn had hoped to get her back for the postseason, but she was still in a brace during the SEC Tournament.
Without Martin, the Tigers have a team ERA of 3.03. Ashlee Swindle, who has logged the most innings for the team, is allowing 3.04 earned runs per seven innings.
A team batting average of .285 is not bad, but it isn’t in the top 50. By comparison, Arizona’s average of .322 is No. 13 in the country. And, once gain, Auburn faces possible injury woes in the batter’s box.
Their second-leading hitter, Taylon Snow, injured her shoulder during the SEC Tournament. The sophomore infielder has a .324 batting average, but she did not play in the Tigers’ semifinal loss to Florida.
Auburn has two hitters with double-digit home runs, with one player knocking 20 balls over the fence (Kendall Veach). In comparison, Arizona has four with double-digit home runs and two players with more than 20 home runs each.
The only area that really stands out for the Tigers is their willingness to get things moving on the base paths. They have attempted 83 stolen bases this year, making good on 67 of those attempts. Three Tigers have attempted double-digit steals, and two of them have been successful at least 10 times. In contrast, the Wildcats as a team have only put runners in motion 17 times all season. Thirteen of those were successful steals.
If the regional final comes down to Arizona vs. Auburn, the Wildcats have an advantage in almost every aspect of the game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because Auburn first must get past Colorado State.
Colorado State Rams (38-10, 18-6 Mountain West)
Team ERA: 2.43
Team BA: .327
Runs scored per game: 6.7
Fielding percentage: .967
While Colorado State earned the Mountain West’s automatic bid, they put together a season that should have earned them an at-large bid anyway. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that they are the second-best team in the Tucson Regional.
The Rams earned wins over five tournament teams from conferences across the country, including No. 13 seed Oklahoma State. CSU also had a close loss to No. 2 UCLA, falling to the Bruins by a score of 3-0 at the Mary Nutter Classic.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Rams for Arizona fans is that they feature a former Wildcat. Pitcher Taylor Gilmore started her career at Arizona and pitched during the 2017 fall season, before leaving the program prior to the start of the 2018 season. She is now the No. 3 pitcher for Colorado State, accumulating a 2.24 ERA and 8-2 record in 43.2 innings.
Gilmore’s ERA is typical of the Rams’ staff. All three pitchers are surrendering fewer than three earned runs per seven innings. Bridgette Hutton has led in innings pitched with 156.1 while putting together a 2.64 ERA. She is followed by Jessica Jarecki, whose 2.20 ERA is the best on the team. Jarecki has thrown 114.1 innings.
The Rams are equally strong on the offensive side of the game, where they hit for both average and power, while also throwing in an effective running game. CSU has six regular players hitting over .300, led by senior Amber Nelson’s .421 average. Five regulars get on base at a clip of over .400, while another three have an OBP of at least .350. Three Rams have double-digit home runs, while the team has stolen 34 bases in 35 attempts.
Auburn should certainly have their hands full when they face the Rams on Friday evening.
Harvard Crimson (25-17, 16-5 Ivy League)
Team ERA: 3.97
Team BA: .291
Runs scored per game: 5.2
Fielding percentage: .969
The Crimson come in as the automatic qualifier out of the Ivy League and the No. 4 team in the Tucson Regional. As their RPI suggests, they have faced a relatively easy schedule, playing just three games against other tournament teams this season—and losing two of them. Their best win came on the road against Cal State Fullerton at the Easton Invitational.
The strongest aspect of Harvard’s offensive game is their ability to get runners moving on the base paths. Of the four teams in the region, they’re second in both stolen bases and stolen-base percentage. They were successful on 89 percent of their 56 stolen-base attempts, swiping a total of 50 bags on the season. Only Auburn’s 67 total stolen bases and Colorado State’s 97 percent success rate topped the Crimson.
Of course, the ability to steal bases relies on getting on base to begin with. Fortunately for the Crimson, they have five regular players hitting over .300 and four sporting on-base percentages of .400 or higher.
While their speedy offense helped them to the Ivy League crown, Harvard has struggled in the circle. Only ace Katie Duncan has a sub-5.00 ERA. The team will have to rely heavily on Duncan and her 2.72 ERA. That’s nothing new, though, as she threw 149.0 of the Crimson’s 273.2 innings this season while going 17-5. Grace Krantz, who threw the second-most innings (71.0 IP), is allowing 5.52 earned runs per seven innings.
While Pierce stressed that the Wildcats aren’t looking past the Crimson, the reality is that they should easily move past Harvard into the winner’s bracket.