Softball season is here!
The No. 3-ranked Arizona Wildcats will open the 2020 campaign Friday at the annual Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.
Arizona will play five games in three days, capping the event with a heavyweight battle against No. 12 Tennessee on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. MST.
My in-depth look at the Wildcats can be found here, and here is a glance at what their opponents bring to the table. They are listed in the order that Arizona plays them.
2019 record: 15-36 (3-15 Big 12, last place)
Number of returning starters: 6
Projected finish in Big 12: 7th (of 7)
What are they good at? Uh, nothing.
What are they bad at? The Jayhawks finished last or second-to-last in the Big 12 in every offensive category last season, slashing a dismal .246/.318/.366 with just 28 homers. In the circle, Kansas posted a 4.95 ERA, the worst mark in the conference by almost a full run. Defensively, the Jayhawks were sixth (of seven) in fielding percentage.
KU was outscored 98-38 in its 18 conference games, getting blown out often.
Who are some players to know? Power-hitting infielder Morgyn Wynn made the Big All-Freshman team last season after hitting a team-best .298 with a team-high eight home runs. She also finished second on the team in hits (37) and third in RBI (17). Her first career homer came against Arizona State.
Ace Brynn Minor graduated, leaving sophomore Lexy Mills as the most experienced arm on the roster. The right-hander went 6-9 with a 5.40 ERA in 70 innings last season. She was good at missing bats, striking out 79 batters and holding opponents to a .215 batting average, but she was also incredibly wild, walking 92 batters and hitting 10 others.
In her two outings against Pac-12 teams (ASU and Stanford), Mills allowed 11 runs (10 earned) in 4.1 innings.
2019 record: 40-17 (15-3 WAC, first place)
Number of returning starters: 7
Projected finish in WAC: 1st
What are they good at? With several position players on the WAC All-Preseason Team, the Redhawks have a balanced offense that led the conference in batting average (.309) and runs (303), and was second in homers (48) and stolen bases (49).
In the circle, the Redhawks return two of their top three pitchers from a staff that led the WAC in ERA (2.35) and opponent average (.245). Seattle is also a pretty solid defensive team, ranking tied for second in the WAC in fielding percentage last season.
What are they bad at? The biggest issue facing the Redhawks is their inability to step up against stiffer competition. They went 1-4 in the Kajikawa Classic last season, their lone win coming against Weber State. They lost to Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Bradley, none of whom were very good.
Seattle made the NCAA Tournament last season where it beat Fordham but lost twice to Mississippi State.
Who are some players to know? Junior catcher Bailey Thompson graduated from Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School. She was first-team All-WAC last season after clubbing a team-high 13 homers while hitting .323.
Another dangerous hitter is senior first baseman Madison Cathcart, who hit .321 with 12 homers last season. She was even better as a sophomore when she hit .444 with 19 home runs, and 20 doubles, all of which are program single-season records.
In the circle, the Redhawks will be led by redshirt junior Carley Nance, who led the WAC in ERA (2.00) and went 17-9 with 102 strikeouts in a team-high 147.1 innings last season.
Portland State Vikings
2019 record: 20-31 (8-9 Big Sky, fifth place of seven)
Number of returning starters: 8
Projected finish in Big Sky: Tied for 3rd (of 7)
What are they good at? The Vikings were the top defensive team in the Big Sky last season, posting a .967 fielding percentage. They were also pretty solid offensively, hitting .292, the second-best mark in the conference.
What are they bad at? Portland State will need to pitch a lot better in 2020 after posting a 4.36 ERA last season, fifth-worst in the seven-team Big Sky. The Vikings also do not have a lot of pop, hitting just 28 homers all season. They are not particularly active on the bases either, swiping just 26 bases.
Who are some players to know? Senior shortstop Darian Lindsay is easily the team’s top hitter. She hit .404 with seven homers, 20 doubles, and 33 RBI last season, all of which led the team. She also drew 32 walks, giving her an on-base percentage of .512.
The Vikings return ace Katie Schroder, who went 9-8 with a 3.33 ERA last season. She is a control pitcher. The right-hander walked just 16 batters last season but only struck out 48. Opponents hit .292 against her but only managed 12 homers in 515 at-bats.
Western Michigan Broncos
2019 record: 18-28 (9-11 MAC, eighth place of 11)
Number of returning starters: 5 (not official)
Projected finish in MAC: Not sure. Couldn’t find the preseason poll.
What are they good at? The Broncos put the ball in play. WMU hit .276 as a team last season, the fourth-best mark in the MAC, and only struck out 198 times, the fewest in the conference.
What are they bad at? That is pretty much all the Broncos are good at offensively. They ranked 10th in runs and ninth in slugging and on-base percentage last season. They were also dead last in stolen bases, only swiping 15. WMU was ninth in fielding percentage and eighth in ERA, so defense and pitching cannot be considered strengths, either. However, the Broncos do return their top pitcher and top four hitters from last season, so they could be due for a sizable improvement.
Who are some players to know? Two-way players are pretty rare these days, but the Broncos have a good one in Sydney Stefanick. The junior was first-team All-MAC last season, hitting .308 with 12 homers and 47 RBI, both of which were program single-season records. In the circle, she posted a 10-10 record with a 3.05 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 135.1 innings, emerging as WMU’s top pitcher.
No. 12 Tennessee Volunteers
2019 record: 43-17 (14-10 SEC, tied for second with three other teams)
Number of returning starters: 8 (not official)
Projected finish in SEC: 2nd
What are they good at? A solid team across the board, the Volunteers are ranked in the top 15 in all major polls for a reason. They finished 26th in the country in runs scored and 27th in ERA last season, both numbers a bit deflated because of the overall strength of the SEC, which saw all 13 teams reach the NCAA Tournament.
The Vols were also seventh in the country in fielding percentage. They were eliminated by Florida in Super Regionals.
What are they bad at? The Vols’ offense was not very explosive in SEC play, hitting just .259 with 14 homers and 24 doubles in 24 games. Tennessee slugged .381 against SEC pitching, fourth-worst in the conference. The Vols lost their top power-hitter, Haley Bearden, to graduation, so that could be an even bigger issue in 2020, though they do have a top-10-ranked freshman class that could help fill the void.
Bearden was responsible for 15 of Tennessee’s 49 long balls in 2019.
Who are some players to know? The Vols had two players named to the SEC All-Preseason Team—sophomore right-hander Ashley Rogers and senior infielder Chelsea Seggern.
Rogers was Tennessee’s ace last season, going 21-7 with a 1.94 ERA in 173.1 innings. A two-time Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, Rogers fanned 209 batters, walked 42, and held opponents to a .187 average, earning a spot on the All-SEC First Team as a freshman.
Seggern hit .366 with six homers, 46 RBI, and a team-high 16 doubles. Altogether, she slashed a gaudy .366/.471/.614.