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A look at Arizona softball’s Tucson Regional opponents

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Ole Miss vs. Arizona in 2019
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

No. 11 seed Arizona softball will begin their road to the Women’s College World Series on Friday when they will welcome Ole Miss, Villanova and UMBC for the Tucson Regional.

Ole Miss and Villanova will kick things off at 3 p.m. MST and Arizona and UMBC will follow at 5:30 p.m. MST. The winners of Friday’s games will meet on Saturday in Game 3 of the Tucson Regional at 2 p.m. while Friday’s non-advancing teams will play in Game 4 at 4:30 p.m. MST.

The loser of Game 3 and the winner of Game 4 will meet on Saturday at 7 p.m. for a spot in Sunday’s regional final, which will begin at 5 p.m. with the if-necessary Game 7 to begin at 7:30 p.m. MST.

Here’s a closer look at the three teams coming to Tucson.

Ole Miss

  • Overall record: 34-20
  • SEC record: 12-12 (8th place)
  • RPI: 27
  • Best wins: at No. 23 Baylor, vs. No. 17 Georgia (x2), at No. 15 LSU, vs. No. 25 UCF (x3)
  • Bad losses: at Troy, vs. UAB
  • Overview: Picked last in the SEC preseason poll, the Rebels exceeded expectations by finishing eighth in the ultra-competitive conference. You may remember them from when they lost to Arizona in the 2019 Tucson Super Regional. A senior heavy team, Ole Miss still has at least five starters from that squad. However, they have a new leader in former Minnesota head coach Jamie Trachsel, who took over for Mike Smith in 2020 after he was controversially forced out. The Rebels don’t stand out in any statistical categories except shutouts. They had 16 in the regular season, eighth-most in the nation. They went 5-3 in their SEC series and were eliminated by rival Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC Tournament. They enter the postseason on a four-game losing streak and with a 10-17 record away from home. Arizona pitching coach Taryne Mowatt was the Rebels’ pitching coach from 2015 to 2017.

Players to know

  • Paige Smith, 3B — The Rebels have only hit 41 homers all season and 11 of them belong to Smith, who has five more than the next Rebel. She also leads Ole Miss in RBI (35). A sophomore, Smith wasn’t with the Rebels when they traveled to Tucson in 2019.
  • Sydney Gutierrez, 1B — A reserve on the 2019 team, the senior is enjoying a breakout season, hitting .366 in SEC play, easily the best mark on the team. She bats cleanup despite only having one home run to her name. Gutierrez once starred at Pearland High School in Texas with Arizona pitcher Alyssa Denham.
  • Anna Borgen, LHP — Ole Miss leans on three pitchers and all of them have ERAs hovering around 2.40. Borgen has pitched slightly more than the other two, Ava Tillmann and Savannah Diederich. (Tillmann pitched one inning against UA in 2019.) Borgen is 11-3 with a 2.36 ERA in 124.1 innings. Her ERA was at 1.50 at the end of April, but she has struggled in her last few outings. She’s not a power pitcher, only fanning 83 hitters so far.
  • Blaise Biringer, 2B — The freshman attended Cienega High School in Vail, about 30 miles from Hillenbrand Stadium. A top-60 recruit, Biringer has made an instant impact for the Rebels, starting 51 games and hitting .322 with a pair of homers, five doubles, five triples and 21 RBI.

Villanova

  • Overall record: 36-13
  • Big East record: 15-2 (2nd place)
  • RPI: 26
  • Notable wins: Villanova hasn’t faced any major-conference teams, but they did beat UMBC 11-2 on the road in April
  • Notable losses: VU also lost to UMBC 5-2
  • Overview: The Wildcats are making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance after winning their first-ever Big East championship. They led the Big East in every major offensive category. That included belting 56 homers and 71 doubles in 49 games. They also posted the third-best ERA (3.12) in the conference in the regular season. Villanova has been solid no matter where they play this season, going 18-2 at home and 18-11 in other venues.

Players to know

  • Paige Rauch, DP/P — One of the best two-way players in the country, Rauch is the first player to ever be named the Big East Pitcher and Player of the Year in the same season. The senior is hitting .420 with nine homers, 43 RBI and 44 walks, twice as many as the next Wildcat. In the circle, she is 20-3 with a 1.97 ERA in 163.2 innings, more than twice as many as VU’s No. 2 pitcher. Rauch, a New York native who started her career at Fordham and was once the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, has struck out 182 batters but also allowed 15 homers. Rauch throws righty and bats lefty. Softball America ranked her as the No. 25 player in the country entering the season.
  • Ryan Henry, C — Rauch’s battery mate was also named to the Big East All-First Team. Henry leads Villanova and the Big East with 13 homers.
  • Chloe Smith, 3B — Smith has been a consistent hitter all season, batting .370 with six homers and 34 RBI. The Sacramento native had two hits in each of Villanova’s Big East tournament wins over UConn. Her batting average has peaked as high as .424 this season. Like Henry, Smith hits from the right side.

UMBC

  • Overall record: 25-11
  • America East record: 11-5 (2nd place)
  • RPI: 51
  • Notable wins: vs. Villanova
  • Notable losses: vs. Villanova
  • Overview: The Retrievers are back in the NCAA Tournament after making their first-ever appearance in 2019. Behind the iron arm of Courtney Coppersmith, UMBC won the America East tournament. They are a decent offensive team, hitting .285 (second-best in the America East) with 15 homers. They make up for their lack of power by being active on the bases, swiping 42 steals (on 50 attempts) in 36 games. Thanks mostly to Coppersmith, UMBC has a 2.23 team ERA. UMBC is an acronym for University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The Retrievers are 8-1 in May.

Players to know

  • Courtney Coppersmith, LHP — The hard-throwing junior is one of the best pitchers in the country. As a freshman in 2019, Coppersmith became UMBC’s first-ever All-American while leading the Retrievers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They were eliminated by Notre Dame in the Norman Regional, but Coppersmith pitched 5.2 innings of two-run ball to keep the game close. She’s improved since then. This season, she has a 0.65 ERA in 140 innings, the third-best mark in the country among qualified pitchers. Coppersmith hasn’t faced any major-conference teams this season, but she did face Villanova on April 2 and tossed a complete game in a 5-2 win. Coppersmith has fanned 233 batters in 140 innings, repeating as the America East Pitcher of the Year. She has walked 41 batters and surrendered seven homers. Coppersmith has thrown several no-hitters in her career and even a perfect game.
  • Maddie Daigneau, SS — A speedy slapper from from New River, Arizona, a small community about 40 miles north of Phoenix, Daigneau is hitting .348 with a team-high 17 stolen bases. The Boulder Creek High product leads off for the Retrievers.