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What to know about Arkansas, Arizona softball’s Super Regional opponent

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Photo courtesy Arkansas Athletics

Arizona softball has advanced to Super Regionals for the seventh straight season and will be heading to Fayetteville, Arkansas to face the No. 6-seeded Razorbacks on their home turf.

The best-of-three series will begin on Friday at 4 p.m. PT on ESPNU. The winner clinches a spot in the Women’s College World Series.

Let’s answer some key questions about the other UA.

How did Arkansas get here?

The Razorbacks went 40-9 in the regular season and won their first-ever SEC championship by going 19-5 in conference play. They were shut out by Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, but regrouped by sweeping Manhattan (8-0), South Dakota State (4-0) and Stanford (7-3) in the Fayetteville Regional.

Who is the Arkansas head coach?

Courtney Deifel, who has been at the helm since 2016. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because she was an All-American catcher at Cal and led the Bears to three Women’s College World Series appearances in the early 2000s, including a national title in 2002. Before taking the Arkansas job, Deifel was the head coach at Maryland for one season. She has a career head coaching record of 217-142, including a 190-115 mark in six seasons at Arkansas.

How has Arkansas been historically?

Not very good. They have had just 12 winning seasons in 25 years, though five under Deifel, who has put the program on the map. This is just Arkansas’ second-ever Super Regional appearance. Their last came in 2018 when they lost to Oklahoma in Norman. Yes, that means Arkansas has never been to the Women’s College World Series.

What is Arkansas good at?

They live by the long ball. The Razorbacks lead the SEC and rank fourth in the nation in home runs (92). Five players have 12 or more. With that power comes fear. Arkansas has drawn 204 walks, second-most in the SEC. The Razorbacks are solid defensively and in the circle, ranking fifth in the SEC in ERA (2.05) and fourth in the fielding percentage (.974). Arizona is slightly worse in the circle but a little stronger defensively.

Another notable stat: Arkansas is No. 1 in the SEC in limiting walks.

What is Arkansas not good at?

The Razorbacks have a boom-or-bust offense. While they lead the SEC in homers and draw a lot of walks, they also lead the SEC in strikeouts, are third-to-last in batting average (.265) and have only stolen four bases all year, a comically low number that is 26 fewer than the next SEC team.

Who are Arkansas’ best players?

Fifth-year shortstop Braxton Burnside is second in the nation in homers (25) and sports a gaudy slashline of .349/.500/.888.

Arizona State transfer Danielle Gibson, a redshirt junior first baseman, leads the team in batting average (.349) and has 15 long balls.

Designated player Linnie Malkin (18), catcher Kayla Green (12) and third baseman Hannah Gammill (8) have hit their fair share of homers too, though their batting averages are under .300.

Leadoff hitter Hannah McEwen is hitting .320 with a .480 on-base percentage thanks to 35 walks.

Arkansas has two great pitchers. Right-hander Mary Haff was the 2021 SEC Pitcher of the Year, the first Razorback to ever earn that honor. The redshirt junior is 26-6 with a 1.44 ERA. She has 195 strikeouts and 37 walks in 194 innings. Teams have only hit .187 against Haff but she has surrendered 16 homers. That might be something Arizona can exploit.

No. 2 pitcher Autumn Storms (great name) is 7-1 with a 1.35 ERA. The redshirt senior from Temecula, California has 68 strikeouts in 77 innings. Teams have hit .199 against her, with only four homers. She posted a 1.26 ERA in SEC play, the best mark in the league.

Haff and Storms have pitched every inning of the postseason so far, with Haff leading the way with 17 innings compared to just two for Storms. Haff is a riseball pitcher and Storms is a dropball pitcher, so they complement each other nicely.

How has Arkansas fared against good teams?

Very well. The Razorbacks are 14-7 against ranked teams. They went 6-2 in their SEC series, with series wins over LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn and series losses to Alabama and Missouri, who are both top-8 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

In the regular season, Arkansas was 10-8 against RPI Top 25 teams and 10-0 against RPI 26-50 teams.

How has Arkansas fared at home?

The Razorbacks are 24-5 at Bogle Park, which has been operating at full capacity in the postseason. 2,604 fans were in attendance at Sunday’s regional final vs. Stanford.

Look out for those Hog Calls!