The NCAA Softball Regional round returns to Tempe this weekend, where the overall No. 9-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils will be pitted against a Michigan team that eliminated them in the College World Series a year ago.
The four-team double elimination bracket begins at 12:30 p.m. Friday with Michigan playing San Diego State, and at 3 p.m., Arizona State faces Ivy League champion Dartmouth, making its first-ever NCAA appearance. The winners of those two games play at 3 p.m. Saturday, the losers meet at 5:30 p.m., and play continues at 2:30 p.m. Sunday all at Farrington Stadium.
After being ranked third in the nation, the Sun Devils (44-10-1) are coming off two rough losses to UCLA last week. However, senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo is third in the nation with 310 strikeouts and threw a one-hitter over Michigan March 6 in Fullerton, Calif., to redeem the WCWS loss.
“The great thing about this team is we’ve bounced back all year long,” ASU first-year coach Craig Nicholson said. “Whether it’s in a series, we’ve had the ability to fight and bounce back, we’ll have a good week of practice and get ourselves ready, and I have no doubt we’ll come back strong next weekend.
“This time of year it’s about who takes advantage of good opportunities and gets out of jams, and keep people from capitalizing."
The Sun Devils’ offense is led by Amber Freeman’s .424 batting average and Haley Steele’s 47 RBIs. Senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle smacked her 12th home run in the final game of the season for the team lead, while three others are tied at 11.
“I think any team can beat any team on any given day,” Coyle said after the latest UCLA game Saturday.
The Wolverines (42-12) are making their 20th-consecutive NCAA appearance, winning the 2005 national title. Hours after defeating ASU in Oklahoma City last June, Washington eliminated them to advance to the semifinal. Minnesota defeated Michigan, 7-2, in the Big Ten Final last week to grab the No. 16 overall seed. Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero is the Big Ten Player of the Year and led the nation with a .510 batting average, in addition to posting 62 RBIs, 16 HR, and a .646 on-base percentage. Also sparking the offense are senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield (.402 BA, 23 RBIs) and sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence (.333 BA, 50 RBIs). Haylie Wagner (21-3, 1.55 ERA) and freshman Megan Betsa (16-3, 1.97) split the pitching.
Returning to the Tempe Regional are the SDSU Aztecs (39-17), champions of the Mountain West Conference and in the Regionals for the seventh year in a row. Sophomore Danielle O’Toole was named MWC Pitcher of the Year, going 30-8 with a 1.66 ERA, and senior outfielder Patrice Johnson (.354 BA) leads the offense with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs. Freshman first baseman Sydnee Cable boasts a team-high .361 batting average.
The Big Green (31-17) is the new team on the block, led by Ivy League Player of the Year Morgan McCalmon. The sophomore first baseman hit .389, with 27 RBIs, while the conference’s Pitcher of the year, junior Kristen Rumley, went 18-7 with a 1.86 ERA and also hit .303. Sophomore shortstop Katie McEachern was named all-Ivy League with a .344 batting average, 30 RBIs, 15 doubles, and eight homers. In its lone game against a team from a major conference this season, Dartmouth defeated Penn State, 6-3, March 1.
The winner will advance to play the champion of the Tallahassee Regional the following weekend. Should ASU and any team besides No. 8 Florida State win, such as South Florida, Fordham or South Carolina, the Super Regional could be hosted at Farrington Stadium.