The Super Regional of the 2021 NCAA softball tournament kicks off Thursday night, with 16 teams battling it out for a spot in the Women's College World Series. Here’s a breakdown of every matchup for the weekend and the key for each team to move on.
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Washington
Game 1: Friday, May, 28 at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 2: Saturday, May 29 at 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 3: Sunday, May 30 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN, if necessary)
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (48-2)
How the Sooners got here: OU is an offensive juggernaut that leads the country in runs per game (11.52), batting average (.424), home runs per game (2.84), on-base percentage (.509) and slugging percentage (.814). The Sooners steamrolled their way through the regular season—losing only twice, to Georgia (7-6 in nine innings) and archrival Oklahoma State—and won 32 of their games by run rule. OU, the No. 1 overall seed, set an NCAA Regional record by scoring 50 runs in three games last weekend, including 24 in the finale against Wichita State.
Players to watch: The Sooners’ lineup is so stacked it’s hard to pick one. Senior Jocelyn Alo, the Big 12 Player of the Year and one of three finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, has a nation-leading 26 home runs and is slugging at an otherworldly 1.106 clip. Freshman infielder Tiare Jennings is right behind her, with 24 dingers, and leads the country in RBIs (84) after going 8-for-12 with five doubles and 8 RBIs during the Regional round. Freshman Jayda Coleman (.477) is also among the nation’s top 10 in batting average.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: The road to the national championship goes through Oklahoma—literally, since the Super Regional is at OU’s home field in Norman and the Women’s College World Series will take place up the road at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. The Sooners are undefeated (19-0) at Marita Hynes Field this season, but they’re facing the best pitcher they’ve seen all year in Gabbie Plain, who likes to keep the ball low in the strike zone, which could stifle OU’s sluggers and keep the yellow ball in the yard. Oklahoma isn’t likely to dominate Washington the way it did all comers last weekend, but it also isn’t likely to lose two of three in Norman. That explosive offense should power OU to its 14th WCWS appearance—and a chance at its fifth national title.
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (45-12)
How the Huskies got here: Washington—who finished the regular season ranked fifth in the nation—didn’t hide its displeasure with its No. 16 seed. But they used it as motivation in the regional, avenging a 2-1 loss to Big Ten champion Michigan by taking the final three games at Husky Stadium. On Sunday, Washington pulled off a dramatic doubleheader sweep of the Wolverines, rallying from a 5-1 deficit to beat Michigan 10-5 and advance to the super regional. UW saw production from its entire lineup, scoring seven runs in one inning against Michigan, which had the best team ERA in the country.
Players to watch: Senior pitcher Gabbie Plain—also one of three USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award finalists—has been dominant in the circle, going 32-3 with a 1.23 ERA and 331 strikeouts in 227 ⅓ innings this season. The Australian, who has 13 shutouts on the year, threw all 14 innings of Washington’s two wins over Michigan. Senior Sis Bates is a human highlight reel who was voted the greatest college shortstop of all time in an ESPN fan vote. She’s also a standout at the plate, with 301 career hits.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: The Huskies are still playing with a chip on their shoulders. They have one of the nation's best defenses. That and their ace must provide the antidote to Oklahoma’s potent offense. The Huskies are no strangers to the national spotlight. Washington reached the Women’s College World Series in three consecutive seasons (2017-19) and this marks UW’s fifth consecutive super regionals appearance and the 14th in coach Heather Tarr’s 17 seasons as the Huskies’ head coach. That spotlight will shine brighter than ever this weekend: The second game in the best-of-three series will be the first college softball game ever aired nationally on ABC.
No. 2 UCLA vs. Virginia Tech
Game 1: Thursday, May 27, at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Friday, May 28, at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: Saturday, May 29, at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2, if necessary)
UCLA BRUINS (44-4)
How the Bruins got here: UCLA won the program's 11th Pac-12 championship and its first solo title since 2009. The Bruins started the postseason with an 8-0 win over Long Beach State, but had a tougher time in their second game against Fresno State. After the Bulldogs scored first in the fifth inning, UCLA tied it in the seventh and scored four runs in the eighth to put away a 5-4 win. The Bruins also had to come from behind to beat Minnesota in the regional final. But they are reigning champions, having won the crown when the NCAA tournament was last held in 2019, and have a record 12 titles overall.
Players to watch: Ace Rachel Garcia will head to Tokyo this summer as a member of the U.S. Olympic team. The fifth-year senior is 16-0 in the circle this season, with a 0.78 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 107 1/3 innings. She is also batting .373 with 12 homers. Junior Kinsley Washington, who authored UCLA’s 2019 WCWS walk-off, has a knack for clutch postseason hits. Her two-out, two-run single in the fourth inning keyed Sunday's 2-1 victory over Minnesota in the regional championship. Maya Brady, Tom Brady’s niece, had two hits against Minnesota, and scored what proved to be the game-winning run in the fourth inning.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: UCLA has relied on big, timely hits this postseason, but has struggled to manufacture runs at times. Expect a pitchers’ duel between Garcia and Tech’s Keely Rochard. UCLA has scored in the first inning in 25 of 48 games. They will need to strike first against Rochard. The Bruins had a scare put into them in the regionals, but it’s unlikely that this veteran team will let that happen again here.
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (36-13)
How the Hokies got here: Virginia Tech reached the super regionals for the first time since 2008, and just the second time in program history. The Hokies earned the trip after a 11-3 win over Brigham Young in the Tempe Regional Final. Sophomore Alexa Milius hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to give Virginia Tech the run-rule win. Junior Keely Rochard pitched a complete game and held BYU to just three runs on six hits to notch her third win of the regionals.
Players to watch: Tech counters UCLA's pitching with its own ace in Rochard (28-8). The ACC Pitcher of the Year is third in the nation in strikeouts and is one of the most dominant—and durable—pitchers in the country. She had three wins in the first round and 11 strikeouts in the five-inning regional final victory. Kelsey Bennett leads the team with 13 home runs and went 9-for-11 with two home runs and four RBIs in the Hokies' three games in Tempe.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: The Hokies are 1-1 all-time against the Bruins—and a decided underdog against the defending champs—but their head coach, Pete D’Amour, does have experience against the Pac-12 powerhouse. While he was on staff at Missouri, D'Amour’s Tigers went 1-1 in the super regionals hosted by UCLA, advancing to the 2009 WCWS after upsetting the No. 2 Bruins. If Rochard is dominant in the circle, the Hokies have a fighting chance.
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Kentucky:
Game 1: Friday, May 28 at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN 2)
Game 2: Saturday, May 29 at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Sunday, May 30 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU, if necessary)
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (48-7)
How the Crimson Tide got here: Heading into their 16th consecutive Super Regional matchup, there was never much of a question Alabama would get back here. The Crimson Tide haven’t given up a run since their 6-5 SEC semifinal win over Tennessee back on May 14. Since then, they shut out Florida 4-0 to win the SEC championship, then rolled through their home regional by a combined score of 20-0.
Players to watch: Clemson batters struggled to even put the ball in play in two consecutive shutouts at the hands of Alabama’s junior ace Montana Fouts, who threw 28 strikeouts and allowed seven hits in her two regional appearances against the Tigers. The Tide have good contact hitters, but they lean on graduate Bailey Hemphill, the program’s all-time home run leader, to drive them home with her power bat.
Keys to advancing to World Series: The Tide's batters won’t have to do much if Fouts is spinning it like she has been. Fouts has struck out nearly two batters per inning in May, including a one-run, 15-strikeout performance against Super Regional opponent Kentucky in the SEC Tournament.
KENTUCKY WILDCATS (43-14)
How the Wildcats got here: Kentucky fought back from the loser’s bracket after a 12-3 run rule loss to Notre Dame in their home regional, and ended up sending the Irish home with back-to-back shutouts on Sunday afternoon. Graduate pitcher Autumn Humes gave up nine runs in 2.2 innings in the loss, but quickly rebounded and didn’t give up another run over 10.2 innings for the rest of the regional.
Players to Watch: Junior catcher Kayla Kowalik is one of the best hitters in the country. She is batting an absurd .497 with 12 home runs, has scored 77 runs and has driven in 37 more. Humes should be feeling confident after a solid stretch to end the regionals, but if she struggles again, the Wildcats will lean on senior pitcher Grace Baalman, who helped keep their season alive in a win-or-go-home game against Northwestern in the regional.
Keys to advancing to World Series: Kentucky had some success against Alabama’s Fouts early in the season, combining for 15 hits and eight runs over two games she pitched against them in March. They’ll need to hit like that again to have a shot. The Wildcats don’t strike out as many batters, so they’ll need the defense to stay locked in to keep up with Alabama’s pitching.
No. 4 Florida vs. Georgia
Game 1: Friday, May, 28 at 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 2: Saturday, May 29 at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Sunday, May 30 at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN, if necessary)
FLORIDA GATORS (45-9)
How the Gators got here: The Gators gave up three hits and no runs as they rolled through their home regional in Gainesville after missing out on a third straight SEC tournament title. After building a reputation for coming from behind to win games late, Florida won its last two games of the regional by a total of 18-0.
Players to watch: Elizabeth Hightower and Natalie Lugo are as good a pitching duo as there is. Junior third baseman Charla Echols leads a top heavy offense along with senior second baseman Hannah Adams, who can also find her way into the highlight reel with her defense.
Keys to advancing to World Series: Hightower and the defense will look to keep up the momentum from her no-hitter in the regional final. If Florida’s bats can come alive like they did earlier in the season in 17-1 and 8-1 wins against Georgia, the Gators shouldn’t have a problem returning to the World Series.
GEORGIA BULLDOGS (32-21)
How the Bulldogs got here: Georgia entered the regional on a seven-game losing streak, but took advantage of being the host even though Duke was the higher seed. The Bulldogs got the best of the No. 13 Blue Devils twice, including in the regional final on Sunday. This weekend’s Super Regional appearance is the Bulldogs’s 11th appearance overall, but just the first time that the program has ever advanced to Supers without being a national seed.
Players to watch: Freshman Sydney Chambley has been an offensive force all season. She proved ready for the big moments when she drove in the winning run and then made a game-saving diving catch in the regional final win over Duke. Fifth-year pitcher Mary Wilson Avant threw 14 innings and appeared in all three games, including a complete seven inning game where she recorded just two hits and no runs against Duke.
Keys to advancing to World Series: The Bulldogs averaged two runs a game over their losing streak, but put up 22 runs in the Regional. A consistent offense will be key for the Bulldogs if they hope to overcome Florida’s pitching staff to grab the upset in Gainesville. It will be familiar territory for head coach Lu Harris-Champer, who has led the program for 21 years, and guided the No. 16 Bulldogs to an upset sweep in the Gainesville Super Regional against the No. 1 Gators in 2016.
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Texas
Game 1: Friday, May, 28 at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN 2)
Game 2: Saturday, May 29 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Sunday, May 30 at 6 p.m. ET (ESPNU, if necessary)
OKLAHOMA STATE (45-9)
How the Cowgirls got here: No team looked more impressive during the first round than Oklahoma State. After winning six games against opponents ranked in the top 10 during the regular season—including No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 6 Arkansas and No. 7 LSU—the Cowgirls sailed through the Stillwater Regional, scoring 29 runs (while surrendering just five) in three games and winning two by the mercy rule. They advanced to the Super Regional for the third time in program history with a 10-2 win over Mississippi State. Oklahoma State has 14 run-rule victories this season and is outscoring its opponents 340-136.
Players to watch: Carrie Eberle is the Cowgirls’ ace. The Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, a Virginia Tech transfer, has a 23—3 record—including six shutouts—and 147 strikeouts this season. Infielder Alysen Febrey leads the charge offensively, but the Cowgirls get production all the way down their lineup. Last weekend, Sydney Pennington broke the OSU career home run record by belting the 36th round-tripper of her career. OSU has smacked 86 total home runs this season, and four Cowgirls have hit 10 or more: Hayley Busby (18), Febrey (16), Naomi (13), and Pennington (12).
Keys to advancing to the World Series: OSU has Texas’s number so far this season. The Cowgirls swept a three-game series in Austin earlier this month and then beat UT 3-2 in the Big 12 Tournament on May 14. Can they hold off the Longhorns in another best-of-three series? Eberle wasn’t as dominant as usual in the early innings against Mississippi State, but it didn’t matter because the Cowgirls’ offense stepped up. OSU needs Eberle at her best—and the offense firing on all cylinders—against Texas in order to advance to its ninth WCWS appearance.
TEXAS LONGHORNS (42-12)
How the Longhorns got here: Like their opponent, the Longhorns can hit: They have the third-best team batting average in NCAA Division I at .348, and every regular starter in its lineup is batting above .300. But Texas had a much tougher time escaping its regional. After opening with wins over Saint Francis and Texas State, the Longhorns fell to No. 11 overall seed Oregon 3-2 (in eight innings) on Sunday, which forced an if-necessary game. Thanks to a fourth-inning RBI single from pinch-hitter Jordyn Whitaker and a big performance from Molly Jacobsen, who tossed a five-hit, complete-game shutout, Texas outlasted the Ducks—and long rain delay—to edge out a 1-0 decision and advance.
Players to watch: Second baseman Janae Jefferson, whose .444 overall batting average ranks second in the Big 12 this season, went 7-for-13 with two doubles and three RBIs last weekend. And she can flash the leather—the junior has a .958 fielding percentage. The Longhorns have two pitchers who can be lethal from the circle. Ace Shea O’Leary leads the Big 12 with a 0.65 ERA and Jacobsen, a graduate transfer from Ole Miss, is 14-5 with a 3.02 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 88 innings.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: Sure, OSU has won all four matchups this season, but three of them were decided by two runs or fewer. Defense was an Achilles heel for Texas during the regular season but held strong when it counted in the regional final. The Horns need to shore that up in Stillwater to contain the hard-hitting Cowgirls, and Jefferson could give Eberle & Co., a challenge. Jacobsen struggled in her only start against OSU, allowing six runs on eight hits in four innings of the final regular-season meeting between the teams. If she comes up big like she did in Game 7 last Sunday, the outcome could be much different this time around.
No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 11 Arizona
Game 1: Friday, May 28, at 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 2: Saturday, May 29 at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: Sunday, May 30, at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2, if necessary)
ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (43-9)
How the Razorbacks got here: Arkansas (43-9) won its first regular-season SEC championship after going 19-5 in conference play. The Razorbacks were blanked by Tennessee in the SEC tournament, but bounced back to shut out Manhattan (8-0) and South Dakota State (4-0) before beating Stanford 7-3 last weekend to reach the Super Regional for just the second time in school history. Ace Mary Haff earned all three wins, tossing 17 scoreless innings and striking out 15.
Players to watch: Teams have only hit .187 against Haff, the SEC Pitcher of the Year. The righthander racked up 195 strikeouts en route to a 26-6 record with a 1.44 ERA. Shortstop Braxton Burnside smashed the Arkansas single-season home run record and is tied for second in the nation with 25. Designated player Linnie Malkin—who went 4-for-9 with seven RBIs, two home runs and three runs last weekend—has hit 18 bombs to rank 17th nationally. Infielder Danielle Gibson, who holds the NCAA record for most home runs in a game with four, is also a threat.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: The Razorbacks live by the long ball. Arkansas leads the SEC in home runs with a program-record 92 this season and in strikeouts. The Razorbacks have also drawn 204 walks, second-most in the SEC. Haff will be up against a hot Arizona offense, so she’ll need run support. The Razorbacks, who have never been to the Women’s College World Series, are hungry. And it helps that they will be playing in the friendly confines of Bogle Park in front of a sellout crowd—Arkansas is 24-5 at home this season.
ARIZONA WILDCATS (39-13)
How the Wildcats got here: Winning regionals is old hat for Arizona. The Wildcats won their 32nd regional championship last weekend, beating UMBC and and then Mississippi twice—but not before Ole Miss put a scare into them with six quick runs to start the regional final. Arizona bounced back with an eight-hit, eight-run barrage in the fifth inning to win 12-6 and advance to the Super Regional for the seventh consecutive season.
Players to watch: The Arizona offense is rife with big bats, but slappers Janelle Meoño and Reyna Carranco provide a spark at the top of the lineup. Meoño won the Pac-12 batting title and was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year. And she might be even better defensively. The outfielder’s leaping grab of a screaming line drive well over her head ended an Ole Miss rally in the regional final and saved two runs. Shortstop Jessie Harper went 3-for-5 with three RBIs to help the Wildcats rally past Ole Miss.
Keys to advancing to the World Series: Arizona is susceptible to the rise ball, which is Mary Haff’s specialty. But Haff has surrendered 16 homers this season, so the Wildcats can get to her if they can go deep. Arizona has been so-so on the road (11-10) and Fayetteville is a hostile place to play. But Arizona has plenty of experience with pressure-packed postseason moments.
No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Florida State
Game 1: Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Friday, May 28 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: Saturday, May 29 at 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2, if necessary)
LSU TIGERS (35-20)
How the Tigers got here: LSU earned Super Regional hosting rights after playing the toughest schedule in the NCAA. The Tigers easily beat McNeese and Louisiana in the first two games, putting up 10 runs in both showdowns, but the rival Ragin’ Cajuns shut them out 2-0 in the regional final to force a third matchup that LSU won 8-5.
Players to watch: Outfielder Aliyah Andrews has been the Tigers’ star all season, and rightfully so as a human highlight reel. She also currently leads the team in batting average (.370) and has put up 68 hits and 46 runs on the season. Ace pitcher Ali Kilponen made a big impact in holding off Louisiana in the regional final. She pitched both games and threw 202 pitches in 13 total innings on the day, allowing 10 hits and seven runs while also recording 10 strikeouts. Last Sunday’s double header with elimination implications will be valuable experience for the sophomore to take into Super Regional.
Keys to advancing to World Series: LSU and Florida State have a history in Super Regional, meeting in both 2017 and 2018 and splitting the series. Florida State most recently topped the Tigers in 2018 to clinch the Seminoles’ first ever World Series berth before winning it all. Both Super Regionals took place in Tallahassee, though, so as long as LSU doesn’t remain complacent, especially at bat, it could \ take advantage of playing at Tiger Park with 100% fan capacity.
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (42-10-1)
How the Seminoles got here: Looking for redemption after being upset by Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals, Florida State swept its home regional in three games, putting up six runs against Kennesaw State in Game 1 and shutting out UCF twice to clinch a Super Regional spot.
Players to watch: All eyes will be on pitchers Kathryn Sandercock and Caylan Arnold in the circle, who may be one of the best pitching duos left in the tournament. The ace Sandercock has a team-best 1.15 ERA and has thrown eight complete games this season, boasting an impressive .920 winning percentage this year. Arnold leads the team with 120 strikeouts on the season.
Keys to advancing to World Series: This year’s Seminoles offense is not as potent as it has been in previous years, missing the top five in the ACC in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. But they’re disciplined at the plate and lead the ACC in walks. Where Florida State really makes a difference, though, is in the pitching circle. The Seminoles are ranked seventh in the nation with a team ERA of 1.63. When games work out for Florida State, the team’s pitching, defense and aggressive baserunning align. They’ll need to show out in all three areas to take the upset in Baton Rouge.
No. 8 Missouri vs. James Madison
Game 1: Friday, May, 28 at 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 2: Saturday, May 29 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 3: Sunday, May 30 at 12 or 2 p.m. ET (TBD, if necessary)
MISSOURI TIGERS (41-15)
How the Tigers got here: The Tigers allowed only two hits and no runs in three games. Sophomore pitcher Jordan Weber and freshman Lauren Krings both flirted with a no hitter until the last inning of their games Friday and Saturday, and Weber finally snagged Missouri’s first postseason no-hitter since 2011 during Sunday’s regional final against Iowa State.
Players to watch: Senior center fielder Brooke Wilmes has caught fire at the perfect time, hitting three solo home runs in the regional tournament. Missouri has eight home run threats in their lineup, but it was their defense that carried them through the regional. With speedy Abby George finally returning to right field last weekend after a hand injury sidelined her for more than a month, the Missouri outfield of George, Wilmes, and All-SEC Defensive player Casidy Chaumont won’t let many hits land.
Keys to advancing to World Series: Mizzou has held its own against great pitchers all season, especially in the SEC, but it will need its pitching staff and defense to be lights out to keep up with Odiccy Alexander. The Tigers are sure to hit some home runs, and getting some runners on base for their power bats will be key against the dominant Alexander.
JAMES MADISON DUKES (37-1)
How did the Dukes get here: Odiccy Alexander pitched all 10 innings of JMU’s 4-3 opening win against Liberty and struck out 19 batters. She went on to throw 355 pitches across 22.1 innings in every game of the CAA champs sweep of the Knoxville Regional, giving up only eight runs. The last mid-major still standing, James Madison has been a quiet force all season and has only one loss against Elon on the books.
Players to watch: Fifth-year seniors Alexander and Kate Gordon are making the most of their extra year of eligibility. Alexander is the Dukes’ ace, and Gordon, the left fielder, has stood out on offense with 18 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Keys to advancing to World Series: Redshirt junior shortstop Sara Jubas will need to keep up her offensive production after driving in five runs in the Regional sweep. She and Gordon have been the Duke’s biggest bats, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against a Missouri team that gave up just two hits in their home regional.
Aimee Crawford and Jacqueline LeBlanc are contributors for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.
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