NCAA Softball Tournament: Sizing up Arizona’s competition at the Fayetteville Regional (2024)

The Arizona Wildcats are no strangers to going to SEC country for the NCAA softball tournament. In 2022, UA dismissed both Missouri and Mississippi State on their home fields to advance to the Women’s College World Series. In 2021, Arkansas fell to Arizona in the Fayetteville Super Regional as the Wildcats went to their second straight WCWS. Can they do it again?

The Wildcats will not start the postseason against the Razorbacks, but it would be a surprise if the two teams aren’t there on Sunday battling it out for the right to advance to supers. In all likelihood, the winner will face No. 5 seed Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

First, Arizona must get by the other three teams in Fayetteville. What do those squads bring to the table?

Arkansas Razorbacks (36-16, 14-10 SEC)

The Razorbacks are the No. 12 national seed and the top seed in the regional. They are one of eight SEC teams hosting the first weekend of the tournament. Three of those teams will host until the supers as long as they advance.

Arkansas didn’t have a great start to its postseason. It was knocked out in the first round of the SEC Tournament by Missouri in a game that stretched over two days because of weather.

It was a nominal upset as far as conference standings. The Razorbacks finished fourth in the league while the Tigers were fifth.

Arizona has already faced Arkansas twice this season. The teams split a pair of games at the Bear Down Fiesta in Tucson. Both won by the score of 3-2.

These games won’t be played in Tucson, but Bogle Park has not been terribly formidable this season. The Razorbacks are 18-9 at home in 2024 with losses to Wichita State, South Dakota State, and South Alabama out of conference and six home losses to other SEC teams.

Arkansas is not as offensively talented as most of the Pac-12 teams the Arizona pitching staff has already faced. They hit .282 overall this season and .245 in SEC play.

Bri Ellis is the biggest bat in the lineup with 14 home runs, 29 walks, a .326 average, a .674 slugging percentage, and a .449 OBP. She leads the team in all of those categories except average and walks. In SEC play, she had six home runs, 13 walks, a .317 average, a .619 SLG%, and a .442 OBP.

Where the Razorbacks shine is in the circle. Robyn Herron and Morgan Leinstock lead the team in innings pitched with 112 23 and 135 23, respectively. Herron sports a 1.68 ERA overall and a 2.33 ERA in conference play. Leinstock ended with a 1.86 overall and 2.00 in SEC games.

In Tucson, Arkansas started Hannah Camenzind in the first game. Arizona knocked her out in the first inning after she loaded the bases and gave up a run without recording an out. Herron came in and got three straight outs but gave up an inherited run on a groundout. Herron took the loss.

Herron started game two. She held Arizona to two runs on five hits and two walks. This time, she got the win.

The Wildcats have not faced Leinstock this season.

Villanova Wildcats (31-22, 19-5 Big East)

The other Wildcats are the three seed in the Fayetteville regional. Villanova won both the regular season and conference tournament crown in the Big East. The problem with that is the weakness of the Big East.

Arizona Wildcats (37-16-1, 13-11 Pac-12) vs TBD

When: Sunday, May 19 at 1 p.m. MST

Where: Bogle Park in Fayetteville, Ark.

TV/Streaming: TBD

Arizona will face the winner of Game 5 between Arkansas and either Southeast Missouri State or Villanova. That game is scheduled for Saturday at 5 p.m. MST.

The first clue is the Wildcats’ record. Outside their league, they went just 12-17 against a schedule that was far from the most challenging in the sport. They played just seven games against teams from major conferences. They didn’t play the top mid-major teams, either.

The Big East is ranked 18th of 32 conferences according to Boyd’s World iterative strength ratings and Massey Ratings’ conference rankings. Warren Nolan ranks it 13th in both ELO and his approximation of the RPI.

Overall, the Wildcats’ lineup hit .266. That improved in conference play, going up to .304. Perhaps proving the point of the weakness of the Big East, Nova also improved its slugging percentage from .453 in nonconference to .528 in league play. The same is true of on-base percentage, going from .384 outside Big East play to .420 within the league.

The Villanova Wildcats have an even more balanced approach to pitching than their Arizona counterparts. No one on the VU staff has pitched more than the 52 23 innings that Alyssa Seidler threw. Three pitchers have between 29 and 38 IP. No one has made more than the 16 appearances of Seidler and Caroline Pellicano.

The staff has a 3.06 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as a group. Pellicano leads the way with a 1.30 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The question for her and the other members of the bullpen is what happens when they face the kind of offensive power Arizona brings to bear.

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (28-24, 19-8 OVC)

Like Arizona, SEMO has already faced Arkansas twice this year. The Redhawks lost to the Razorbacks twice in Bogle Park early in the season. They were two of seven games SEMO played teams in the field of 64.

The Redhawks went 1-6 in those games but the one win was big. They beat in-state foe Missouri 1-0 on the road in early April. They also gave the Razorbacks a good fight in one of their two matchups. In the final game of the Woo Pig Classic, SEMO fell to the home team 6-5 in eight innings.

The Wildcats are unlikely to play the Redhawks in Fayetteville, but UA stacks up very well against them. SEMO hits .283 as a team. UA hits .330. The Redhawks have scored 235 runs this year compared to the Wildcats’ 322. SEMO has just 23 home runs as a team and no one has more than the seven long balls hit by Paige Halliwill and Marissa Peek. Arizona has hit 65 and has four players who have hit at least 10.

NCAA Softball Tournament: Sizing up Arizona’s competition at the Fayetteville Regional (2024)
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