Pac-12 softball prepares for NCAA regionals
• Five Pac-12 softball teams are set to compete in the 2019 NCAA Softball Championship with three teams earning top-16 seeds accompanied with hosting privileges including Pac-12 Co-Champions, No. 2 seed UCLA and No. 3 seed WASHINGTON, along with No. 6 seed ARIZONA. ARIZONA STATE and STANFORD received at-large bids in the 64-team field, marking the 24th-straight season that five or more Conference teams will participate in the NCAA Championship. The Bruins claimed the league’s automatic qualifier because of their sweep of the Huskies earlier in the season.
• The final week of the regular season highlighted the Conference’s talent and proved critical for the 2019 season as it ultimately determined the Pac-12 Champions the day before the NCAA Selection Show. UCLA competed in a hard-fought series against Arizona (3-5, 5-4, 1-3) and clinched the program’s 10th Conference crown after winning game two on Friday. The Bruins finished the regular season at 46-5 overall and 20-4 in league play.
• Washington thrived under pressure, as the Huskies needed all three wins to remain in contention for the title and took care of business, sweeping Stanford (5-2, 8-0, 3-0) to win its fourth all-time Pac-12 title and first since 2010. The Huskies went 45-7 overall and reached the magic 20-4 league threshold, marking the second-most Conference wins in program history. This marks the second co-champions in Conference history, joining the 2005 season that saw Arizona, California, Oregon State and Stanford all finish with a 13-8 league record.
• Pac-12 teams have won 23 of 35 NCAA Softball Championships for the most national titles of any conference behind an NCAA-best five different league teams. Five Pac-12 teams rank in the top seven all-time NCAA Tournament wins: No. 1 UCLA (218), No. 2 Arizona (167), No. 4 Washington (114) No. 5 California (103) and No. 7 Arizona State (95).
• Postseason play kicks off on Friday, May 17 with Stanford versus Boise State at 9 a.m. PT on ESPNU followed by Arizona State versus Lipscomb at 1 p.m. PT on ESPN3. No. 3 Washington plays Fordham at 7 p.m. PT on ESPN3, No. 2 UCLA takes on Weber State at 8 p.m. PT on ESPNU and No. 6 Arizona faces Harvard at 8:30 p.m. PT on ESPN2 to round out the evening games.
PAC-12 SOFTBALL NOTES: The Pac-12 is the only Conference to have at least one team advance to the Women’s College World Series every year since the inaugural tournament in 1982, while all nine league teams have made at least one appearance. The Conference has accounted for at least half of the WCWS field on nine separate occasions, including 2018 with Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Washington and resulted in 12 All-Pac-12 NCAA Championship Games. Five 2018 WCWS All-Tournament Team selections will be action this weekend including UCLA’s Rachel Garcia, Bubba Nickles and Taylor Pack and Washington’s duo of Gabbie Plain and Sis Bates.
The three nationally seeded teams rank in the top-10 of the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll with No. 2 Washington, No. 3 UCLA and No. 6 Arizona, while Stanford is receiving votes. Every year since 1997, at least five Pac-12 teams have finished with a top-25 national ranking including the nation’s No. 1 team in 14 out of 24 years.
Three league teams boast a top-5 NCAA RPI for the most of any conference, led by Washington at No. 2, Arizona jumps to No. 3 and UCLA slides to No. 5. Seven of the league’s nine members rank in the top-60, including No. 27 Arizona State, No. 28 Stanford, No. 46 Oregon State and No. 56 Oregon, followed by No. 64 California and No. 98 Utah. The Pac-12 owns the second-best Conference RPI (.597), just behind the 13-team SEC (.614).
TEAM-BY-TEAM LOOK: No. 2 UCLA has one of the most storied softball programs in NCAA history, leading the country in National Championships (11), Tournament wins (218), Women’s College World Series wins (98) and all-time WCWS appearances (28). UCLA hosts Big Sky Tournament Champion Weber State on Friday and holds a 7-1 all-time series lead against Wildcats. UCLA is the only school to have two players named top-10 finalists for the 2019 Schutt Sports/NFCA Freshman of the Year award in rookies Megan Faraimo and Kelli Godin. Godin was named All-Pac-12 First Team, Pac-12 All-Freshman Team and Pac-12 All-Defensive Team while Faraimo was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. UCLA will lean on the leadership of reigning USA Softball Player of the Year Rachel Garcia who ranks third nationally in strikeouts per seven innings (10.6) and fourth in ERA (0.98) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.96). These stellar pitching talents have led UCLA to the third-best ERA in the country while ranking fourth in batting average (.344), sixth in scoring (7.00) and 10th in shutouts (18).
No. 6 Arizona wrapped up the regular season with a 42-12 overall record and finished third in the league standings with a 19-5 mark for its most Conference wins since 2003 (19). The Wildcats won their first series against No. 3 UCLA since 2011 (5-3, 4-5, 3-1), which also serves as the first series win over a top-5 ranked team since taking two-of-three from No. 3 Arizona State in 2013. Arizona navigated the nation’s second-toughest schedule and posted its 32nd 40-win season in program history. Pac-12 Batting Champion, Reyna Carranco ranks 15th in the country (.433) along with the second-most hits (68) among league players. Jessie Harper’s stellar plate performance will be on full display this weekend as the junior leads the nation with 25 home runs this season along with the eighth-most RBIs (64) and fifth-most total bases (146).
Arizona begins its postseason journey at home for the 24th time in program history, as Hillenbrand Stadium hosts the Tucson Regional. Arizona faces Harvard, the back-to-back Ivy League Champion on Friday then will matchup against either Auburn or Colorado State on Saturday. The selection marks Arizona’s 33rd consecutive tournament appearance for the longest active streak in the country and longest all-time streak in the NCAA history, dating back to 1987 when head coach Mike Candrea was in his second year.
No. 3 seed Washington concluded the regular season with a program-record sixth Pac-12 Series sweep. Coming off its 2018 WCWS appearance, Washington looks to return to Oklahoma City for the third consecutive season, which would be the first time the Huskies have accomplished that feat since five-straight trips from 1996-2000. For the fourth consecutive year, the Huskies will host the NCAA Regionals featuring Mississippi State, Seattle U, and Fordham in the quadrant. Washington’s first game will be against Fordham on Friday, the two teams first meeting since UW won 2-0 in 2011.
All-Pac-12 First Team selection Taran Alvelo struck out her 250th batter becoming the sixth Husky ever and first since Danielle Lawrie to reach that mark in a single season. For reference, Danielle Lawrie was the 2009 and 2010 USA Softball Player Of The Year, Honda Award winner and ESPY’s Best College Athlete Nominee. Alvelo is now third in Washington history with 846 career strikeouts and is also one of four active NCAA DI pitchers to win 100 career games. The pitching duo of Alvelo and Gabbie Plain have accounted for 451 of Washington’s 472 strikeouts that are sixth-most in school history and most since 2010. The pair ranks in the top-3 among league players in strikeout-walk-ratio and strikeouts per seven innings.
Arizona State placed fourth in the league standings with a 13-11 record and went 33-18 overall, notching its 24-straight 30-win season. ASU concluded it’s regular season with a series sweep over Oregon (4-0, 10-1, 12-4) and is riding a hot streak into the postseason, winning eight of its last nine games. The Sun Devils make their 31st NCAA Tournament appearance and will take on Atlantic Sun Conference Champion Lipscomb, in the Tuscaloosa Regional. ASU ranks third in scoring (7.55) and slugging percentage (.611) fifth in homeruns per game (1.67) and seventh for on base percentage (.419). The Sun Devils bats have been hot this year with Kindra Hackbarth leading the Conference with the second-most runs per game (1.22) in the country.
Stanford (32-18, 8-13) rounds out the Conference teams in the NCAA Tournament, facing Boise State (34-14) in the Gainesville Regional hosted by fifth-seed Florida and Boston University. The Cardinal makes its 17th all-time NCAA appearance and first since 2013. Second-year head coach Jessica Allister led Stanford to eight Conference wins, more than the previous four years combined (7), to become the second Stanford coach to garner Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors (John Rittman: 2001, 2004). The Cardinal has reached the Super Regionals five times in program history and twice made the Women’s College World series with the last time coming in 2004. Six players earned All-Pac-12 recognition with juniors Teaghan Cowles and Kristina Inouye earning a spot on the second team.
NCAA STATS: Three teams rank in the top-10 ERA with No. 3 UCLA (1.38), No. 5 Washington (1.55) and No. 7 Arizona (1.67). Washington and Arizona have been stellar on defense, owning the fifth (.979) and ninth (.976)- best fielding percentages, respectively.
The league teams have the chance to test the nation’s top pitching staffs as Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona rank in the top-10 in scoring at Nos. 3, 6, 8, respectfully. Three teams rank in the top-20 in batting average with No. 4 UCLA (.344), No. 13 Arizona (.322) and No. 16 Arizona State (.319).
Arizona has a strong presence in the stats, ranking second in home runs per game (1.83), seventh in ERA (1.67), eighth in scoring (6.74) ninth in fielding percentage (.976), 11th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.07) and 13th in batting average (.322).
The 2019 Pac-12 postseason awards were announced as voted on by the league’s coaches. UCLA’s Rachel Garcia collects her second-straight Player of the Year honor and becomes the first player in Conference history to win both Player and Pitcher of the Year in the same season. Bruins teammate Megan Faraimo was tabbed Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, marking their third consecutive rookie honor. Washington’s Sis Bates garnered Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. Stanford head coach Jessica Allister was voted Pac-12 Coach of the Year after leading the Cardinal to eight Conference wins, which are more than the previous four years combined (7). Arizona’s Reyna Carranco, who remains out with a broken left hand and broken right thumb, was crowned the Pac-12 Batting Champion with a .433 average during the regular season.
NCAA Tournament Schedule
Tuscaloosa Regional – May 17-19 at Tuscaloosa, Alabama
ARIZONA STATE (33-18) vs. Lipscomb (41-13-1)
Alabama St. (24-23) vs. No. 8 seed Alabama* (52-7)
Gainesville Regional – May 17-19 at Gainesville, Florida
No. 5 seed Florida* (44-15) vs. Boston U. (37-18)
STANFORD (32-18) vs. Boise St. (34-14)
Seattle Regional – May 17-19 at Seattle, Washington
No. 3 seed WASHINGTON* (45-7) vs. Fordham (29-24)
Mississippi State (33-21) vs. Seattle U. (39-15)
Tucson Regional – May 17-19 at Tucson, Arizona
Auburn (37-19) vs. Colorado St. (38-10)
Harvard (25-17) vs. No. 6 seed ARIZONA* (42-12)
Los Angeles Regional – May 17-19 at Los Angeles, California
Missouri (32-23) vs. Cal St. Fullerton (38-16)
Weber St. (26-19) vs. No. 2 seed UCLA* (46-5)
*Indicates Host Institution