The 2018 NCAA Softball Championship field was unveiled last night. 32 teams qualified by winning their conference, while the remainder of the 64-team field was given to at-large qualifiers.
Despite going 36-21 (7-17 SEC), the Bulldogs were given one of the coveted at-large spots, likely due to MSU’s 20th-ranked RPI and overall strength of schedule. They’ll travel to Tuscon, Arizona, for the first in MSU’s pursuit of the Women’s College World Series.
The other teams that make up the Tuscon Regional are the hosts Arizona, North Dakota State and St. Francis (PA). The Bison and Red Flash won their respective conference tournaments, while the No. 14 seed Wildcats were given an at-large spot.
So, what should we expect from these teams? Let’s find out.
Let start with the No. 14 seed and the hosts of the region. Arizona boasts a 40-14 (13-11 PAC-12) record and has quality wins against Arizona State, California and Oklahoma. Their stud is Alyssa Palomino, who leads the team in batting average at .382, home runs with 18, slugging percentage with .789 and on-base percentage with .463.
Arizona’s top two pitchers are Taylor McQuillin and Alyssa Denham, who have ERAs of 1.59 and 1.70, respectively. McQuillin hasn't given up more than two runs since April 18 against New Mexico State, where she gave up just three runs.
Arizona has gone through the ever-so-tough PAC-12 and is ready for competition. Their weakness is they’ve gotten swept three times by top-five opponents (Washington, Oregon and UCLA). While the Wildcats should handle the regional play, a harder step into the Super Regionals could spell the end of their season.
St. Francis (PA):
The champions of the Northeast Conference will have a tough task from the start. They may not be favored, but the Red Flash have some serious weapons that could make it difficult for the other teams in the regional.
Cheyenne McKee is batting .356 and leads the team in runs, but the hitting prowess doesn’t stop there. Madison Cobell is tied for eighth in the country with 19 home runs, Hayley Norton has 15 bombs and Mikayla Bower has 11.
The downfall for St. Francis is its pitching. Their ace, Abby Trahan, has struggled against high-tier teams. Against Oklahoma State she gave up 7 runs, 6 against Oklahoma and 8 against Arkansas. This won’t carry well in the NCAA tournament when she’ll have to face top hitters from Power-5 conferences.
North Dakota State:
Here’s who the Bulldogs will have to play first. The Bison are champions of the Summit League and have a weird resume.
NDSU has solid wins over Cal State Fullerton (twice) and LSU, but have been less than stellar against other power teams. They’ve gotten run-ruled by Arizona State twice and Baylor and have also gotten shutout by Kentucky and Minnesota.
Because it’s North Dakota State we’re talking about, the idea of them acting as the role of giant killers isn’t unrealistic. Combine that with the tournament where anything can happen and it’s fair game.
The Bison don’t swing the bats that well. They only have two players that bat above .300 and no players have hit double-digit home runs. They make up for it in pitching, where Jacquelyn Sertic has a 1.62 ERA and has only given up 10 home runs on the year.
The Bulldogs will have to bring their A game in order to get past NDSU. If they’re able to get hits and rattle Sertic, they should be in the clear and set up a date with the winner of Arizona and St. Francis.