(Tucson, AZ) Kim Doss
The announcement of the 2018 NCAA Softball Regional field brought good news and bads news to the Arizona Wildcats. As expected, the Wildcats will host the opening round of the postseason. The reward for winning their regional, however, will likely be a Super Regional matchup against the UCLA Bruins at Easton Stadium. The third seeded Bruins swept Arizona last month at Hillenbrand Stadium.
As announced on ESPN2 on Sunday evening, Arizona will be the 14th overall seed and the top seed in their home regional. They will host the Mississippi State Bulldogs of the SEC, the North Dakota State Bison of the Summit League, and the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash of the Northeast Conference beginning Friday night.
The double elimination format will see the region’s second-seeded Bulldogs go up against NDSU beginning at 6:00 PM local time, with the Wildcats facing the Red Flash at approximately 8:30 PM local time.
Arizona’s first opponent went 39-17 this season with a perfect 16-0 record in the Northeast Conference. They will come into the game on a 19-game winning streak, but with an RPI of over 100.
If the seeds hold, the Wildcats will face the Bulldogs on Sunday for a chance to move on to face the winner of the UCLA Regional. Mississippi State was one of the thirteen SEC teams to make the field, and one of only three not to host a regional. They come into the regionals with a 36-21 overall record, having gone 7-17 in the SEC.
The Tucson Regional is rounded out by the NDSU Bison, who went 33-17 this year. They come into the postseason on a six-game winning streak, having a 10-3 record in their conference and winning the Summit League conference tournament. The Bison had an RPI of 55 as of last week, making them the #3 seed in the regional.
Some observers felt that the Wildcats were given a tougher road to the Women’s College World Series than their record merited. Both Arizona and their possible Super Regional opponent UCLA were seeded lower than their last respective RPI. UCLA was ranked #2 in the RPI before their series against ASU, while Arizona was ranked #12. With the committee moving both programs down in the seeding, it means that a matchup that was traditionally played with a title on the line cannot take place in Oklahoma City.
The Wildcats did not help themselves with their struggles on the road against Stanford over the weekend. The Cardinal came into the final series of the conference season with only two conference wins. Arizona had difficulty scoring in the first game, winning by a score of 1-0. After comfortably winning the second game, they lost the final game of the series 2-1 in eight innings.
Going into the series, Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said that he didn’t know if they had done enough to help themselves considering the struggles they had during the conference season. He felt that it was important to sweep Stanford.
“Well, I think winning out. It’s all you can do is help yourself out by controlling what you have control over,” Candrea said before the Stanford series. “So, for me, it’s going to Stanford, play well, and win.”
While Arizona did win two of three games in Palo Alto, they struggled with both hitting and fielding over the weekend. Moving up into the top 8 in the committee’s estimation and securing the right to host a Super Regional was always a long shot, but dropping one game may have been what caused the road to Oklahoma City to get even bumpier.
The Wildcats now must win their home region, which features an opponent with a top 20 RPI, and possibly get past a tough UCLA team. The road may be difficult, but they only need to look back on last season to remember that it’s possible. They were the highly rated team who everyone considered a lock for Oklahoma City last May. Instead, Baylor came to Tucson and stunned the Wildcats. This year, Arizona needs to be the team that shocks the softball world.