The NCAA softball super regionals begin on Thursday when No. 4 Arkansas welcomes Texas to Fayetteville (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App).
If the first round of the tournament was any indication, get ready for the unexpected. Florida State became the first top-two seed to get bounced in the regionals since 2005 when it lost to unseeded Mississippi State last weekend. Another first since 2005 when the tournament expanded: No Alabama in the supers after it was upset by unseeded Stanford.
Anything can happen this time of year as the pressure builds and a shot at reaching the Women’s College World Series is on the line, but we’ve got a feeling these 10 players will define the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas P Chenise Delce
The question isn’t whether Arkansas can hit. The Razorbacks had the No. 1 slugging percentage in the SEC (.618) this season. The question is whether they can keep Texas’ bats — which ranked second in the Big 12 in batting average — quiet. Enter Delce, the SEC Pitcher of the Year with a 2.18 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 135 innings pitched. During the deciding game against Oregon this past weekend, she threw her 13th complete game this season, striking out nine batters and taking a shutout into the seventh inning.
Clemson P Millie Thompson
No. 10 Clemson didn’t allow a run in three regional games and advanced to the super regionals for the first time in program history thanks in large part to Thompson. The lefty was superb last weekend, allowing only one hit and striking out nine in her 10 innings pitched. Oklahoma State’s lineup has some big bats, including transfer Miranda Elish, but the Cowgirls have scored two or fewer runs in 16 games this season and can be silenced.
Duke SS Jameson Kavel
The Blue Devils will have their hands full against UCLA’s pitching staff, which struck out more batters than any team in the Pac-12 this season and led the conference in both ERA and opposing batting average. But Kavel showed during the regional how effective she can be from the leadoff spot. In 15 at-bats, she had eight hits, scored four runs and stole a pair of bases.
Mississippi State C Mia Davidson
Oklahoma home run queen Jocelyn Alo isn’t the only accomplished power hitter in the tournament. Davidson smashed her 91st career home run on Sunday, breaking a tie with Stacey Nuveman for fifth all time in Division I history. Davidson anchors a lineup that helped the unseeded Bulldogs beat No. 2 Florida State twice in Tallahassee to advance to the program’s first-ever super regional.
Northwestern P Danielle Williams
The unanimous pick for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year went 3-0 during the regionals. This season, her ERA is a sterling 1.64 with 304 strikeouts in 217⅔ innings pitched. But now she has to go up against a powerful Arizona State offense that led the Pac-12 in homers (98) and scored a combined 24 runs in three games against Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State to advance.
Oklahoma P Jordy Bahl
There’s no question that Alo and the Sooners’ Division I-best offense will look to set the tone against UCF. Just look at how they knocked Texas A&M out of the regionals, setting a record with a 20-0 victory in five innings. But the name to watch is Bahl, who became the first freshman to win Big 12 Co-Pitcher of Year since 2015 and hasn’t played since before the conference tournament when she experienced arm soreness. OU coach Patty Gasso told reporters the Sooners needed to give her the weekend off during the regionals. Gasso said, “She is doing some movement, and we are just going to remain hopeful that she’s going to be ready to go [for super regionals].”
Oklahoma State P Kelly Maxwell
Remember those on-again, off-again Cowgirl bats? Don’t be surprised if they’re bailed out by the other Big 12 Co-Pitcher of the Year, Maxwell. The redshirt junior has been steady all season with 17 complete games and an ERA of 1.22. During regional wins against Fordham and North Texas, she allowed only four hits and no earned runs in 12 innings pitched.
Stanford P Alana Vawter
The Palo Alto super regional could be decided by the pitchers and whether Oregon State’s Sarah Haendiges and Mariah Mazon can overcome Stanford’s ace, Vawter. The junior righty went to the circle three times against Alabama during the regional. Aside from a tough second game in relief in which she gave up four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, she was outstanding. She shut out Alabama twice, knocking the Crimson Tide out during the first round for the first time since 2005.
Texas 2B Janae Jefferson
The Longhorns will need to find ways to manufacture runs against Maxwell and Oklahoma State. And that starts from the leadoff spot with Jefferson, who leads the team with a .425 batting average and 68 runs scored. She set the tone during Texas’ three wins in the Seattle regional, going 7-for-11 at the plate, including a walk, and scoring seven of the team’s 17 total runs.
Virginia Tech P Keely Rochard
The two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year came to play this tournament. During a regional round in which a number of stars stepped up, she had arguably the most impressive stand-alone performance when she threw a 17-strikeout no-hitter against Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) on Friday. While she stumbled somewhat in relief against Kentucky the next day, giving up three earned runs in one inning, she bounced back during the final two games, allowing no earned runs in 7⅓ innings pitched. She’ll need to pay close attention if she lets any runners on against Florida, though. The Gators’ 126 stolen bases are the most of any team in the tournament, and shortstop Skylar Wallace (50 stolen bases) is a threat to run at any time.