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Around the Nation Tournament Central: Stories behind the automatic NCAA bids

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The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC tournaments get the limelight, but they are not the only shows in college softball. Some of the fiercest action comes in leagues that know only the tournament champion will reach an NCAA regional. We’ll keep you updated with results and analysis from some of the biggest games beyond the Power 5.

All the scores: D1Softball Tournament Central

Updated throughout the day.

Saturday Headlines

Patriot League 

Championship: No. 2 Lehigh 1, No. 1 BU 0; Lehigh 4, BU 1

Lehigh remains Boston University’s unsolvable riddle. The top seed and host, Boston University went 16-0 against everyone else in the Patriot League this season. It went 2-4 against Lehigh. Which makes it difficult to argue that, seeding, venue and circumstances aside, the Mountain Hawks are a surprise in making their 12th trip to the NCAA tournament – all under coach Fran Troyan. Still, coming out of the losers bracket in Boston to beat the regular season champion twice on Saturday is a feat that will feature prominently in Lehigh softball lore. 

In the end, Troyan’s trust in his pitching depth made the difference. Gabriella Nori and Katelyn Young split starts and innings about exactly evenly through the regular season. But after Nori shut down and shut out the Terriers in a pitchers’ duel with Allison Boaz to force the winner-take-all finale, Troyan must have been tempted to get a few more innings out of a hot hand. Boston University was, giving the ball back to Boaz to start the finale. But Young matched Nori’s effort almost pitch for pitch, limiting the Terriers to five hits and one run in the clincher. 

Potential regional sites within driving range: Blacksburg 

Bubble implications: Better than most years for the Patriot League. Still not good. Boston University’s resume, which includes a win at Georgia make it possible to talk about an at-large bid out of the Patriot. But it’s far from certain. The Terriers were No. 51 in Saturday’s RPI release, very much on the low side of the bubble. And as good as the win at Georgia was, it is one of only two top-50 wins (Cal State Fullerton). Additional wins against Long Beach State and UConn help, as does teams like UCF and Liberty taking care of business with automatic bids. But add it all up, and it feels a lot more like a near-miss than Sunday evening salvation. 

Conference USA

Championship: No. 2 North Texas 9, No. 3 Western Kentucky 0 (5 innings)

North Texas clinches first trip to the NCAA tournament. Does a reunion with Hope Trautwein await in Norman? For good reason, plenty has been made of how well Oklahoma’s Trautwein has fared in her new home. But her former team held up remarkably well without her. 

Since restarting softball prior to the 2004 season, North Texas won its only regular season conference titles with its former ace in 2019 and 2021. In both cases, the byzantine conference tournament proved the Mean Green’s undoing – with Western Kentucky responsible for the season-ending defeat in 2021. They didn’t mess around this year, outscoring Charlotte, top-seeded Louisiana Tech and WKU 26-4 to earn the automatic bid. 

The pitching did plenty, with Ashley Peters earning her second win in three games with a one-hit shutout in Saturday’s finale. But give the spotlight to sophomores Lexi Cobb and Molly Rainey. Cobb went 2-for-2 with a walk in the final and 8-for-10 with two home runs, two doubles and six RBIs in the tournament. Batting right behind Cobb at the top of the order, Rainey went 6-for-9 with eight RBIs in the tournament in Denton, Texas, including a home run Saturday.

Need some context for those numbers? Cobb and Rainey combined to drive in 14 runs. North Texas had scored 19 total runs in its entire Conference USA tournament history entering this season.

Potential regional sites within driving distance: Austin, Fayetteville, Norman, Stillwater 

Bubble implications: A sleepless night awaits Western Kentucky. In a regular season that stretches to around 50 games, it’s usually folly to make too much of any lone game. Usually. In Western Kentucky’s case, a midweek victory against Alabama last month is among the most valuable wins in the nation. That’s the signature entry on a resume that otherwise would leave the Toppers in a world of bubble trouble. Even with that result, 3-6 against the RPI top 50 is cause for concern. But in this case, immeasurably less concern than there would be at 2-7. 

Big East

Championship: No. 3 Villanova 3, No. 1 UConn 0

Villanova puts UConn on the wrong side of the bubble. After reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time a season ago, Villanova decided to make a habit out of it. Which is why Paige Rauch has to fare well on any list of the nation’s most transformational players. 

Villanova’s cornerstone, Rauch shut down the regular season champion with a four-hit shutout on Saturday. Only the chalk spent more time around the pitching circle than she did during the tournament. She worked 20 shutout innings – every inning that Villanova played until she finally got a rest for the final two innings against the Huskies. In all, she allowed nine hits and struck out 25 batters over her three appearances. Saturday, she also walked, doubled and scored one of the three runs that came home on Kelsey White’s clutch hit in the first inning. 

She didn’t repeat as Big East Player of the Year or Pitcher of the Year, awards she swept a season ago. But since a rough outing against DePaul on April 1, Rauch has a 1.22 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. And if that’s not the only reason Villanova is headed back to a regional, it’s the biggest reason. 

Potential regional sites within driving distance: Blacksburg, Durham

Bubble implications: Bleak for UConn. The Huskies were No. 56 in RPI before the game. It’s not impossible to get an at-large bid from that territory, but something in your resume needs to pop. A regular season title in what the RPI ranks as the No. 10 conference isn’t enough. Nor is a 1-5 record vs. the RPI top 50. A great season for a program on the rise, but it likely ends here. 

Colonial Athletic 

Championship: No. 3 UNCW 10, No. 4 Elon 2 (6 innings)

Morgan Britt ensures the NCAA tournament will have a newcomer. Needing one win in two tries Saturday, UNCW had some wiggle room. But after Elon jumped out to an early lead in the first of potentially two games, the top seed might have started to sweat. Britt took care of that. The third-year outfielder hit a home run and two doubles to lead a UNCW run-rule rout. That’s quite a haul for a player who began the day with two doubles and no home runs for the season. 

With the tournament title and automatic bid, UNCW becomes the first newcomer to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Prior to this season, the Seahawks had just three winning seasons this century (although two of them occurred under current coach Kristy Norton). This season marked just the third time since 2008 that the team even appeared in its conference tournament. 

So whether it’s Britt, who missed last season with an injury and waited until Saturday to flex her power, or UNCW in general, patience pays off. 

Potential regional sites within driving distance: Athens, Blacksburg, Clemson, Durham

America East

Championship: No. 1 UMBC 4, No. 2 Albany 0

America East no match for Courtney Coppersmith. Not in this tournament. Not this season. Not next season. NCAA seed do not want to deal with UMBC’s lefty ace in the opening game of a regional. She blitzed Albany in Saturday’s title game, striking out 14 and allowing only a single and one walk. In all, she worked 17 shutout innings over three appearances in the tournament, allowed two hits and struck out 35 batters.

And all of those appearances were against either No. 2 seed Albany or tournament host Binghamton. 

You may remember Coppersmith from the 20-K perfect game she threw earlier this season. Or from the struggles both Arizona and Villanova had solving her in a regional a season ago. She struck out 14 or more in eight starts this season, which is all the more impressive given she’s pitched just 100+Saturday innings (freshman standout Kya Matter makes very much a two-ace staff). 

Potential regional sites within driving distance: Blacksburg, Durham

American Athletic

Championship: No. 1 UCF 11, No. 3 USF 0 (5 innings)

UCF celebrates as Georgina Corrick sits. The big celebration came after the final out, when the best team all season in the American wrapped up a sweep of the regular season and tournament titles. But there might have been a small celebration before the first pitch, when the Knights saw USF ace Georgina Corrick wasn’t in the circle. Announcers Erin Miller and Mike Couzens said USF coach Ken Eriksen indicated that Corrick may have been under the weather Friday, when Antoinette Hill relieved her in a tight semifinal against Wichita State. Eriksen didn’t mention health during his in-game interview during the championship, so the mystery remains. 

It would certainly be a curious time for Eriksen to suddenly decide to manage Corrick’s innings.That horse, shall we say, is out of the barn. The fifth-year senior pitched every inning in each of USF’s final two regular-season AAC series, as well as throwing in the team’s first two tournament games. Resting her arm in the middle game of a series against the likes of Memphis would have made more sense than resting her with a title and an automatic bid at stake. 

But we should probably talk about the champions. UCF beat Corrick twice in the regular season, so it’s not as if the Knights needed any charity to lift the trophy. Specifically, Jada Cody and Shannon Doherty didn’t need anyone to hand them anything. They seized it. Doherty’s three-run home run in the first inning set the tone, and Cody’s three-run home run in the second inning all but finished off the Bulls. 

It’s also worth noting that the Knights rested their de facto ace after Gianna Mancha worked eight innings in a semifinal against Houston. But UCF’s depth in the circle is a bit different than USF’s depth, with Kama Woodall established as one of the nation’s better No. 2 pitchers. 

Bubble implications: While USF is probably safe when it comes to an at-large bid, “probably” is not a guarantee. The Bulls are leaning heavily on February wins against Michigan, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame. They should be in. But effectively ceding an auto bid is a gamble. 

Seeding implications: For UCF, it’s all about potentially hosting a regional for the first time. The RPI doesn’t care who pitches, so a top-50 win is a top-50 win. UCF is 21-5 against teams ranked between Nos. 26-100, including 10-4 vs. Nos. 26-50. That compares favorably with other potential seeds like Missouri, Texas, LSU and Notre Dame. The issue remains UCF’s 4-7 record agains the RPI top 25. A lot of teams on the seeding bubble have .500 or losing records in those games. The problem is the combination of a losing record and only four wins (compared to eight for Michigan, nine for Missouri, etc.). It’s going to be close, but through little fault of its own, UCF may lose out.

Potential regional sites within driving distance for UCF: Gainesville, Tallahassee
Potential regional sites within driving distance for USF: Gainesville, Tallahassee

Friday’s Headlines

Summit League

Tournament on the move. There isn’t much in the way of softball to analyze from the Summit League tournament, unfortunately. But logistics are a hot topic. Severe storms in the Brookings, South Dakota, area that left South Dakota State’s campus without power and littered in storm debris. As a result, the Summit League initially postponed Friday’s game and ultimately moved the entire event a little more than 100 miles south to the University of South Dakota’s campus in Vermillion. It remains a double-elimination bracket, with South Dakota State the No. 1 seed, but it will now conclude Sunday.

Key score: No. 1 McNeese State 10, No. 2 SE Louisiana 4 

McNeese State books a spot in the field of 64. Not wanting to clutter its weekend schedule (or tempt the weather gods), the Southland wrapped up its tournament Friday. And after using up a month’s worth of drama in its first two games, McNeese State coasted to the title. 

Friday’s game isn’t really the story. McNeese scored in each of the first five innings and never had to sweat — although given that the game was in Hammond, Louisiana, everybody probably perspired plenty. The story was the extra work required to reach the title game unscathed. 

Thursday, the Cowgirls had to score one run in the bottom of the seventh and two runs in the bottom of the eighth to avoid an upset at the hands of Northwestern State. A day later, they trailed SE Louisiana 6-0 before they swung a bat. They still trailed 6-4 entering the bottom of the seventh, only to tie the game and win it on Crislyne Moreno’s walk-off single in the eighth. 

This is the program’s fifth NCAA appearance in the past six tournaments. 

Big South
Key score: No. 3 Longwood 5, No. 1 USC Upstate 0 (Upstate eliminated)

Longwood takes out a top seed in the Big South. USC Upstate woke up Friday in some exclusive company, joining Oklahoma, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Duke, UCLA, Arkansas and Northwestern as the only teams with at least 40 wins and a winning percentage of .800 or better. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Saturday will dawn without more games to play. Host Longwood handed Upstate just its eighth defeat of the season – but its second defeat in 24 hours. 

Longwood ace and two-time reigning Big South Pitcher of the Year Sydney Backstrom again proved to be Upstate’s kryptonite with a three-hit shutout. She was responsible for two of Upstate’s eight losses this season and allowed just two earned runs in 21.2 innings between the teams. 

But it only gets tougher for Longwood, which needs to defeat Campbell twice on Saturday to reach the NCAA tournament. Longwood is looking for its sixth NCAA bid since 2013, while Campbell is trying to make it back-to-back appearances. 

Bubble implications: Minimal. Even with all those wins, Upstate had just four top-100 wins. Combined with an RPI of No. 68, an at-large bid isn’t in the cards.

Saturday Schedule
No. 2 Campbell vs. No. 3 Longwood, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 2 Campbell vs. No. 3 Longwood, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+ (if necessary)

American Athletic
Key score: No. 1 UCF 4, No. 4 Houston 2

UCF walks it off and the bubble nation breathes a sigh of relief. We know UCF is going to a regional. The Knights might yet host a regional. But from Minnesota to Utah, bubble teams across the nation had to worry Friday that there might be one fewer at-large spots available after Houston rallied to force its AAC semifinal against UCF into extra innings. 

Then UCF’s Savannah Adams stepped in to pinch hit with a runner on base in the top of the eighth inning. The freshman had 10 hits all season, none since March 20. But make it 11 – and give Adams her first career home run. 

This team does have a flair for the dramatic. 

Bubble implications: Limited, much to the relief of everyone except Houston. 

Saturday Schedule (moved up due to weather)
No. 1 UCF vs. No. 3 USF, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2

Sun Belt
Key score: No. 1 Louisiana 1, No. 3 Texas State 0 (8 innings)

Louisiana wins the battle of winning streaks to put Bobcats on the Sun Belt and NCAA bubbles.  It doesn’t feel like the postseason until there is an extra-innings pitchers’ duel. Or in the case of Texas State’s Jessica Mullins, two duels in the span of 24 hours. Mullins went the distance to extend Texas State’s winning streak to 17 games by beating host South Alabama in nine innings on Thursday night. But eight innings proved one too many in Friday’s duel against Louisiana’s Meghan Schorman. 

Leading off the eighth inning against Mullins, Raina O’Neal hit her second home run in as many days – all four of her home runs this seasons have come since being reinserted in the regular lineup two weeks ago. Easy to overlook on a team with Sam Landry and Kandra Lamb, Schorman produced her second appearance of at least seven innings of the tournament. She’s allowed just three earned runs and 13 hits in 23.2 innings this month. 

Louisiana advances to Saturday’s championship round. Texas State drops into the losers bracket.

Bubble implications: Significant. Texas State helped its cause immensely during its winning streak but is far from an at-large lock if it doesn’t come through the losers bracket to win the automatic bid. The Bobcats began the day ranked 49th in the RPI. Losing to the Ragin’ Cajuns won’t dent that, but that’s still perilous bubble territory. A fourth RPI top-50 win, bordering on a top-25 win, would have helped a lot. D1 bracketologist Brady Vernon had Texas State among the first four teams on the wrong side of the bubble this morning. 

Saturday Schedule
No. 3 Texas State vs. No. 9 Coastal Carolina, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN+ (elimination game)
No. 1 Louisiana vs. Texas State/Coastal Carolina, 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN+

Southern Conference
Key score: No. 3 Chattanooga 10, No. 1 UNCG 2 (5 innings)

Chattanooga advances as SoCon Pitcher of Year exits with injury. A day after relegating No. 2 seed Samford to the losers bracket in Greensboro, North Carolina, third-seeded Chattanooga pulled off an even bigger stunner by run-ruling regular season champion, tournament host and No. 1 seed UNCG. The top seed’s trouble began while it still held a 1-0 lead. In the second inning, UNCG ace and SoCon Pitcher of the Year Morgan Scott showed visible discomfort in her right shoulder or biceps area and drew a visit from team trainers. She exited the game after the inning, and Chattanooga promptly seized the initiative with a five-run third inning – capped by Kaili Phillips’ two-out, two-strike grand slam. 

Chattanooga, 0-6 against Samford and UNCG in the regular season, advances to the championship round for a rematch against the regular season champions. Scott returned to pitch a three-hit shutout in an elimination game against Samford on Friday evening (although she did walk six batters).

Bubble implications: Limited. UNCG began the day No. 66 in RPI, with one top-50 win and a 10-11 record against the top 100. That is bubble-adjacent, but it’s unlikely to merit at-large consideration if the Spartans don’t beat the Mocs twice on Saturday.  

Saturday Schedule
No. 3 Chattanooga vs. No. 1 UNCG, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 3 Chattanooga vs. No. 1 UNCG, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+ (if necessary)

Big East
Key scores: No. 3 Villanova 1, No. 4 DePaul 0; No. 1 UConn 6, No. 4 DePaul 2 (DePaul eliminated)

Villanova reverses the roles in Big East drama. A year ago, Villanova lost its opening game in the conference tournament and had to come through the losers bracket and beat UConn twice on the final day to earn an NCAA bid. This time around, it’s the Wildcats who will try and fend off a comeback from the Huskies. 

Villanova’s extra-innings victory against host DePaul came with a ticket directly to Saturday’s championship round. Paige Rauch looked ready to pitch all night, if necessary. She went all eight innings with a one-hit shutout, finally rewarded when a bases-loaded error brought home the winning run. UConn’s path was more difficult. After winning one elimination game against Butler on Thursday, the Huskies had to win another against DePaul on Friday. To win the title and an automatic bid, the Huskies must now beat Villanova twice. In other words, do what was done to them a season ago. 

Bubble implications: Likely none. UConn has a chance for an at-large bid, but it’s the smallest of chances. The Huskies have just one top-50 win, which doesn’t stack up well against the likes of Louisville, Utah and Western Kentucky – teams that are far from locks to receive at-large bids. 

Saturday Schedule 
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 1 UConn, 12 p.m. ET, FS2
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 1 UConn, 2:30 p.m. ET, FS2 (if necessary)

Northeast Conference
Key score: No. 1 Saint Francis 8, No. 2 Mount St. Mary’s 6

One-bid NEC dynasty moves one step closer to NCAA return. It’s going to take something remarkable to keep Saint Francis from reaching its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament. The Red Flash left it late against the only NEC opponent to beat them at home in the regular season, but the top seed and tournament hosts erased a sixth-inning deficit against Mount St. Mary’s and earned a spot in Saturday’s championship round. Madeline Barnes’s two-run single and Mekenzie Saban’s sacrifice fly turned a one-run deficit into an 8-6 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Grace Vesco shut the door on the Mount with 2.2 innings of shutout relief for the win. 

Saint Francis’ streak of regional appearances is a big deal. BYU, James Madison and Louisiana are the only other schools outside the Power 5 that reached each of the past four NCAA tournaments.

The Red Flash will wait to see which team advances through the losers bracket. 

Saturday Schedule
No. 1 Saint Francis vs. LIU/Mount St. Mary’s, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN3
No. 1 Saint Francis vs. LIU/Mount St. Mary’s, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3 (if necessary)


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