Alabama's Lexi Kilfoyl (Alabama photo)

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College Softball Weekend Preview: Week Five

Analysis

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Mizuno Classic

Where: Cowgirl Stadium (Stillwater, Okla.) & Marita Hynes Field at the OU Softball Complex (Norman, Okla.)
The Field: Murray State, Mercer, Missouri State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Utah
Broadcast: ESPN+

One of several multi-campus combined tournaments this weekend will be co-hosted by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Most of the games will take place in Stillwater, but each of the visiting schools, Mercer, Utah, Murray State, and Missouri State, will take the 90-minute trek down to Norman to face the Sooners on either Friday or Saturday.

The marquee matchups of the Mizuno Classic will pair Utah against Oklahoma in Norman on Friday at 5 p.m. CT, and the Utes against Oklahoma State on Saturday at 5 p.m. CT.

Missouri State is 6-8 and will start Missouri Valley Conference play next weekend with its first home games of the season. The Bears haven’t faced a ranked team since falling 1-0 to Minnesota on opening weekend. Tess Weekly is the Bears top hitter, holding team-leading numbers with a .441 batting average, 7R, 8 RBI, and 3 HR. Steffany Dickerson is MSU’s  top  pitcher this season with 40 IP, 0.88 ERA, 3-3 record, and 34 strikeouts.

Murray Sate is 11-6 on the season. The Racers have not yet faced a ranked team this year. Sierra Gilmore leads the Racers with a .412 batting average, 18 RBI, 13 runs, five home runs, five doubles, and 22 RBI.  In the circle, Hannah James leads the way with 44.1 IP, a 2.21 ERA, and 5-2 record with 40 strikeouts.

Mercer is currently 9-12 and has not yet faced a ranked opponent this season.  Danielle Castleberry’s .415 batting average paces the Mercer offense, with 12 RBI and 18 runs scored with eight steals. In the circle, Mercer has split their innings equally between Amber Byrd (3.08 ERA, 4-3, 22 strikeouts) and Bailey Pattison (4.33 ERA, 5-3, 26 strikeouts).

Utah (12-2) is the lone ranked team traveling to Oklahoma, and the Utes are closing out their pre-conference season this weekend. Sydney Sandez continues to carry the bulk of the innings for Utah, and is 10-2 with a 2.12 ERA and 26 strikeouts. Three Utes, Alyssa Barrera (.442, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 13 R), Elessa Bonstrom (.436, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 7 R, 12 BB), and Haley Denning (.435, 4 RBI, 14 R, 8 SB) have started all 14 games and are hitting over .400 for the season.

Oklahoma enters the weekend 16-4 and is playing at home in Norman for the second of three straight non-conference weekends.

This will be OSU’s second straight weekend playing at home while hosting a tournament, and the Cowgirls are coming off of a big nine-inning win over Oregon last Saturday. Carrie Eberle has taken the bulk of the innings for OSU, holding a 0.48 ERA with a 7-1 record and 49 strikeouts. Alysen Febrey leads the Cowgirls offense, hitting .365 on the season with team-highs of seven home runs, 22 RBI, and four doubles. Kiley Naomi leads the team with 18 runs scored nine stolen bases. Six players have started every game this season. (Amy Symons Hughes)


Arizona State Invitational

Where: Farrington Stadium, (Tempe, Ariz.)
The Field: Arizona State, Oregon State, Wright State, Nebraska, Lehigh, Ohio State, and New Mexico State
Broadcast: ESPN+

Arizona State hosts its third, smallest, and final tournament of the 2020 season this weekend with 18 games over six days.

The Sun Devils (16-6), who enter the weekend with the nation’s second-highest team home run total, will face off against home run leader New Mexico State on Friday at 7 pm MST.

Wright State (5-8) leads the Western Athletic Conference in batting average (.307) and slugging percentage (.463). Like ASU, Wright State leads its conference in home runs per game. Freshman outfielder Emily Daniel leads the team in batting average, hitting a .515, and runs per game, averaging .92 per game. Another freshman hitting her way into the top of WSU stats is catcher and first baseman, Payton Baxter. She’s collected the most RBI per game (.92) and home runs per game (.38).

New Mexico State (11-6) is a team with some vast power. The Aggies rank first in the nation for home runs per game. Through 17 games, NMSU batters connected for 38 home runs for an average 2.24 dingers per game. Three Aggies hit seven home runs in at least 16 games – Nikki Butler, Ramsay Lopez, and Matalasi Faapito. The trio also makes up three of the four top batting averages of the team, the fourth addition being Chloe Rivas with a .448.

Nebraska’s (8-10) .279 batting average ranks third in the Big Ten, the Husker’s biggest hitter is Tristen Edwards with a .417 batting average. Edwards’ 0.39 doubles per game, and seven doubles leads the Big Ten. She leads the team in runs per game, slugging percentage, home runs per game, hits, and total bases. Junior pitcher Olivia Ferrell started 12 times for Nebraska this season, throwing 50.1 innings to 237 batters for a 4.17 ERA.

For Lehigh (6-4), freshman utility player Emily Cimino leads the Patriot Conference in batting average (.469), home runs per game (.40), on-base percentage (.500), slugging percentage (.969). A duo of pitchers – junior Lainey Stephenson (6.85 ERA) and senior Parker Boyd (2.73 ERA) – are supplemented by utility player Cimino, who has pitched 1.1 innings and sophomore Addie Kittel who threw 3.2 innings through 10 game appearances.

Ohio State (6-7) ranks second in the Big Ten in batting average (.282). The hitting leader is freshman infielder Avery Clark, whose .475 batting average comes in second-highest in the conference. The pitching squad ranks ninth in the conference with a combined 3.49 ERA that hit six batters in 15 games. Junior pitcher Payton Buresch boasts a 1.87 ERA in 63.2 innings pitched. Buresch walked only 13 batters in 266 batters faced. (Amy Symons Hughes)


Wildcat Invitational, Tucson, Ariz.

Where: Hillenbrand Stadium (Tucson, Ariz.)
The Field: Arizona, Boise State, Indiana, SUIE, South Dakota
Broadcast: ESPN+

Arizona (17-3) comes home after sweeping through the Easton Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last weekend, and will play host to the Wildcat Invitational. Can the Wildcats continue the hot hitting that paid off last weekend, paired with the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week performance from Mariah Lopez, who went 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 23 strikeouts over 17.0 IP? Arizona is 115-4 all-time at the Wildcat Invitational in the event’s 23 previous iterations.

Boise State (12-8) went 3-2 at last weekend’s Judi Garman Classic, with wins over BYU, Loyola Marymount, and Grand Canyon. Offensively, Alison Seng is hitting .418 with 13 R, and 10 RBI while starting all of the Broncos 20 games. In the circle, Kelsey Broadus leads the way with a 2.85 ERA, 7-3 record, and 54.0 IP.

Indiana (6-7) went 3-1 last weekend at the Fairfield Crabtree Invitational in Raleigh, N.C., while outscoring its four opponents 27-5. Gabbi Jenkins leads the IU offense, hitting .450 with eight of the team’s 26 steals on the season. Pitcher Emily Gooden has tossed 69.2 of her team’s 88.2 innings and has a 1.71 ERA with 71 strikeouts.

Last weekend, SIUE (10-3) played at the Purple & Gold Challenge in Nashville, Tenn., with two wins over UMBC and one over Lipscomb. As a team, the Cougars are hitting .315 and have five hitters above  .375 including team-leader Kloe Hilbrenner at .438

South Dakota (11-10) has won six of its last eight games, including a 3-2 record at last weekend’s Lobo Classic in Albuquerque, N.M., with two wins over Northern Colorado and one over LaSalle. Jordan Pender (.439, 5-2B, 20 RBI) and Lauren Eamiguel (.414, 18R, 21 RBI, 5 SB) lead the Coyote offense while Sarah Lisko (3.14 ERA, 7-1, 58.0 IP, 22 strikeouts) leads the way in the circle. (Amy Symons Hughes)


Longhorn Invitational

Where: Red & Charline McCombs Field (Austin, Texas)
The Field: Texas, Liberty, Texas Southern, New Mexico
Broadcast: Longhorn Network

Texas (20-3) just completed an impressive road trip, beating No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 Washington in back-to-back games during the SoCal swing. The lone loss came to Fresno State by one run. The Longhorn offense has set a high standard. Junior Lauren Burke ranks second in the nation in doubles (12) and Janae Jefferson leads the Big 12 in total hits (32), batting average (.516), on-base percentage (.587) and runs scored-per-game (1.13). Freshman pitcher Courtney Day is hitting .354 with a team-leading five home runs while going 4-0 in the circle with a team-best 1.18 ERA. Senior pitcher Miranda Elish is 9-3 with a 1.50 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 16 walks while batting .409 with 18 RBIs on 18 hits in 19 games. Sophomore pitcher Shea O’Leary went 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA over three appearances last week against top-15 teams to earn Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors.

After starting the season 1-11, Liberty (7-11) is riding a six-game winning streak. The Flames went 4-0 at their home-opening Liberty Softball Classic last weekend, with the Bishop twins, Amber and Autumn, combining to go 11 for 20 with three doubles, five home runs and 17 RBIs. Freshman pitcher Karlie Keeney has gone 3-2 with a 1.78 ERA in her last six appearances.

Texas Southern (7-10) gained some momentum last week by going 4-0 with two wins apiece over Houston-Victoria and Lamar. Crimson Davis and Jazmine Gendorf were named Southwestern Athletic Conference Co-Player and Pitcher of the Week, respectively. Davis batted .571 with five runs scored and was 5 for 5 in stolen base attempts. Gendorf was 2-0 and allowed only three runs in 12 innings in the circle.

New Mexico (10-10) has demonstrated patience at the plate. The Lobos are third in the country in walks with 91, trailing just Arizona State (93) and Southern Miss (94). Senior shortstop Cameryn O’Grady was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Week, the first UNM player to win the award since 2016. O’Grady hit .556 at the Lobo Classic, with four doubles, her first career grand slam and 10 RBIs. O’Grady entered the week with an NCAA-leading 13 doubles. (Rhiannon Potkey)


SEC Opening Weekend

Broadcast: SEC Network+

The grind of the SEC has arrived, with 10 programs opening conference play this weekend. The ranked vs. ranked matchups are No. 10 Alabama hosting No. 22 Arkansas and No. 14 Georgia hosting No. 17 South Carolina. The other three openers feature No. 8 Florida hosting Auburn, No. 13 Kentucky hosting Texas A&M and No. 16 Missouri hosting Ole Miss. Every SEC coach or player knows they can’t take a single game for granted in conference. There are no guarantees of easy victories. Winning a series is always the goal, sweeping is a luxury and defending home field is a priority. Last season was a prime example of the conference competitiveness. Alabama won the regular-season SEC title with an 18-6 conference record. Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss and Kentucky tied for second at 14-10 while Florida, Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri tied for third at 12-12. Judging by the start of this season, the race appears wide open for contenders to get hot. (Rhiannon Potkey)


UCLA/Long Beach State Invitational 

Where: Easton Stadium (Los Angeles, Calif.) & LBSU Softball Complex (Long Beach, Calif.)
The Field: Michigan, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly, Boston University, UCF, San Diego State, Minnesota, Long Beach State
Broadcast: Pac-12 Plus / Beach Vision

The host UCLA Bruins (20-1) enter their last weekend before conference play with games against three ranked opponents: Michigan, UCF, and Minnesota. The No. 1 ranked team will be tested at home facing quality pitching in preparation for their first PAC-12 series against Arizona State the following week. Megan Faraimo (11-1) enters the weekend with 76.1 innings pitched, third most in the NCAA and 125 strikeouts on the year. Joining Faraimo are Holly Azevedo (6-0) with 1.89 ERA and Lexi Sosa 1.91 ERA. Sosa is starting to see more innings and picked up her third win earlier this week against St. John’s. UCLA’s hot bats are still cooking with a team batting average of .382. Aaliyah Jordan (.466) has 11 doubles on the year and Briana Perez is batting .433  on the season tied for the lead in  RBI (26) with freshman Maya Brady in RBI.

Carol Hutchins’ Wolverines have struggled the last two weeks of preseason play with losses to Texas, Washington and Loyola Marymount. Michigan’s tough road schedule continues this week with games against No. 1 UCLA and No. 24 UCF. The pitching staff has been stellar including  junior lefthander, Meghan Beaubien, who posted 0.35 ERA during the spring-break trip, allowing just one earned run over 24 innings pitched. Splitting with Beaubien is Sophomore right-hander, Alex Storako, who is third nationally with 116 strikeouts. The Wolverines will look to Lexie Blair who is 10-21 in the last six games with four doubles and Abby Skvarce batting in the clean up spot.

The Titans (12-7) are coming of a 4-2 weekend at their hosted Judi Garmin Classic with wins over Texas Tech, Boise Stat and Illinois. Cal State Fullerton dropped two games to No. 3 Washington and No. 25 Fresno State. Megan Delgadillo (.409) has been an offensive powerhouse leading the team in eight different hitting categories. The Titans celebrate the uniqueness of their pitching staff, “We have a unique group of women including a mom, someone battling stage four cancer, and a kid that was overlooked in high school,” said head coach Kelly Ford. “its special and we’ve got a sisterhood like no other.” Cal State Fullerton will look to the strength of this bond all weekend as they face three ranked teams over the weekend.

Minnesota (12-7) travels to Los Angeles after a successful 4-1 weekend at the Auburn. The Gophers travel for their last away game – they have yet to play a game at home – to play Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, Cal Poly, UCLA and Central Florida. Coming off of Big Ten Player of the Week honors, Natalie DenHartog is the fire behind the Minnesota offense. The sophomore is batting .439 with 5 HR and 19 RBI. Adding to the Gopher firepower is Makenna Partain (.394) and Sydney Strelow (.309). Amber Fiser (7-6) has experienced a tough start to the season but is still the active leader in strikeouts (776) with UCLA’s Rachel Garcia taking an Olympic year. Fiser is working with a young battery in freshmen Sydney Strelow and Olivia Peterson and taking it in stride with a no-hitter earlier this year against Tulsa.

UCF (16-3) is coming off an 8-3 loss to Florida State at UCF softball complex. The Knights fly to the Los Angeles for an 11-day road trip with eight games in California. The No. 24 ranked team will face three ranked opponents No.1 UCLA, No.16 Michigan and No.18 Minnesota before heading to Mississippi for a three-game series against Ole Miss.

Long Beach State (11-9) will make its home debut on Friday, March 6 against Minnesota at the LBSU Softball Complex. The Beach are 1-5 against ranked opponents, with an upset win over Oklahoma in the Hillenbrand Invitational. Long Beach State returns a trio of seniors on their pitching staff, Kellie White (6-4), Ashley Coleman (3-1) and Devyn Magnett (0-1) but have tested seven different arms in the circle. The offense is led by Breezy Wise (.406) who leads the team in doubles (5) and Sara Olsen (.383) with a team high 14 runs scored.

Boston University (11-4) heads to Los Angeles after a bye week and to play two ranked teams in Michigan and UCLA. The two-time defending Patriot League champions begin their California tour against Cal Poly with a bit of a homecoming on Friday night as seven of the 17 Terriers are from California. Boston University is led in the circle by Ali DuBois (7-4) with 1.50 ERA and 3 saves on the season.

San Diego State (14-9) finishes their non-conference tournament schedule with five games against Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly, Boston University, UCF, and Long Beach State. The Aztecs are coming off a 3-2 weekend at home with a close loss to UCLA on a superb tag-team pitching performance by Hannah Johnson and Maggie Balint. The duo held the Bruins scoreless through six full innings of play only to give up 5 in the top of the seventh.

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