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What We Learned: Baylor Sweeps, Boise State Celebrates, Mariah Lopez Dominates Ducks

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After a weekend of watching and covering college softball, D1Softball’s Graham Hays, Rhiannon Potkey and Brady Vernon share the players, teams, trends and stories that caught their eye.

Jump to: Jordy Bahl does it all | Boise State’s important title | Mariah Lopez dazzles | LSU surging

Graham Hays

Baylor played itself into a seed. As Brady has touched on in previous weeks, the No. 16 seed is a bit of a monkey’s paw. Sure, you get to play at home in a regional. But your prize for winning that is a trip to Norman, Oklahoma—which makes it mighty difficult to progress a few miles up the road to Oklahoma City. But if there’s a team that wouldn’t be afraid of the admittedly daunting challenge of taking on the Sooners, it’s the team that already beat them once this season. The only team that beat them. Sunday’s finale against Texas was a wild ride in its own right, Baylor scoring two-runs on a walk-off error, celebrating, waiting five minutes for a video replay to confirm the hard grounder over the first base bag was fair and then celebrating again. But sweeping Texas puts the case for a national seed in a whole new light. Entering the Big 12 tournament, Baylor is No. 17 in adjusted RPI and 7-7 against the RPI top 25, notably better than Louisiana (2-9), Clemson (4-6) and Oregon (5-10), the former two ahead of them and the latter right behind at No. 18. And at 8-3 against teams ranked between 26-50, Baylor’s resume doesn’t lose ground there. 

It’s all the more remarkable that Baylor is in this situation because it beat Texas three times without Dari Orme or Aliyah Binford throwing a pitch. Binford, of course, is out for the season. And the unquestioned ace this season, Orme didn’t pitch against the Longhorns (and struggled at times in recent weeks). For the sport’s sake, Orme hopefully just needed rest and isn’t dealing with more substantive ailments. Worryingly, the team’s comments about her positive presence in the dugout all weekend sounded distinctly reminiscent of Oklahoma State talking about Miranda Elish about this time a year ago. Still, freshman RyLee Crandall (13 IP, 12 H, 3 ER) and erstwhile infielder Kaci West may have saved Orme and the rest of a team a bus trip in regionals.

Kara Daly is going to go out swinging. If this is the start of something for Missouri, then it’s going to be a long journey—any NCAA regional hopes likely depend on beating Mississippi State in what amounts to the SEC tournament play-in game on Tuesday. And work may remain even then. But whether the season last another 48 hours or several weeks, at least Kara Daly gave themselves some memories. Run-ruled, shut out and two-hit by Chenise Delce in the series opener against Arkansas, Missouri won each of the next two games on walk-off home runs. Saturday, Maddie Snider had to hit an eight-inning game-tying home run just to set up Daly’s two-out walk-off winner off Delce. Then Daly did it again, getting the best of the pitcher who has befuddled so many SEC hitters with another walk-off home run to clinch the series. 

We can’t talk too much about what Autumn Pease is doing. Granted, I don’t know what more there is to say at this stage, but let’s just keep saying it. Pease bookended Minnesota’s sweep of Michigan with shutouts—seriously jeopardizing Michigan’s postseason prospects and extending one of the most remarkable pitching runs of the season. Pease is one meaningless home run away from 58 consecutive scoreless innings. As it is, after that home run against her in a win at Ohio State, she’s thrown three consecutive seven-inning shutouts, striking out 20 and allowing just 10 hits and one walk. Over the last month, she has a 0.22 ERA in 64 innings. Even as Amber Fiser earned All-America honors and led Minnesota to the World Series in 2019, she only had three seven-inning shutouts in Big Ten play. Pease has done that in the past eight days—and has six overall in the conference.

Megan Faraimo leads the way in wins as only she can. As the regular season ends for everyone but the Big West, UCLA’s ace leads the nation with 28 wins. How she got there, one ahead of Miami’s Brianna Pratt, says a lot about the sport in transition. Pratt got to 27 wins with two complete games against Kent State, wins that ultimately allowed Miami to win the MAC regular season title. For a team with limited arms and options, the fifth-year senior has pitched a D1-high 225 innings and 28 complete games. Faraimo finished ahead of her because of a win against San Diego State that only required 17 pitches—inheriting a runner in the seventh, she retired the side and was the pitcher of record on Aaliyah Jordan’s storybook walk-off home run. Faraimo has 10 more wins than games started this season. Lisa Fernandez once had two more wins than games started in a season. So did Rachel Garcia. But 10 more wins than starts speaks to how Kelly Inouye-Perez has turned her ace into the ultimate fixer. And a very different model of a national wins leader.

Tori Kniesche pulled off a perfect conference season. A regular season title in hand and any NCAA hopes dependent on the conference tournament, South Dakota State rested ace Kniesche in the final two games of the final series against South Dakota. Shannon Lasey had it covered, winning both starts to sweep the in-state rivalry. But Kniesche had more than earned the time off. The junior threw a five-inning perfect game in the series opener, completing an eye-popping conference resume: 11-0, 0.00 ERA. In 76.2 innings against Summit League opponents, Kniesche allowed nary an earned run and just 27 hits—striking out 124 batters along the way. Fittingly, the only run anyone scored against her in conference play came on a strikeout (an error while trying to throw out a runner allowed Kansas City to score on April 29). Unfortunately, the Summit doesn’t include conference-only single-season records in its official records, but we know that no one has ever done better than Kniesche’s 0.00 ERA.

Delaney Cumbie knows how to take a good stroll. Speaking of things we don’t talk nearly enough about, I bet you didn’t know Cumbie is about to make some history. Or if you did, you may be a SoCon pitcher. The big news out of UNCG’s weekend series against Western Carolina was that the Greensboro team clinched its sixth consecutive SoCon regular season title. But with four more free passes in the series, UNCG’s Cumbie now has 177 career walks. If that sounds like a lot, it is. With three more walks, she’ll tie Alabama’s Cassie Reilly-Boccia and Washington’s Kristin Rivera for 25th in NCAA Division I history. And consider the 10 hitters who will be directly ahead of her at that point: Kelsey Jenkins, Jocelyn Alo, Alisa Goler, Kayli Kvistad, Sydney Sherrill, Adrienne Monka, Jenny Topping, Maddie O’Brien, Haylie McCleney and Lauren Chamberlain. There are a heck of a lot of All-America honors in that list. Cumbie is “just” a .293 career hitter, but she has a .483 career on-base percentage (she’s also been hit by a pitch 55 times). One of the most peculiarly impressive hitting careers is winding to a close with another title in hand.

Charlotte’s lineup usually has an answer. Prior to this weekend, Charlotte had been blanked five times this season. They were 4-1 in the games following shutouts, averaging a healthy six runs per game. Sunday, with a regular season title on the line, they nearly doubled that. The 49ers routed UAB 11-3 on Sunday, which with some help from Middle Tennessee State outlasting North Texas in extra innings, sends the regular season title to the state of North Carolina. It’s the first outright regular season title for Charlotte, and the first of any kind since it shared an A-10 title back in 2006. Stymied by UAB a day earlier to put the title in jeopardy, Charlotte pounded out 14 hits after UAB took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. The 49ers hit four home runs, including a pair from Ashleigh Washington and Lexi Wagner in the decisive second inning. The only team with NCAA at-large hopes in Conference USA, Charlotte will hope not to use those credentials and instead take care of business as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

Longwood wanted a share of the Big South title. In a series between the league’s top two teams, Longwood needed to take two of three from Campbell to leapfrog the Camels and earn a share of the regular season title and No. 1 seed in the Big South tournament. After losing the opener against likely conference pitcher of the year Isabella Smith, they needed to win two of two. Darned if they didn’t do just that. The Lancers evened the series in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, but with Smith back in the circle for Sunday’s finale, they still trailed 4-3 entering the bottom of the sixth inning. Jaden Pone’s RBI double tied the game, and Kayley DeVivi’s sac fly—with help from aggressive base running—brought home two more runs to give Longwood the lead it needed to enter the conference tournament as the top seed. The Lancers scored a total of 10 runs against Smith, who had allowed just 17 in 74 Big South innings.

Bridget Orchard made No. 900 count. It feels like we’ve seen a number of coaches reach 900 career wins in recent weeks, but don’t let that diminish the scale of the achievement. We’re still talking about a club that wouldn’t fill a dugout. Orchard recently surpassed Maria DiBernardi, the coach Orchard played for at Villanova and who spent 34 years at the school. Sunday, Orchard reached career win No. 900 in Villanova’s 10-4 win against Providence. Combined with Butler beating Seton Hall on Sunday, Villanova’s sweep of Providence allowed the Wildcats to slip ahead of the Pirates for the No. 2 seed in this week’s Big East tournament. That matters because it comes with a first-round bye in the event in Storrs, Connecticut.

Rhiannon Potkey

Defense stole the show on Friday night. If anyone needed a reminder of the great skill and athleticism in the sport, Friday night provided a plethora of defensive highlights. Nearly every game seemed to feature a play worthy of SportsCenter Top 10 nomination. From diving catches to perfectly played balls off the wall to smooth flips to start double plays, defenders were flashing the leather in all conferences. And it continued in other games throughout the weekend. Thank goodness Rawlings and the NFCA joined together last year to start awarding Gold Glove Awards in college softball. It’s a pretty safe bet a few of this year’s winners made plays on Friday that will be used to make the case.

Oklahoma and Florida State can never be counted out. The Sooners and Seminoles are perennial powers for numerous reasons. Their grit and competitive spirit are among them. Both teams put that on display on Saturday. Having already clinched conference regular-season titles and their postseason fates secure, some teams may have suffered a letdown. But OU and FSU never stopped fighting for a win. Oklahoma trailed Bedlam rival Oklahoma State 2-0 entering the seventh inning. Tiare Jennings belted the go-ahead double and freshman Kierston Deal came through clutch in relief to rally for the 4-2 win. FSU trailed Louisville 4-0 early before staging a comeback to win 6-4 in the 11th inning on a walk-off home run by Devyn Flaherty. This isn’t a one-time thing. OU and FSU have a belief that there is always a way. If there is one more inning, one more out, one more pitch, they believe they can find a way to win. They have no fear. They embrace those moments. Combined with their talent, that’s a powerful elixir in sports.

Conference tournaments lead to late-season motivation. Conference tournaments not only provide teams a chance to improve their NCAA chances, chase another title and play more games, they also make the final weekend of the regular season more compelling. Entering the final day, many teams were still fighting to improve their conference tournament seeding or just to make the conference tournament field. Even teams securing a spot in the play-in game had a reason to celebrate. The same as those trying to get a double-bye. In the Power Five conferences, every regular-season champion is assured a spot in the NCAA tournament because of their resume. But nearly all the mid-major conferences are largely dependent on the automatic berth that comes with winning the conference tournament. The sustained success of the regular-season champion isn’t always rewarded in the end. One loss could see a team’s NCAA hopes slip away. It’s a fickle fate, and one reason some argue the regular-season champion should receive the automatic bid. But the conference tournaments are here to stay and the intensity should be high across the country until the NCAA brackets are released next Sunday.

Sandercock, Williams, Faraimo celebrate career win No. 100. Reaching 100 career wins as a pitcher is a major accomplishment. How about having two pictures achieve the milestone within a few minutes of each other? That happened on Sunday when Florida State fifth-year senior Kathryn Sandercock and Northwestern graduate senior Danielle Williams joined the club. UCLA redshirt senior Megan Faraimo beat them to it by a few days, notching her 100th win on Friday with wins against LMU and San Diego State. Sandercock improved to 100-11 with a win in relief over Louisville and Williams improved to 100-28 with a win over Rutgers. Faraimo is 100-15 with a 1.37 career ERA in 693.1 innings pitched. Sandercock’s career ERA is 1.49 in 663.0 IP while Williams stands at 2.13 in 819.1 IP. In an era of increased offense, the numbers are impressive. Faraimo, Sandercock and Williams are hoping to notch a few more wins before their careers end. Fans should enjoy watching while they can.

  • Two pitchers also reached the 1,000-career strikeout club this weekend. Oklahoma graduate transfer Alex Storako exceeded the threshold in OU’s final game against Oklahoma State. UMBC graduate senior Courtney Coppersmith reached 1,000 in the first inning of a victory over UMass-Lowell on Friday.

More attendance records are broken. It’s become a regular thing in this space and for good reason. The celebration of attendance records falling should never be taken for granted. Oklahoma State was a part of several in the past few days. Last Wednesday, North Texas set a single-game program record with 481 fans in Denton to see the Mean Green upset set OSU. During the Bedlam rivalry against Oklahoma over the weekend, Oklahoma State kept increasing its single-game attendance record at Cowgirl Stadium. Friday night’s attendance of 1,602 fans broke the previous record of 1,384 against Clemson in last season’s Super Regional. On Saturday, the Cowgirls surpassed that mark with 1,753 fans. The Cowgirls added temporary bleachers in right field for the Oklahoma series to help allow more fans at Cowgirl Stadium. OSU plans to keep the bleachers in place throughout the postseason for any NCAA games the program hosts.

Boise State celebrates one title, eyes another. Justin Shults believed Boise State could contend for conference titles immediately when he took the head coaching job. In his first season in 2022, the former Oregon assistant led the program to a school-record tying 40 wins. In his second season, the Broncos captured just the second regular-season Mountain West Conference title in program history. The clinching win came last Friday as Boise State beat Fresno State 3-0. The title means Boise State will host the conference tournament in 2024. The Broncos just need to secure one final detail to make it happen. They need to get lights installed at their stadium in time, whether they are temporary or permanent. Given the commitment the university has shown to women’s athletics—as evidenced by the Women’s Sports Fund the Bronco Athletic Association started in 2018—that shouldn’t be an issue. The most pressing concern for Boise State right now is earning a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Broncos will need to win the conference tournament this week in San Diego to get the MWC’s automatic bid. Boise State was on the wrong side of the bubble last season as the first team left out of the NCAA tournament. Shults put together a tougher nonconference slate to challenge the Broncos and put them in better position for at-large consideration. But the Broncos would rather not depend on the whims of the NCAA committee again. They don’t want to sweat out Selection Sunday. They want to celebrate another title this weekend, one that comes with an even bigger prize.

BYU had a series to remember. It was an exciting few days in Provo with a freshman and a senior having breakout performances as the Cougars swept Pacific. Freshman Tristen Turlington entered Friday’s doubleheader with no career home runs and just three RBI. By the end of the night, she had three home runs and eight RBI across the two games. Her first home run was a grand slam in the opener and her second was a walk-off three-run homer as BYU beat Pacific 6-3 in nine innings in the nightcap. The Cougars were down to their final out in the seventh inning before Hailey Morrow was hit by a pitch and Violet Zavodnik followed with a game-tying two-run home run. On Saturday, the Cougars celebrated Senior Day and Mallory Barber certainly made memories. Barber hit the first two home runs of her career in the run-rule win. Barber had started 59 games and appeared in 97 in her three seasons at BYU after transferring from Salt Lake Community College before she notched the first two homers of her career in her 60th start. All three seniors in the BYU lineup – Barber, Martha Epenesa and Alyssa Podhurcak-Foss – had an extra base hit and a run scored in the 8-0 run-rule win. Barber and Epenesa each hit home runs and Podhurcak-Foss doubled.

Jordy Bahl can do it all—and does. Has there ever been another All-American pitcher used as a pinch runner with such regularity? Bahl is a remarkable athlete with the ability to play nearly any position on the field. We’ve seen many two-way pitchers hit. But if they get on base, coaches often replace them with a pinch runner to avoid a potential injury on the basepaths. But Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso inserts her All-American pitcher as a pinch runner. She’s done it with Bahl five times this season, including in the series against Oklahoma State. Sure, the Sooners have the pitching depth in case something does happen to Bahl. Still, many coaches wouldn’t even consider the option. But Bahl’s competitive drive is very high and her speed and savvy makes her a valuable weapon. There is risk in anything. It’s cool to see Bahl be able to get in the game as much as possible, whether it’s in the circle, on the basepaths or taking her hacks at the plate. Special players like her don’t come along often.

Brady Vernon

Kelley Lynch a secret weapon for Washington. Lynch came to Seattle with lofty expectations out of high school. The two-way player hasn’t exactly been a superstar on either side in her career. However, if she plays like she did against Stanford, she’ll be a valuable piece for the Huskies in the postseason. This has definitely been Lycnh’s best year in the circle. She heads into the Pac-12 tournament with a career-best 2.43 ERA and .165 batting average against. She tossed four shutout innings against Stanford on her way to her ninth win of the year. Sunday, she became the first player this season to hit a home run off of Stanford’s NiJaree Canady. Lynch had four hits in the run-rule win versus the Stanford, one off of each Canday, Alana Vawter and Regan Krause. If she can carry that momentum, it’d be huge for Washington’s postseason aspirations. 

LSU’s pitching staff makes them really interesting in the postseason. Sydney Berzon has been stellar as a freshman this season, leading the team in innings with a 1.76 ERA. Ali Kilponen has 120-plus innings, as well, and when she’s on, she’s tough to beat—as we saw Sunday against Georgia. The additional arms we saw in the rubber match are what make the Tigers dangerous in the postseason. Beth Torina went with the combination of Alea Johnson, Emilee Casanova and Raelin Chaffin to get the series win over the Bulldogs. The three combined don’t have as many innings as either Berzon or Kilponen, but they apparently work well together. Each tossed two innings, limiting the Bulldogs to one run and six hits. If you remember, that trio threw 5.1 scoreless innings against Oklahoma earlier in the year. Hypothetically, if LSU used them to win the first game of a regional, it sets up nicely for the rest of the weekend. Some food for thought. 

Mariah Lopez might be the western, lefty version of Maddie Penta who you don’t want in your regional. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how Maddie Penta is the arm you don’t want in your regional. Mariah Lopez has submitted her bid to be in the conversation with the Auburn ace. The southpaw doesn’t rack up the strikeouts like Penta, but she doesn’t need to. Sunday, she only had six strikeouts while she no-hit Oregon to seal the sweep. The Ducks came in as one of the hottest teams in the country, but only managed one run and one extra-base hit in 14 innings against Lopez. She has wins against Washington and Stanford and pitched well against LSU and UCLA. Utah has a strong offense to pair with Lopez as well. The Utes will be a tough out in the postseason. 

This weekend was a bracketlogist’s headache. Duke saw its RPI rise without playing a game. Oregon and Florida did nothing to help their cases for potentially hosting regionals, and even Wichita State’s outside chance ended with a loss to Kansas. The top eight feels even more conflicting. The top two teams in the SEC, Tennessee and Georgia, don’t have the RPI but history tells us the SEC gets a boost. Northwestern’s eye test, and bad losses like the one to Rutgers this weekend, don’t scream a super regional host—yet it seems likely. Louisiana keeps sitting there with a great RPI and a very interesting resume. At least the LSU-Georgia series matched the metrics after being the opposite the first 12 weeks of the season. Guess I have work to do for Tuesday.


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