Eight teams remain in the hunt for the title as the top softball team in the country. Each team took different paths to make it, but in the end, they all made it to Oklahoma City. With action beginning today, alligatorSports took a look at each opening-round matchup.
Game 1: No. 5 seed Florida (50-12) vs. No. 13 Seed Baylor (47-14)
RPI: 1 (UF) vs. 12 (BU)
Batting Average: .312 (UF) vs. .305 (BU)
Team ERA: 2.02 (UF) vs. 1.55 (BU)
Fielding Percentage: .978 (UF) vs. .965 (BU)
Florida analysis: The Gators have come a long way since Tim Walton became head coach in 2006. They are competing in their sixth Women’s College World Series in seven years, but this time around, they hope to win it all.
Florida is led on offense by sophomore Kelsey Stewart and junior Lauren Haeger, while everyone who’s stepped into the batter’s box this season has at least a .303 on base percentage. In the circle, UF has a three-headed rotation, with senior Hannah Rogers, Haeger and freshman Delanie Gourley being able to step in the starting lineup during any given game.
Baylor analysis: After finishing second in the Big 12 and hosting its first NCAA Regional since 2009, Baylor had a tough draw in the Super Regionals — No. 4 seed Georgia. But the Bears made quick work of the Bulldogs, sweeping UGA on its home field by an aggregate 15-4 score.
Baylor has one of the best pitchers in the country in Whitney Canion. A sixth-year senior, Canion has a career 1.40 ERA and has fanned 1,463 batters in 1,107.1 innings.
At the plate, redshirt sophomore Linsey Hays paces the Bears with 13 home runs and a .643 slugging mark.
Game 2: No. 1 seed Oregon (54-7-1) vs. No. 8 seed Florida State (55-7)
RPI: 5 (OU) vs. 7 (FSU)
Batting Average: .349 (UO) vs. .309 (FSU)
Team ERA: 1.81 (UO) vs. 1.44 (FSU)
Fielding Percentage: .971 (UO) vs. .968 (FSU)
Oregon analysis: The Ducks have one of the best hitters in the country in Courtney Ceo. The senior third baseman leads the country with a .492 clip at the plate and is 18th in the nation with a .532 on base percentage. In NCAA play, the Meadow Vista, Calif., native has a .611 batting average with two home runs and three stolen bases.
Oregon also has a valuable arm in Cheridan Hawkins. The sophomore southpaw has a 33-4 record on the year with 11 solo shutouts and 313 strikeouts in just 230 innings en route to first team All-Pac-12 and first team All-Pacific Region.
Florida State analysis: Since NCAA action began, FSU has a .247 batting average — the second worst clip of the eight remaining teams. The Seminoles need to see more output from Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Maddie O’Brien — who is just 2 for 13 in six NCAA contests after posting a .440 batting average in the regular season.
FSU also needs Lacey Waldrop — the USA Softball National Player of the Year — to continue her dominance in the circle. The junior pitched 39 of FSU’s 45 innings in NCAA action, allowing just nine earned runs and striking out 26 batters in the process.
Game 3: No. 6 seed Louisiana-Lafayette (49-8-1) vs. No. 14 seed Kentucky (49-17)
RPI: 6 (ULL) vs. 15 (UK)
Batting Average: .307 (ULL) vs. .264 (UK)
Team ERA: 2.77 (ULL) vs. 2.23 (UK)
Fielding Percentage: .960 (ULL) vs. .972 (UK)
Louisiana-Lafayette analysis: The Ragin’ Cajuns have power throughout their lineup. In 2014, Louisiana-Lafayette has four batters with double-digit home run totals and five with at least 37 RBIs. In five NCAA contests, ULL hit nine home runs, with catcher Lexie Elkins hitting four of them.
In the circle, Christina Hamilton takes the bulk of the load. The junior right-handed pitcher has pitched 224.1 of the Ragin’ Cajuns 400 frames, accruing a 29-2 record, a 1.53 ERA and a 2.95:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the process.
Kentucky analysis: UK is the other team that had to win on the road in the Super Regionals to clinch a berth in the Women’s College World Series, topping No. 3 seed UCLA in three games to advance. On paper, the Wildcats — with the lowest batting average and the third-worst ERA of the field — have a tough hill to climb in their first WCWS appearance.
But behind sophomore right-handed pitcher Kelsey Nunley (29-9, 1.85 ERA, 261.1 IP, 209 H, 202 K, 87 BB) in the circle, Kentucky looks to continue its best season in program history.
Game 4: No. 2 seed Alabama (50-11) vs. No. 7 seed Oklahoma (50-11)
RPI: 3 (UA) vs. 8 (OU)
Batting Average: .320 (UA) vs. .327 (OU)
Team ERA: 2.20 (UA) vs. 2.74 (OU)
Fielding Percentage: .971 (UA) vs. .978 (OU)
Alabama analysis: Alabama looks to win its second national title in three years. To do so, the Crimson Tide will look to outfielder Haylie McCleney and pitcher Jaclyn Traina to roll over the competition.
McCleney paces ‘Bama with a .451 batting average — good for the 10th-best mark in the country. The Morris, Ala., sophomore also boasts the country’s fourth-best on base percentage (.567).
Traina, the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year, has a 23-3 record in the circle. In NCAA play, the Naples senior boasts a 1.96 ERA, allowing seven earned runs in 25 innings.
Oklahoma analysis: The Sooners enter their ninth Women’s College World series after a decisive three-game series against 10th-seeded Tennessee in the Super Regionals. By advancing, Oklahoma looks to win its second title in as many years, and looks to its offense to carry the load.
OU’s .400 batting average in NCAA action leads the eight teams in the field, with Lauren Chamberlain and Callie Parsons both posting .476 clips in those games. On the season, the Sooners have seven batters with at least 75 at-bats and a .300 batting average.
Follow Jordan McPherson on Twitter @J_McPherson1126