Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five Things to Watch in Super Regionals

1. How will Baylor's pitching hold up against a solid Arizona offense?
The Bears' pitching staff has really stood out at times, but rose to new levels thanks to Gia Rodoni's back-to-back no-hitters in the Regional round in Waco. Glenn Moore's squad boasts what may be their most well-rounded pitching staff in recent memory, thanks also to Kelsee Selman's emergence in her senior season, and has performed well. They will face a large test against the powerful Arizona offense, however, that boasts Katiyana Mauga, Mandie Perez, Mo Mercado, and Jessie Harper, among others. Though Arizona is considered a favorite for the National Championship, if the Bears' pitchers can keep the Wildcats' bats under control, the tone of the series could change quickly in Tucson.

2. Can Bailey Landry break out of her slump to lead LSU?
LSU's Bailey Landry could get hot and provide a big
boost for her team. / Photo: LSU Athletics
The Bayou speedster, who has been a season-long sparkplug for the Tigers, hit a bit of a wall during the Regional round, reaching base via a hit just three times in her team’s five games of the weekend. A 2-4 performance against McNeese State was her best performance of the weekend, as she participated in the Tigers’ 10-1 blasting of the Cowgirls. She went hitless in her team’s opening game against Fairfield, recorded a single base knock in the winner’s bracket game that stretched over several hours and rain delays on Saturday, and went hitless in the final pair of games against Louisiana-Lafayette. Now hitting .412 on the year, and still one of her team’s most capable hitters, Landry needs to break out of her slide in a big way if the Tigers are to upset Florida State and head to the World Series. Facing Meghan King and Jessica Burroughs, that will be no easy task; if it can be done, though, Landry will be a big catalyst to the Tigers’ attempt at upset.

3. Will the Auburn/Oklahoma rematch be as competitive as the 2016 Championship Series?
The Auburn Tigers are a very different team than they were in Oklahoma City last June following their loss in the winner-take-all game #3 of the WCWS Championship Series. After losing three crucial seniors on offense, as well as several pieces of their pitching staff puzzle, the 2017 season took a turn downhill following several off-the-field incidents that cast a dark shadow over the plains of Tigertown for much of the season. For the Sooners, though their roster contains many of the same pieces that helped them to the national title last year, they no longer carry the air of blossoming underdogs that was a part of their 2016 run. Both teams need to catch their stride going into Oklahoma City if they intend to seriously challenge for the championship, and the renewal of a budding rivalry could do just that for either team. It's a fairly even playing field once-again, and it could be a very interesting series if the pieces fall correctly.

4. Will Ole Miss sustain the hot streak in Los Angeles?
Ask even a casual softball fan what the story of the softball postseason has been and you're likely to hear about the Ole Miss Rebels. Mike Smith's squad has put together a remarkable run, winning the SEC tournament and cruising their first-ever hosted regional to land a spot in Los Angeles for the Supers. As a jumpstart, late-blooming #12 seed, facing a history-filled, high-expectations UCLA program, it might seem like the Rebels are beat before they set foot on the field. Don't count them out. The Bruins have proven vulnerable at times, even at home - in 2014, they were bested by another SEC upstart team, Kentucky, in the Super Regional round in Los Angeles. Kaitlin Lee has to sustain her red-hot postseason dominance and the Rebels' offense has to keep clicking, but if there's one lesson to be learned from the postseason thus far, it's to never count the Rebels out.

5. Will Kelly Barnhill or Meghan Gregg solidify their case for Player of the Year?
Florida's Kelly Barnhill is one of three finalists for the National Player
of the Year trophy. / Photo: UAA Communications
The Florida pitcher and Tennessee infielder, respectively, were announced this week as two of the three finalists for the National Player of the Year award, joined by James Madison pitcher Megan Good in that category. Barnhill and Gregg, the SEC's Pitcher and Player of the Year, are the only two who can continue to boost their resume prior to the award's winner being announced. In the case of Barnhill, she will face an Alabama team that the Gators did not play in 2017, but against whom she allowed just three hits and two runs, earning the win, in her single outing against the Tide in 2016. For Gregg, she faces off against Texas A&M pitching off of whom she hit .400 in a three-game set earlier this season, including a home run, two runs, and five RBI.

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