Five things to watch in Super Regionals
We're down to 16 teams in the NCAA softball tournament, and the Super Regionals start today. espnW has you covered with all the storylines and players to watch in the best-of-three series at eight locations across the country.
Can the star pitchers who shined so brightly in the regionals dominate again? No. 11 seed Baylor rode Whitney Canion's left arm to victory at College Park, Md. The ace gave up just five hits in three games, striking out 30 and walking six. The Bears will need her to dominate again to upset No. 6 seed Georgia at the Athens Super Regional. ... Jolene Henderson led No. 7 seed Cal to victory at Louisville with three wins, 26 strikeouts, one walk and two earned runs allowed. Cal hopes her success continues against the unseeded, upstart Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky makes its first Super Regional appearance after knocking out No. 10 seed Michigan. Though the games will be played in Lexington, Ky., Cal will be treated as the home team by virtue of its higher seed. ... Chelsea Thomas pitched a six-inning no-hitter Sunday, her fourth of the season, as No. 5 Missouri advanced to the Columbia Super Regional to face No. 12 Washington. The star redshirt sophomore is now 29-6 for the Tigers.
Freshman stars emerging
The cliche says that experience wins championships, but several standout freshmen are proving age is just a number. No. 1 seed Arizona State hopes pitcher Dallas Escobedo continues her hot streak in Tempe, Ariz., against No. 16 seed Texas A&M. The sensational righty allowed just nine hits in 17 innings in the Tempe regional and now stands at 29-3 for the year. ... No. 4 seed Florida has its own young arm in Hannah Rogers (31-5), who pitched a complete-game five-hitter against defending champion UCLA to help Florida advance to the Gainesville Super Regional. The Gators will play No. 13 seed Oregon. ... Kaitlin Inglesby, Washington's standout freshman, starred both inside and outside the circle in leading the No. 12 seed Huskies to the Columbia Super Regional against No. 5 seed Missouri. Inglesby pitched three complete games and batted .857 (6-for-7) with five RBIs in Seattle last weekend.
Who will wear the glass slipper?
No NCAA tournament is complete without a Cinderella story or two. We've got two in the Stillwater Super Regional with unseeded teams Oklahoma State hosting Houston. The Cowgirls advanced out of Knoxville, Tenn., one of the toughest regionals in the tournament, with a nail-biter of a win over the SEC tournament champion Volunteers. Houston, out of Conference USA, emerged from the Austin regional hosted by No. 3 overall seed Texas. With a win at home, Oklahoma State would advance to the Women's College World Series just down the road in Oklahoma City.
East Coast-West Coast rivalry
We're not talking the Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, but Pac-10 versus SEC in softball is about as intense a rivalry and battle for bragging rights as you'll find. The Pac-10 dominates softball, having won 22 Women's College World Series titles since 1982. The SEC has never won a championship but has had the runner-up in two of the past four years. Three Super Regionals have East versus West flavor, with No. 15 Stanford at No. 2 Alabama, No. 13 Oregon at No. 4 Florida and Kentucky hosting No. 7 California. With home-field advantage in all three series, could this be the year the SEC breaks through?
Super Regional to watch: Tucson
How many compelling story lines do you need? We've got two powerhouse programs, with the eight-time champion, No. 8 seed Wildcats hosting No. 9 seed Oklahoma. How about star pitchers? We've got those, too. Arizona's sophomore ace Kenzie Fowler pitched every inning of the Wildcats' three wins in the regional, improving to 26-7 on the season. OU's Keilani Ricketts has the NCAA single-season strikeout record and averages 11.5 strikeouts per seven innings. She also packs a punch at the plate. Throw in home-field advantage for the Wildcats and Oklahoma's attempt to get back to nearby Oklahoma City for the first time since 2004, and we've got ourselves a doozy of a Super Regional.
Check your local listings for game coverage all weekend on the ESPN family of networks.