The Oregon Ducks (35-15) learned Sunday their Regional destination will again be Fayetteville, Arkansas. Oregon will open the Regional against Notre Dame (29-17-1) at 2:00 pm PT on Friday, May 19. The game will be shown on ESPN2. Host and #11 Seed Arkansas (38-17) will play their opener against Harvard (29-15-1) following the Oregon-Notre Dame clash. The winner of the double-elimination Regional will advance to a Super-Regional where they will play a best-of-three series against a single opponent. Should they advance, Oregon would face the winner of the Stillwater, Oklahoma Regional which is being hosted by #6 Seed Oklahoma State.
The Razorbacks are the big dog - or, really, big hog - in the regional, seeded and hosting again this year. In 2022, however, Arkansas was a #4 national seed and the SEC Champs. They went undefeated in last year’s Regional, beating Princeton 11-0 in their opener, and then defeating the Ducks twice by scores of 6-2 and 9-3. Oregon opened with a 10-2 victory over Wichita State, suffered its first loss to Arkansas, then beat Wichita State again 8 - 1 in an elimination game before the second loss to Arkansas. The Razorbacks advanced and came up just short of the NCAA Tournament Finals, losing 2 games to 1 to the Texas Longhorns who went on to place 2nd in the NCAA Softball World Series.
The Ducks are likely to follow a similar initial path in Fayetteville in 2023. Oregon should be favored to take the fight out of the Irish, and Arkansas is unlikely to have many problems with Harvard, setting up another winner’s bracket game for the Ducks and Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks finished 4th in the SEC regular season. The Conference is stacked with quality teams this year, boasting 8 ranked teams, despite a couple of them having losing Conference records (sound familiar?). Due to its fourth-place position, Arkansas was seeded into the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, where they were defeated by Alabama 3 - 2 in 9 innings. Tennessee won both the regular season and tournament titles.
Arkansas wins games with pitching and defense. While the team averaged 5.73 runs per game this season, it gave up only 2.71. Freshman outfielder Reagan Johnson leads the Razorbacks at the plate, hitting .374 with an on-base percentage of .411 and a slugging number at .431. Redshirt Junior utility player Rylin Hedgecock is next with a .325 batting average and leads the team with 20 home runs and 58 RBI. No other Razorback has even half as many homers, but Junior infielder Cylie Halvorson - who has hit .288 - has 47 RBI. Arkansas has stolen just 24 bases this season but has been successful on every attempt. Johnson has 17 of the team’s 24 stolen bases. The Razorbacks seem to be well-coached and patient at the plate as well, having drawn 186 walks.
In the circle, Arkansas’s Ace is clearly right-hander Chenise Delce, a Senior. She has gone 20 - 9, compiled a 1.86 ERA and hurled 16 complete games. She has struck out 183 batters while walking 51 and has given up just 117 hits in 166 innings. But none of the 4 Arkansas pitchers who have seen most of the action has a losing record or an ERA over 3.17. The team ERA is a very healthy 2.18. Freshman lefty Robyn Herron has started 13 games and gone 8-4 with an ERA of just 2.02. She has struck out 107 batters in just 72.2 innings.
The Crimson tied Princeton for the Ivy League regular season title with a 16-5 record, then won the inaugural Ivy League tournament by defeating the Tigers in the final game of the double-elimination tournament. Ivy League competition is not likely to have tempered the Crimson to the same level of quality of either Arkansas or Oregon and Harvard will face an uphill battle to win a game in the Regional.
Junior Madi Mays leads Harvard with a .353 batting average. She has 7 doubles and also leads the team with 29 RBI. Harvard has 8 regular players hitting over .300 with Sophomore catcher Savannah Fitzpatrick at .351 and Sophomore Catcher/utility player Megan Welsh hitting .330. The team hits for average, not power. Harvard has just 9 home runs on the season. The Crimson has shown some speed on the base paths and a willingness to use it. Harvard has stolen 74 bases on 82 attempts with Junior outfielder Lauren Bobowski having 27 of those stolen bases. The other “most likely to steal” player is Senior Trina Hoang who has had 14 successful steals on 16 attempts. The Crimson have scored an average of 5 runs per game.
Senior Righty Lindsay Poulus (3-3) has the lowest ERA on the team at 1.63 but has only appeared in 18 games. Harvard has split starting pitching duties evenly between three pitchers - Junior right-hander Anna Reed (2.55 ERA, 14 starts), Freshman right-hander Riley Flynn (2.66, 12) and Sophomore right-hander Katie Arrambide (3.30, 15). Flynn has the most work, having pitched 94.2 innings during which she struck out 89 batters and allowed 38 runs.
The Fighting Irish head to their 24th straight Regionals to face the Ducks in the opener. Like Oregon, Notre Dame compiled a stronger record away from home, going 11-6 in road games and 10-4 at neutral sites. The Irish opened their season with what at the time looked like an impressive 7-1 win over Arizona State. They closed the regular season with a first-round loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC softball tournament.
Like Harvard, Notre Dame can hit the ball. Six regular players hit over .300, led by Senior infielder Joley Mitchell at .383. Mitchell is also third on the team with 10 homers and has a .660 slugging percentage. Junior catcher Carlli Kloss is hitting .352 and Graduate Player Lexi Orozco is right behind her at .351. Orozco is tied for the team lead with Junior infielder Karina Gaskins at 14 homers and has a .725 slugging percentage. Gaskins on-base percentage is .500 and Orozco is at .475 - keeping these two hitters off the base path might allow Oregon to short-circuit Notre Dame’s offense. Mitchell and Kloss have over half the stolen bases for Notre Dame this season.
Kloss Earns Defensive Player of the Year; Five Earn All-ACC Honors— Notre Dame Softball (@NDsoftball) May 10, 2023
Oregon is likely to face Graduate Student Payton Tidd in the circle for the Irish in the opener. Tidd (15-10), a righty, has started half of Notre Dame’s games and has a 3.13 ERA but has pitched only 10 complete games. Tidd has struck out 102 and walked 41 in 147.2 innings of work. Freshman right-hander Micaela Kastor (7-4 record, 2.60 ERA, 11 starts) and Sophomore right-hander Shannon Becker (7-3, 4.25, 12) have split the rest of the starts and the Ducks seem more likely to see Kastor if Tidd falters.
Notre Dame is an experienced squad with 5 Seniors, 2 Graduate Players and 5 Juniors on the 23-player roster.
What a difference a fortnight makes. Just two weeks ago, the Ducks were riding the crest of a 13-game winning streak and were odds-on to be hosting a Regional this week rather than traveling to one. Some of that was illusory as it’s fair to say Oregon’s Conference schedule was front-loaded with some of the tougher opponents the Pac-12 has to offer. However, it’s hard to explain the offensive collapse against Utah. In the 3-game home series that closed out the regular season, Oregon scored just 3 runs total, and was shut out in the third game. The Ducks had not scored 3 or fewer runs in an entire game since another inexplicable shutout loss to Oregon State in early April.
Even more baffling was a seeming change in Coach Melyssa Lombardi’s handling of her pitching staff. Earlier in the year, it took only one or two obvious signs of a pitching break-down for Lombardi to make a switch. While Oregon lost the Utah games due to a lack of offense, they dropped their Pac-12 Tournament opener to Stanford because Lombardi stayed with starter Morgan Scott too long. Scott lost 2-0 and 3-2 leads late in the game and the Ducks were eliminated.
But that’s all water under the bridge and it’s easy to see how the Fayetteville Regional gives Oregon a clean slate. The Ducks certainly have the weapons to make some noise in Arkansas. Fifth-year player Allee Bunker leads the Ducks with a .396 batting average, 10 home runs, 12 doubles and a .665 slugging percentage. Redshirt Senior catcher Terra McGowan has been a terror for opposing pitchers, hitting .327 with a team-leading 12 home runs, 9 doubles and a .627 slugging percentage. As teams have tried to pitch around her, McGowan has drawn a team-leading 20 walks (Oregon has 132 total bases-on-balls). Junior outfielder Hanna Delgado is hitting .323 and Senior outfielder Ariel Carlson is at .315.
Oregon is also an aggressive base-running team when game situations call for it. The Ducks have swiped 72 bases on 87 attempts. On the flip side, Oregon’s catchers have held opponents to just 17 steals on 29 attempts. Junior KK Humphreys leads the team with 14 stolen bases on 14 attempts but Delgado, Carlson and Redshirt Sophomore Kai Luschar are also in double-digits.
If the Ducks can hit well, they clearly have the pitching talent to advance in Fayetteville. Senior righty Scott (12-6, 2.56 ERA) is likely to get the call against the Fighting Irish in the opener. She’s been brilliant at times and has thrown 9 complete games and has 6 saves. Scott has struck out 79 and walked just 18 in 115 innings. Sophomore right-hander Stevie Hansen (18-6, 2.39 ERA) could also earn the start in what could be a “how they look in warm-ups” decision for Coach Lombardi. Hansen came into the season as Oregon’s putative Ace and leads the team with 21 starts and 132 innings pitched. She has struck out 106 and walked 31. Hansen has shown some control problems at times, plunking 12 batters over the course of the season. Depending on how things go for Oregon, Junior right-hander Reagan Breedlove (4-3, 2.65 ERA) may also see some time in the circle, most likely in mop-up duty. She’s pitched 63.1 innings this year striking out 27 and walking 18.
Were it not for the uncertainty created by the last four games of the season, this year’s Fayetteville Regional would look very good for Oregon. Arkansas seems like it may not be as good as last year’s team and the Ducks seem better, certainly with a more dependable and deeper bullpen. If Oregon’s bats can return to the form they held during the team’s long winning streak, the Ducks have a decent chance to advance.