There are stark differences in the softball programs at Arizona and Ole Miss.
Arizona has won eight softball national championships. Ole Miss has, of course, not. The Wildcats have been to NCAA postseason play 33 consecutive times. The Rebels have been four times in its history. But those four appearances have occurred in the last four seasons, and that fact makes a difference.
While Arizona is certainly considered part of the upper echelon of college softball, they’re kind of in a weird place at the moment. Now understand, being the six seed is a nice “weird place” to be in, but the Wildcats have lost seven straight super regionals. The losing streak at such a high level has to take a toll on the psyche of any program, coach, or fan base. Hopefully, the Rebels see a Wildcat team that plays tight and sees that number tick up to eight.
It’s going to be a tall task though. The Wildcats didn’t earn a six seed by being a bad team. They’re a solid ball club full of talented players who were highly recruited out of high school. They’re battle tested and went 45-12 in the Pac-12.
Arizona can hit.
The Wildcats are hitting .324 as a team with seven batters hitting over .300, led by 2B Reyna Carranco who is hitting .432 on the year. followed closely by right fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza (.387). While their averages are quite impressive, Arizona is the elite club it is because of its power. The Wildcats have hit an astonishing 103 home runs this season (compared to just 39 for the Rebels). That’s nearly two homers per game.
Junior shortstop Jessie Harper has hit 28 this season all by herself, which is an astonishing total, especially for a shortstop. This lineup is going to hit for average and power, which is not something most teams can do.
They can also pitch.
With a team ERA of 1.61, the Wildcats aren’t falling off in the circle. Their top two pitchers, Taylor McQuillin (1.54) and Alyssa Denham (1.93) have helped Arizona hold opposing hitters to just a .182 batting average. Each averages more than one K per inning pitched.
McQuillin will likely pitch a lot this weekend, given that she has 181 innings pitched, compared to just 98 for Denham. Neither will be easy for the Rebels to handle.
But they can lose, too.
Don’t get me wrong. The WIldcats haven’t lost much this season, and when they have it has mostly been to other national seeds (swept by Washington and lost a series to FSU). Early in the year, they managed to lose to NC State and USF, and they recently had an extra innings head-scratcher loss to 28-27 Cal at the end of April, but it’s tough to judge them much by those one-off losses.
But the point is that this isn’t a team on a 25-game winning streak that’s impossible to best. They’re really, really good, and they’ve certainly earned their seed. I like Ole Miss’ chances more against them though than I did against No. 5 UCLA two years ago. The Bruins had won somewhere around 22 of their previous 23 games heading into that match up and just looked unstoppable. That’s not the case for this Arizona team, but they’re still going to be a really tough opponent.