2021 NCAA Softball Tournament Breakdown
Softball’s postseason is officially back after Sunday night’s Selection Show. Softball America wanted to give a quick preview through each regional and overall thoughts on the committee’s choices for the 2021 bracket.
The SEC Really Does Mean More
Coming into Sunday, SEC Tournament champs Alabama and regular season co-champions Arkansas and Florida were presumed locks to be top-eight national seeds. Then, in kind of a surprise, LSU, Missouri and Tennessee gave the SEC six of the top nine seeds and five of the top eight. Kentucky and Georgia, despite not being the top seed in the Athens Regional due to ACC Tournament champ Duke not being selected as one of the 20 predetermined sites, earned hosting privileges as well. The only thing that didn’t go right for the SEC was South Carolina not making the tournament.
No Love For The Pac-12
Washington’s walk-out of its watch party displayed Pac-12 fans’ feelings as a whole on Sunday night.
Many thought that UCLA might be able to grab the top overall seed due to a better RPI and strength of schedule than Oklahoma, which ended up not being the case. However, that wasn’t the biggest bone that West Coast fans had to pick with the bracket. As SEC teams continued to earn hosting rights, the Pac-12 waited.
Finally, Arizona was given the 11th seed and became the Pac-12's second host. Meanwhile, Arizona State and Washington, the second-place team in the conference, were given the 15 and 16 seeds respectively.
Then there’s Oregon. The Ducks were sent to 12th-seeded Texas to face former head coach Mike White and a handful of former players. Oregon, as well as Arizona State and Washington, had better RPIs than 14-seed Kentucky and more marquee wins than the Longhorns.
UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez also let her thoughts be heard on the Selection Show:
“To be honest with you, I'm so disappointed,” she said. “In all the years of being a part of this, to have the Pac-12 disrespected to this level, I'm shocked. There were four to five teams that were in the top eight for the majority of the year, and we played each other, and we actually played more games to strengthen our schedule against each other. So I'm shocked and I'm very disappointed. ... I hope the Pac-12 comes in and shows what they are capable of doing because it was a very challenging year and we have some great teams in the Pac. So, we're all in. It's a new season. Bring it and let the best teams get to the end.”
To the long-asked question about which conference between the SEC and Pac-12 is better, the committee gave their answer for the 2021 season.
Big Ten And The Mid-Majors
There were a lot of questions about how the committee would treat the Big Ten and its conference-only schedule. Michigan didn’t earn a host despite the possibility of being able to host Duke and having a handful of teams being able to bus to Ann Arbor. Although, it must’ve been close because the Wolverines got the two seed in the Seattle Regional, which was the final regional to be announced. Minnesota will head to UCLA as a two seed and Northwestern survived the bubble, earning the fourth seed in the Lexington Regional.
Mid-majors dominated the bubble as the Sun Belt (4), American (3), A-Sun (2) and Missouri Valley (2) were all multi-bid leagues. Bubble squads Troy, South Florida, Kennesaw State and Northern Iowa all heard their names called over the likes of an SEC team like South Carolina, as previously mentioned.
* = Denotes Automatic Bid
- Oklahoma* (1)
- Wichita State*
- Texas A&M
- Morgan State*
The Sooners were the consensus top team in the land and were treated as such. They’ll host American Athletic champs Wichita State, a team Oklahoma run-ruled on May 4, Texas A&M and the MEAC’s automatic qualifier, Morgan State. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone can make it a seven-inning game against the Sooners.
- Washington (16)
- Portland State*
The main storylines in Seattle will be how motivated the Huskies will be after clearly being upset with their seed, and how fun will a possible pitching matchup of Washington’s Gabbie Plain against Michigan’s duo of Alex Storako and Meghan Beaubein be? The Pacific Northwest is also well represented with the conference winners from the WAC (Seattle) and the Big Sky (Portland State) also headed to the regional.
Los Angeles Regional
- UCLA* (2)
- Fresno State*
- Long Beach State*
If you love pitching, this is the regional for you. With the chance for a 2019 WCWS rematch between UCLA and Minnesota, the Bruins and Gophers have two of the best duos in the circle. UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Megan Faraimo against Minnesota’s Amber Fiser and Autumn Pease would be really fun to see. However, those teams have to go through the aces of the Mountain West and Big West in Fresno State’s Hailey Dolcini and Long Beach State’s Kellie White first.
- Arizona State (15)
- Virginia Tech
- Southern Illinois*
The dream matchup in this regional would be seeing Arizona State’s big bats that have hit 91 home runs, the second-most in the nation, against Virginia Tech’s stellar pitcher Keely Rochard. Don’t overlook the other two teams either. Way back on Feb. 11, Arizona State needed a walk-off home run to beat BYU, the West Coast Conference champs. Southern Illinois comes fresh off of wins over top-seeded Illinois State and Northern Iowa, another tournament team, to win the Missouri Valley Tournament.
- Alabama* (3)
- Alabama State*
The Tide are coming in hot. Winning the SEC Tournament and 13 straight games, they’re in good shape to get back to Oklahoma City. In their way stands ACC regular season champs Clemson and star Valerie Cagle. The Tigers' weak strength of schedule seemed to do them in as a potential host despite going 42-6. Troy can also make some noise behind Leanna Johnson, one of the best pitchers not in the Power Five. Alabama State was one of the biggest surprises during championship week after winning the SWAC despite coming into the tournament with a losing record.
- Kentucky (14)
- Notre Dame
- Miami (OH)*
This should be one of the most open and interesting regionals this year. Kentucky has struggled with ranked teams this season after a hot start to 2021. Notre Dame found success in one of the best ACCs we’ve ever seen. Northwestern was able to get in and be a rare Power Five four seed. The best pitcher in this regional might be Miami (OH)’s Courtney Vierstra, who has thrown multiple no-hitters, as the Redhawks took the MAC.
- Florida (4)
- South Alabama
- South Florida
This regional should be a lot of fun. Tim Walton and the Gators are always ready for the postseason, and they’ll need to be strong against Georgina Corrick and South Florida. Corrick, who holds a 0.97 season-long ERA, has been really good this season, but her two worst outings this year were against Florida. South Alabama is dangerous as well having wins over Alabama and Georgia this season. Baylor’s roster has a ton of veterans who have been through the postseason.
- Duke* (13)
- Western Kentucky*
- UNC Greensboro*
After beating Florida State and Clemson to win the ACC Tournament, Duke’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance will be as a Top 16 seed. The downside of it, the Blue Devils won’t be hosting. Duke wasn’t picked as one of the 20 predetermined sites, but a late-season run made Duke one of the best teams in the country. Georgia will be the host and does have impressive wins in Athens over Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri. Western Kentucky, who won the Conference USA tournament as an underdog, and Southern Conference representative UNC Greensboro will also head to Athens.
- Oklahoma State (5)
- Mississippi State
- Boston U*
The Cowgirls earned another regional host under Kenny Gajewski. Oklahoma State has proven it can be a top five seed with wins over other hosts such as Oklahoma, Texas, LSU and Arkansas. Also in Stillwater will be the sluggers from Mississippi State, which has won eight of its last nine games. The Bulldogs will have their hands full in the opening round against ace Ali DuBois and Boston U out of the Patriot League. Oklahoma State will open against Big South champion, Campbell and former Texas A&M star turned head coach Sharonda McDonald-Kelley.
- Texas (12)
- Texas State
- Saint Francis (PA)*
Get your popcorn ready because this one has all the drama. Everyone wants to see Texas coach Mike White and a plethora of former Ducks go against their former program in Oregon. Brooke Yanez, Haley Cruse and the Ducks should not be the Longhorns’ only worries. Texas State nearly beat Texas on two different occasions this season. Also, Saint Francis (PA), the Northeast Conference champion, has one of the only pitching duos to each throw a no-hitter with Grace Vesco (0.82 ERA) and Rachel Marsden (1.43 ERA) this season.
- Arkansas (6)
- South Dakota State*
The Cinderella story of Arkansas continues with the Razorbacks earning a top eight seed. The Razorbacks will host two Cinderella stories in their own rights. South Dakota State makes its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance after winning the Summit League and Manhattan won the MAAC as that tournament’s six seed. Stanford comes in from the Pac-12 led by underrated pitcher Alana Vawter and her 1.21 ERA. The Cardinal will have a tough opening match against South Dakota State, which has wins over tournament teams Northern Iowa and Wichita State.
- Arizona (11)
- Ole Miss
Arizona has had a tough time against ranked opponents this season, but its 25-3 home record—25-0 when not facing UCLA—makes this regional daunting to the other three teams. However, Jamie Trachsel’s quick revival of Ole Miss has been a fun story to follow with series wins over Georgia, Auburn and UCF. This is also a great stage for two of softball’s underrated stars. Two-way player Paige Rauch led Villanova to a Big East title and the program’s first NCAA Tournament. We also get to see American East Conference winner UMBC get to use Courtney Coppersmith in the circle against Arizona’s lineup.
Baton Rouge Regional
- LSU (7)
- George Washington*
- McNeese State*
LSU’s incredible strength of schedule got it a top eight spot, despite having 19 losses on the season. The Tigers will likely meet Sun Belt Champion Louisiana again after beating the Ragin’ Cajuns twice in February. George Washington makes its first appearance into the field of 64 after taking the A-10 crown. McNeese State joins the regional following a Southland tournament championship.
- Florida State (10)
- Kennesaw State
This regional has a handful of the best pitching committees in the nation. Florida State uses a mixture of Kathryn Sandercock, Danielle Watson and Caylan Arnold. Auburn has two of the best freshmen hurlers in Shelby Lowe and Maddie Penta, and the Tigers also use KK Dismukes (1.54 ERA) a lot out of the bullpen. Alea White and Gianna Mancha also lead UCF in the circle as impressive arms. Kennesaw State may have slipped in as the last team in, but this is an interesting landing spot. The Owls have already played all of the other teams in this regional, having wins over Auburn and UCF as well as a one-run loss to Florida State, so don’t count them out either.
- Missouri (8)
- Iowa State
- Northern Iowa
This is hitters galore. Not only has Missouri hit 80 home runs this season with Hatti Moore and Kimberly Wert leading the way, but the Columbia Regional also features some of the best hitters from across the country. Iowa State’s Sami Williams became the Big 12’s all-time hit leader and has blasted 21 home runs herself this season. Northern Iowa star shortstop Sammey Bunch comes in hitting 21 home runs as well with a .441 batting average. Kayla Wedl helped Illinois-Chicago to a Horizon League championship behind her .432 batting average and 30 stolen bases.
- Tennessee (9)
- James Madison*
- Eastern Kentucky*
Tennessee proved in the SEC Tournament it’ll go as far as Ashley Rogers takes the Lady Vols. Knoxville welcomes a handful of stars from the A-Sun, Colonial and Ohio Valley Conference champions. Liberty’s Amber and Autumn Bishop against James Madison’s Kate Gordon and Odicci Alexander will be a fun experience for those who don’t watch college softball outside the Power Five conferences. Eastern Kentucky gets a third chance at Tennessee after opening the season in Knoxville, which included the Lady Vols surviving an upset scare with a 3-2 win.