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2023 NCAA Softball Tournament Breakdown

Devyn Flaherty Photo by Jeffrey Brown_Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (1).jpg
(Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mayhem is here. The road to the Women’s College World Series has officially begun, as the 64-team bracket for the NCAA Tournament was announced on Sunday night. Softball America broke down every Regional and the key themes in the committee’s selections this year.

Parity In Play

This year’s NCAA championship field represents the parity that exists in the game today. Once again, the SEC leads the way with 12 teams, the Pac-12 and ACC are next with six teams each and the Big 12 and Big Ten follow with four teams apiece. But while the Power Five is well represented, there are also five mid-major conferences with more than one bid—the AAC, ASUN, Big West, C-USA and Sun Belt—compared to just one last year. The committee also claims that top 10 wins and body of work were heavily weighed, possibly explaining the higher seeds for Alabama and Oklahoma State.

First Time For Everything

History is made, as seven teams earned NCAA Tournament bids for the first time. Of those going to their debut dance this year—Charlotte, Eastern Illinois, NC Central, Northern Colorado, Omaha, Northern Kentucky and George Mason—the last two are also coming off of their first-ever conference championships in the Horizon League and Atlantic 10, respectively. In its seventh year in existence, Duke also earns its highest seed ever at eight. On the other side, postseason mainstays Arizona and Michigan were left out of the bracket for the first time in three decades, both within two years of longtime respective head coaches Mike Candrea and Carol Hutchins retiring.

Super Regional Setups

If the national seeds hold true, drama could unfold in the second round. The only in-conference potential Super Regional matchup is between the Pac-12’s UCLA and Utah. After the Bruins swept the conference series and won the regular season title, the Utes took the championship game from them in the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament on Saturday before the Selection Show. Stanford has a shot at redemption by potentially traveling to Durham, after their opening weekend loss to the Blue Devils in February. In 2022, three unseeded teams made it to the WCWS, and we should be on upset watch in Regionals, especially in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge and Stillwater.

*Denotes automatic bid

Norman Regional

  1. Oklahoma* (1)
  2. California
  3. Missouri 
  4. Hofstra* 

On the hunt for a three-peat, Oklahoma boasts the No. 1 offense, defense and pitching in the country going into postseason. The Sooners will host two Power Five teams in Missouri from the SEC, as well as California and All-American Makena Smith from the Pac-12, who are appearing in their first NCAA Tournament since 2018. Hofstra, the CAA champions, will also join them in Norman. The Sooners are on pace to finish with the best record in NCAA softball history, and it’s going to be tough to get in their way.

Clemson Regional

  1. Clemson (16)
  2. Auburn
  3. Cal State Fullerton  
  4. UNC Greensboro*  

Keep an eye on the arms in South Carolina. The Clemson program has earned an NCAA bid in each of the three complete seasons of its existence. Two-way player and top 10 finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, Valerie Cagle, once again leads the team in the box and in the circle. The Tigers will host a Regional for the second year in a row, welcoming the other Tigers from Auburn and SEC Pitcher of the Year Maddie Penta, the Fullerton Titans and five-time Big West Pitcher of the Week Myka Sutherlin and the SoCon champions, UNC Greensboro.

Los Angeles Regional

  1. UCLA (2)
  2. Liberty
  3. San Diego State*
  4. Grand Canyon*

It’s a reunion in Westwood. UCLA won the Pac-12 regular season and nearly swept the yearly conference awards with Player of the Year Maya Brady, Pitcher of the Year Megan Faraimo, Freshman of the Year Jordan Woolery and Coach of the Year Kelly Inouye-Perez. The Bruins will host two alums turned head coaches - Hall of Famer Stacey Nuveman and the Mountain West champions, San Diego State, as well as Olympic legend Dot Richardson and the Liberty Flames, who finds her way back to her alma mater for the second time this season. The WAC champions, Grand Canyon, will also arrive at Easton Stadium for the second year in a row.

Salt Lake City Regional

  1. Utah* (15)
  2. Baylor
  3. Ole Miss 
  4. Southern Illinois* 

Utah is taking the world by storm this season. Picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll, the Utes walked away as champions of the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament, featuring Most Outstanding Player Mariah Lopez in the circle. Baylor already made some noise as the only team to beat Oklahoma this season, and the Bears will have a chip on their shoulder going into the postseason under Co-Big 12 Coach of the Year, Glenn Moore. The SEC’s Ole Miss and the Missouri Valley Conference champions, Southern Illinois, will also travel to Salt Lake City.

Tallahassee Regional

  1. Florida State* (3)
  2. South Carolina
  3. UCF*
  4. Marist* 

Pitchers are the queens in this Regional, which features three conference champions. All-American Kathryn Sandercock continues her stellar career as the ace of the Seminoles, who won their 19th ACC championship. Meanwhile, the AAC champs and Pitcher of the Year Sarah Willis will make the drive from UCF in Orlando, bringing the mom bomb queen Jasmine Williams with them. First year Gamecock Donnie Gobourne has been a revelation for South Carolina in the circle, as the Gamecocks made an unprecedented run to the SEC Tournament championship game. They’ll be joined by Marist, who earned their first MAAC championship since 2016.

Athens Regional

  1. Georgia (14)
  2. Virginia Tech
  3. Boston University* 
  4. North Carolina Central*

With six All-SEC players and their best conference finish since 2018, Georgia will host a Regional for the 12th time in its history. The Bulldogs boast three hitters with double-digit home runs. While Virginia Tech’s pitching staff is vulnerable to the long ball, the Hokies also lead the nation in home runs and will certainly bring their bats. After winning the Patriot League, the Boston Terriers, who are top 10 in the nation in batting average, ERA and fielding percentage, also take their talents to Athens, along with the MEAC champions, NC Central.

Knoxville Regional

  1. Tennessee* (4)
  2. Indiana
  3. Louisville
  4. Northern Kentucky*  

If you dig the long ball, this regional is for you. The top three home run hitters in the country will be in the same place in Knoxville—the national leader, Tennessee’s Kiki Milloy, and two players tied for second, Indiana’s Taryn Kern from the Big Ten and Louisville’s Taylor Roby from the ACC. They’ll be balanced with a deep Tennessee pitching staff, highlighted by WPF first round draftee Ashley Rogers, as well as Northern Kentucky’s Lauryn Hicks, who has 10 wins and helped lead the Norse to their first-ever Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.

Austin Regional

  1. Texas (13)
  2. Texas A&M
  3. Texas State
  4. Seton Hall* 

Don’t mess with Texas. After becoming the first unseeded team to ever make the championship series in OKC in 2022, the Longhorns will host the first round as a seeded team this year. In-state rival Texas A&M will make their first NCAA run under head coach Trisha Ford, and Texas State made it as one of the last four teams in the bracket behind pitcher Jessica Mullins. The only team not from the Lone Star State is Big East champion Seton Hall, led by pitchers-who-rake Shelby Smith and Kelsey Carr.

Tuscaloosa Regional

  1. Alabama (5)
  2. Central Arkansas*
  3. Middle Tennessee*
  4. Long Island University*

Despite eight losses to unranked teams this season, Alabama will host its 18th straight NCAA Regional after finishing the regular season with 10 wins over top 25 teams. They’ll have their hands full with ASUN champion Central Arkansas, earning its first NCAA berth since 2015 led by two 20-win pitchers Kayla Beaver and Jordan Johnson. Northeast champs LIU and leading power hitter Alexia Castro will compete at Rhoads, as well as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders after their second-ever Conference USA Tournament championship.

Evanston Regional

  1. Northwestern* (12)
  2. Kentucky
  3. Miami OH* 
  4. Eastern Illinois*

Led by the battery of pitching workhorse Danielle Williams and Gold Glove catcher Jordyn Rudd, Northwestern earned back-to-back Big Ten championships and NCAA seeds. Kentucky from the SEC and All-SEC First Team honorees Erin Coffel and Kayla Kowalik will travel to Evanston. Miami Ohio, who captured its fourth consecutive MAC regular-season title, will join them, along with Eastern Illinois, making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance on the back of their Ohio Valley championship.

Stillwater Regional

  1. Oklahoma State (6)
  2. Wichita State
  3. Nebraska
  4. UMBC* 

Oklahoma State won’t cross state lines in the postseason. Despite losing 10 of its last 12 games, the Cowgirls are trying to regroup and build on their early success, taking two of three from Florida State and sweeping Big 12 rival Baylor. Behind Kelly Maxwell, the Cowgirls are gunning for their fourth-consecutive WCWS appearance. Wichita State is a familiar foe, beating OSU twice this season, and Sydney McKinney is a force at the plate leading the nation with a batting average above .500 for weeks. Also traveling to Stillwater are the Big Ten’s Nebraska and UMBC, coming off its fourth straight America East title with Madison Wilson’s 1.010 OPS.

Fayetteville Regional

  1. Arkansas (11)
  2. Oregon
  3. Harvard*
  4. Notre Dame

Arkansas made history this season with its first SEC series wins over Florida and in Tuscaloosa. Led by Athletes Unlimited draftee Chenise Delce in the circle and National Freshman of the Year top 10 finalist Reagan Johnson, the Razorbacks have their eyes on OKC. After tallying wins over six NCAA Tournament teams, Notre Dame and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Carlli Kloss will come to Bogle. WPF draftee Allee Bunker and the Oregon Ducks were on the bubble to be the fifth Pac-12 team to host a Regional, but after an early exit from the Pac-12 Tournament, they will also head to Fayetteville, along with Ivy League winner Harvard.

Seattle Regional

  1. Washington (7)
  2. Minnesota
  3. McNeese*
  4. Northern Colorado*  

The Washington Huskies took second in the Pac-12 regular season, driven largely by the bat of All-American Baylee Klingler and the arm of freshman pitcher Ruby Meylan. More solid pitching comes to Seattle with the Minnesota Gophers and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Autumn Pease, who has over 200 innings pitched this season. Northern Colorado makes the trip coming off the Big Sky championship, led offensively by Alyssa Wenzel, while McNeese will also join as the three-peat Southland champions.

Baton Rouge Regional

  1. LSU (10)
  2. Louisiana*
  3. Omaha*
  4. Prairie View A&M* 

It’s geauxing to be a good one in Baton Rouge. The two local Louisiana teams split two games in the preseason, but with the highest RPI in the SEC and a top five SOS, the Tigers won out in the battle to host. Louisiana won its 18th Sun Belt title in 23 years and hopes to bring that momentum to Tiger Park. The in-state rivalry will be enhanced by two more conference champions—the Summit League’s Omaha, led by hurler Kamryn Meyer with a WHIP under 1.00, and the SWAC’s Prairie View A&M, headlined by hits and RBIs leader Mia Nunez and Newcomer of the Year Aerin Talley.

Durham Regional

  1. Duke (8)
  2. Charlotte
  3. Campbell* 
  4. George Mason* 

After finishing as runners-up in the ACC Tournament, the Blue Devils have the potential to host both Regionals and Supers at Duke Softball Stadium. Junior Jala Wright and freshman Cassidy Curd lead the way in the circle with offensive support from D’Auna Jennings and five other players hitting .300 and above. After sealing its third consecutive Big South title, Campbell will make its way to Durham, alongside first-time Atlantic 10 champions, George Mason. Meanwhile, Charlotte will make its NCAA Tournament debut after clinching the Conference USA regular-season championship with Newcomer of the Year, pitcher Sam Gress.

Stanford Regional

  1. Stanford (9)
  2. Florida
  3. LMU*
  4. Long Beach State*  

Stanford boasts one of the strongest pitching staffs in the country, featuring the nation’s lowest ERA in freshman Nijaree Canady, as well as All-Pac-12 arms Alana Vawter and Regan Krause. With the top SOS and third RPI in the country, the Cardinal are more than battle-tested. After finishing eighth in the SEC, the Florida Gators and National Player of the Year candidate Skylar Wallace are on the road for Regionals for the first time since 2004. WCC champions LMU and ace Jenna Perez will join them in Palo Alto, as well as Long Beach State, who clinched the Big West after sweeping in-conference rival Cal State Fullerton in the final regular-season series.

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