The Arizona softball team, trying to get to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010, will begin the NCAA Tournament as the 14th seed.
The Wildcats will host a four-team regional at Hillenbrand Stadium, Friday through Sunday. The first game will be between Mississippi State and North Dakota State at 6 p.m. Arizona will play St. Francis (Pa.) at about 8:30 p.m. in the double-elimination regional.
The intrigue is what could happen next.
The winner of the Tucson regional is in line to face the tournament’s No. 3 overall seed, UCLA, in the best-of-three super regional the following weekend. Old rivals Arizona and UCLA have been the pre-eminent programs in the history of the sport, with the Bruins winning 11 national titles and Arizona eight.
UCLA won its last World Series in 2010, beating the Cats in the championship round.
“Buckle up,” former U.S. Olympian Jessica Mendoza said on ESPN about the potential of UCLA-Arizona. “The fact that the road to Oklahoma City goes through one of those two teams, I’m excited.”
But first is St. Francis. The Red Flash (39-17) entered this weekend ranked second nationally in home runs (1.44 per game), while Arizona was fourth at 1.38 per game. St. Francis pitcher Abby Trahan is 28-11 with a 2.48 ERA; Adrian Smith is 11-6 with a 2.46 ERA.
Mississippi State is 36-21. The Bulldogs are led by freshman catcher Mia Davidson, who is hitting. 371 with 18 home runs. Their ace, Holly Ward, is 15-7 with a 1.33 ERA.
North Dakota State (33-17) won the Summit League to earn an automatic berth. Jacquelyn Setic is 25-9 with a 1.62 ERA and 303 strikeouts in 216 1/3 innings.
Arizona (40-14) had seven players earn postseason honors from the Pac-12 on Sunday.
Shortstop Jessie Harper, first baseman Alyssa Palomino and pitcher Taylor McQuillin were selected to the first team.
Harper, a sophomore who is second in the Pac-12 with 17 home runs, picked up her second consecutive first-team honor. Palomino, a second-team selection last season, has a conference-best 18 homers. McQuillin, a junior, is 25-10 with a 1.59 ERA, 13 shoutouts and 255 strikeouts in 211 1/3 innings.
Outfielder Ashleigh Hughes and catcher Dejah Mulipola earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. Second baseman Reyna Carranco and pitcher Alyssa Denham were on the third team.