2023 Seton Hall vs Villanova

Seton Hall, Villanova Softball Battle For BIG EAST Championship

Seton Hall, Villanova Softball Battle For BIG EAST Championship

The 2023 BIG EAST softball season, full of surprises and standouts and everything in between, has come down to one final day.

May 13, 2023 by Briar Napier
Seton Hall, Villanova Softball Battle For BIG EAST Championship

Seton Hall. Villanova.

The 2023 BIG EAST softball season, full of surprises and standouts and everything in between, has come down to one final day.

The Pirates and the Wildcats, who’ve played some classics against each other over the past few weeks, will tussle again — at least once, possibly twice — Saturday for the BIG EAST Softball Championship’s and to be the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which gets going later this month and will see whichever school pulls away square off against some of the best players and programs in the sport. 

Villanova, one of the league’s most consistent programs over the past few seasons, is pushing to return to a regional for a third straight season in what has been an historic run for the school in the sport. 

Seton Hall, meanwhile, went from seventh place in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll all the way to being on the doorstep of the national postseason — and the unbeaten Pirates have been fortunate to advance through the double-elimination BIG EAST Championship so far without a loss.

The road ends this weekend for BIG EAST softball, and what a journey it has been.

Here’s a look back at how we got to Saturday’s final between second-seeded Villanova and No. 3 Seton Hall. Each team has just one more opponent to get through to clinch a berth in an NCAA Regional:

Seton Hall, Amid Epic Season, Is One Win Away

From 20 wins at this point last season to 41 now, the next victory by the Pirates (if they can get it) will be one of the most important in program history - and they’ll have two chances to do it. 

Seton Hall has prevailed on three straight times of asking in the BIG EAST Championship this week, each time in a nail-biting finish.

The Pirates squeaked by No. 6 DePaul in a dramatic 5-4 opener, in which they were down 4-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning and won it on a Kelsey Carr walk-off. They rallied again in extras to defeat two-time reigning league tourney champion Villanova, 9-6, with a game-ending Shelby Smith homer. Most recently, they utilized a third-inning grand slam from Smith to propel themselves past regular-season champ UConn in a 6-4 triumph. 

Friday’s opener against the Huskies was a showdown of unbeatens.

Smith — who also started and picked up the pitching win, going 4 1/3  innings, before BIG EAST Player of the Year Carr came on in relief to close out the show — changed the tone of the game with one swing and had UConn chasing The Hall all throughout the latter innings. 

And though the Huskies tried to make things interesting by cutting the deficit to 5-4 in the top of the fifth, a quick response from the Pirates via an Olivia Gilbert RBI single in the bottom half of the inning gave Carr all the cushion she needed in the circle to give the Pirates the first berth in the championship series. 

With Smith on a monstrous run in the batter’s box, recording a BIG EAST Championship-record seven RBIs against ‘Nova on Thursday, and Carr proving unfazed by the pressure of a potential first conference tournament title for the Pirates in nearly two decades, The Hall is unbeaten in postseason entering Saturday, riding high and hoping its 2023 journey leads it to a NCAA Tournament.

WATCH: Villanova Play Seton Hall From May 11


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Villanova Ruins Another UConn Postseason Dream

For the third straight year, Villanova has knocked UConn out of the BIG EAST Championship, with the Huskies in sight of breaking a long NCAA tourney drought. 

This year, however, had to have felt especially cruel if you’re a Huskies fan, but the Wildcats and their fans certainly don’t mind, as the program has a shot to make it a three-peat of conference tournament titles and be the first to do so since DePaul from 2017-2019. To get it done, however, ‘Nova has to beat Seton Hall twice, after losing to the Pirates earlier in the week. 

Make no mistake about it, though, Villanova deserves to be back in the title series after its fantastic Friday. 

The Wildcats, with their backs against the wall in loser-out play, first ended the Blue Demons’ Cinderella story with a 4-1 victory, in which Kat Gallant and Caroline Pellicano combined to hold DePaul to just one run, despite giving up 11 hits. 

But Villanova’s 4-3 win over the regular-season champion Huskies, just over a month after it was swept by that same Huskies team at home, showed that until further notice, the Wildcats own UConn in postseason play. 

A 4-0 lead by the third inning gave ‘Nova the necessary insurance to hold on and withstand a three-run, last-ditch seventh inning by the top seed, with UConn stranding the tying run on second base, as Pellicano threw a strikeout looking to seal the deal and get her team back to within one opponent of a title. 

Coach Bridget Orchard, who has never missed the BIG EAST Championship final in any season it has been held since she took over at her alma mater five seasons ago, will try and lead her team from the dugout to be the BIG EAST’s representative once again on the grandest stage in college softball, though the mission will require a little extra work this time.

Villanova Vs. Seton Hall: Tale Of The Tape

Seton Hall and Villanova didn't meet this season until April 28, but all four games in their season series have had huge implications. 

In their regular-season series, the Wildcats’ two wins against the Pirates ended up being the tiebreaker for ‘Nova getting the No. 2 seed in the BIG EAST Championship - and a crucial first-round bye - and The Hall getting the third seed, as both programs finished with identical 18-6 records in conference play. 

Then, as previously  mentioned, their showdown Thursday was vital and played like it, with the Pirates needing extra innings and a game-winning homer to settle the score - and, as it turned out, the result swung the momentum back in Seton Hall’s favor. 

They’ll battle again in Game 1 of the BIG EAST Championship final at 4 p.m. (ET) on Fox Sports 2 and play another on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m., if necessary (that is, if Villanova fights back to win and takes it to a winner-take-all decider for the league’s automatic bid), though Seton Hall clearly is in the driver’s seat to continue its winningest season since 2004 with the fourth NCAA Tournament trip in program history. 

All the Pirates need is a single victory in two tries over ‘Nova, and if Smith continues her tear and has anywhere near the historic seven-RBI day she had against the Wildcats on Thursday, ‘Nova might be in trouble. 

But while The Hall is embarking into rare air, Villanova has the advantage of knowing how to win the conference title and doing it while cornered. UConn learned that in 2021, when the Wildcats needed to win back-to-back games to clinch the BIG EAST tourney title and ended up doing exactly that. 

So strap in, admire the tension and enjoy the ride Saturday - it'll only continue this season for one of two talented BIG EAST softball programs.

How To Watch The BIG EAST Softball Championship Final 2023

The BIG EAST Softball Championship is streaming live on FloSoftball and the FloSports app from May 10-May 11, with one game on May 12.  

The BIG EAST Championship Final on May 13 will be broadcast on FS2 and FS1 (if necessary)

Replays of tournament games will be available as well (excluding the final game). FloSoftball and the FloSports app was the home for all BIG EAST Softball games throughout the regular season.