Championship weekend in NCAA softball went just as expected in the Big 12, ACC, and Big Ten conferences. But there was absolute madness in the SEC tournament. And a comeback for the ages in the Pac-12.
1. Your SEC Champion Is... Ole Miss?Raise your hand if you had Ole Miss versus LSU in the SEC Championship game. And raise your other hand if you had the No. 8 seed Ole Miss winning the tournament!
Rebels pitcher Kaitlin Lee was absolutely brilliant over four straight games to lead Ole Miss to its first-ever SEC Tournament victory.
Lee started her tournament run by holding down in-state rival Mississippi State 2-1 on Wednesday. Then, Lee stunned the softball world by shutting out No. 1-ranked Florida in a 2-0 victory and eliminating the Gators after one game in the SEC Tournament.
Lee wasn't done. She promptly led Ole Miss to a 4-1 win over Alabama on Saturday afternoon. Then, she completed the weekend with a 5-1 win over LSU on Saturday night to win the tournament.
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The final statline for Kaitlin Lee in the SEC Tournament:
- 28 IP (pitched all four games)
- 19 hits allowed
- 3 runs allowed
- Only 1 walk the entire weekend
- 12 Ks in four games
- 440 total pitches
- 4-0 RECORD
Ole Miss is about pitching and defense. And the Rebels had plenty of it this weekend to the point where they did not trail in a single inning over four games. Ole Miss led 26 innings and was tied the other two innings during this tournament.
Congratulations to Ole Miss for their stunning, magical weekend winning the SEC Tournament.
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2. SEC Tournament CrazinessThere were so many storylines coming out of the SEC Tournament that we have to discuss what happened before Ole Miss won the tourney.
- No. 1 seed Florida: Lost to Ole Miss in its first game
- No. 2 seed Auburn: Lost to LSU in its second game
- No. 3 seed Tennessee: Lost to LSU in its first game on its home field
- No. 4 seed Texas A&M: Lost to Alabama in its first game
That set the stage for No. 8 seed Ole Miss and No. 6 seed LSU to meet in the SEC Tournament final.
In their losses, the top four seeds combined to score three total runs: Florida was shut out; Auburn was blanked against LSU; A&M scored one run in its loss; and Tennessee scored two runs.
It was an absolutely stunning tournament. If you are looking for silver lining for the top four seeds leaving the tournament so early, perhaps it's the chance for extra rest before the NCAA Tournament begins.
But we're not sure what to make of Florida's offense right now. The Gators only collected two hits in their loss to Ole Miss on Thursday.
Going back just a few weeks ago to the weekend of April 21, Florida completely shut down Ole Miss by a combined score of 10-0 in three games. Then, at the SEC Tournament, Ole Miss flipped the script with a 2-0 shutout. Is the top team in the country ready for the postseason? We are very interested to find out.
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3. Pac-12 Elite Raise Up In Stunning FashionNow that the regular season is complete in the Pac-12, we know who the elite teams are in the conference.
Arizona is the conference champion. Oregon reasserted itself with dominant hitting and pitching to finish on a 10-game winning streak. UCLA won 13 out of 14 to close the season, and then there is Washington.
The Huskies traveled to Utah for a three-game set to conclude the regular season. Washington won the first two games 12-1 and 4-2 to set the stage for a thrilling comeback.
In the third game on Saturday, Utah took a 12-1 lead into the fifth inning on their home field on senior day. Game over, right? Suddenly, it was 12-5 after the fifth inning, then 12-11 after the sixth inning, tied 12-12 after the seventh, and 13-12 in favor of Washington to win in the eighth.
The Huskies stunningly scored 12 runs over four innings to win their final game of the regular season. How did it happen?
The fifth inning started with a leadoff walk. The sixth opened with a leadoff walk and included one error, and the seventh included an error.
There were no home runs during Washington's run. The runs were driven in via walk, single, sac fly, single, double, double, single, error, and sac fly to win.
That is the definition of a team rally -- just keeping the line moving on the way to scoring 12 unanswered runs.
Now, we can look at the final Pac-12 standings with clear separation on top and determine which teams will be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament:
- Arizona: 18-6 conference winners
- Oregon: 17-6 runners-up
- Washington: 16-8
- UCLA: 16-8
- Utah: 13-9 after being swept at home by the Huskies
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4. ACC Tournament: Florida State Survives Late RallyFlorida State shook off last week's stunning sweep at Oregon by traveling to North Carolina this weekend and winning the ACC Tournament.
FSU finished unbeaten in ACC play with a 27-0 conference record, and the Seminoles won their fourth straight ACC Tournament title under head coach Lonni Alameda.
But the championship game was not without a scare from host team North Carolina.
Down 4-0 in the seventh inning against ace pitcher Jessica Burroughs, the Tar Heels mounted a rally. With two outs and two on base, second baseman Katelyn Shifflett unloaded a three-run home run to straight-away center field that made the score 4-3.
Alameda decided Burroughs had pitched enough this weekend and pulled her in favor of Meghan King, who recorded the final out to win 4-3.
FSU was brilliant against conference opponents this season, but the Seminoles had their share of challenges against elite teams from other conferences. Which Florida State team will show up during the NCAA Tournament? And will the Seminoles make it back to the Women's College World Series? This will be exciting to find out.
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5. Big Ten Tournament: Minnesota Keeps RollingAre you ready for Minnesota to crash the Women's College World Series party? The Golden Gophers just keep winning, having now won the Big Ten Tournament title.
The No. 1 seed Gophers avoided host team No. 2 seed Michigan in the tournament, but that should not take away from their accomplishment of winning the Big Ten tourney for the second straight year.
Minnesota took care of Northwestern 5-1 in its first tournament game, then survived a scare from Illinois in their second game before shutting out Ohio State in the championship game.
The game against the Illini was one of the most exciting of the weekend. The Gophers took a 5-2 lead thanks to a grand slam from Kendyl Lindaman. But Illinois tied the game at 5.
Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Sydney Dwyer crushed an absolute monster walk-off home run that went so far it landed in the outfield of Minnesota's baseball field behind the softball field.
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The Gophers then cruised in the title game against the Buckeyes to take the title. As for host Michigan, the Wolverines lost their first tournament game 5-4 against in-state rival Michigan State.
It looks like Minnesota versus Michigan will not happen this season, unless they somehow meet in the NCAA Tournament.
We do know that the Golden Gophers look absolutely dominant right now with their combination of pitching and hitting. It would not be surprising to see the road warriors make one more trip to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series.
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6. Big 12 Tournament: Oklahoma DominatesThe Big 12 brought back a tournament this year, and Oklahoma picked up where it left off as conference champion.
The Sooners started their title run on Friday with a 3-0 shutout against Texas and an 8-0 shutout against Texas Tech. Then, OU shut out in-state rival Oklahoma State on Saturday to win the tournament.
The Sooners' Nicole Pendley hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning against OSU to provide the offense in the championship game. Meanwhile, Paige Parker and Paige Lowary shut down the Cowgirls' lineup.
OU looked dominant all weekend with a combined scoreboard of 13-0 against three opponents. After starting the season so shaky, the Sooners appear to be primed for a major postseason run.
Oklahoma has won 10 in a row and 26 out of its last 27 games, with the lone blemish being a game against Baylor at the end of April.
Like Minnesota, the Sooners appear ready for a trip to the Women's College World Series with their combination of dominant pitching and power hitting.
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7. Best Of The Rest: JMU, Lafayette, & TulsaThere were plenty of other teams that punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning their conference tournaments.
The most dangerous teams from outside of the Power Five conferences are James Madison, Louisiana Lafayette, and Tulsa, who are all ranked in the top 25.
- JMU wiped out UNC Wilmington and Hofstra on its way to winning the CAA title.
Good ran her season record to 36-1 with two wins in the conference tournament. Along the way this season, Good and JMU beat Power Five teams Missouri, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Auburn, Boston College, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia, and North Carolina. Be very afraid of the Dukes in the postseason.
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- Louisiana Lafayette also wiped out its Sun Belt Conference tournament opponents South Alabama and Texas State.
While James Madison has one of the most dangerous pitchers in the country, Louisiana has one of the most lethal hitters in the country, D.J. Sanders. She finished the season with this statline:
28 home runs (best in the country)
78 RBIs (best in the country)
1.086 Slugging Percentage (best in the country)
Watch out for Louisiana in the NCAA Tournament because it can smash a softball all over the field.
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- Tulsa only had to play two games to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Golden Hurricane beat Memphis in the semifinals before edging Houston 1-0 in the championship game.
The Cougars even tried a Ciabatta Rally with a mid-game lunch break, but Watson did not give Houston any hope in this game. She recorded 11 strikeouts to help Tulsa win back-to-back conference titles.
Watson finished the season 28-4 for the Golden Hurricane. Her intimidating presence in the circle makes Tulsa a threat in the NCAA Tournament. And the Golden Hurricane are focused on reaching the WCWS in their home state this season.
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