Wildcat Invitational Preview: Duels In The Desert
Wildcat Invitational Preview: Duels In The Desert
While Arizona hosts, five softball progams from around the U.S. will duke it out in the desert for bragging rights and wins.
Arizona might be hosting (and the namesake of) the Wildcat Invitational to kick off college softball’s first weekend in March, but the eight-time NCAA champions aren’t the focus of this preview piece.
It’s about the games between the other five teams in the field from March 4 to 6 at Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, all of which will get their cracks at the Wildcats, but the other teams too—with those games streamed live on FloSoftball.
There’s a lot to like about the non-host squads in the event, too. There’s tournament appearances, all-conference nods and plenty of wins between them, leaving up for grabs which school can escape the desert with some good vibes for the rest of the regular season.
Take a look below at what to expect from the five non-Arizona teams at the Wildcat Invitational next week.
NOTE: All first pitch times are listed in Mountain Time and are subject to change. All 2022 records and statistics are through Feb. 24.
Iowa State Cyclones
2021: 34-23, lost in Columbia Regional to Northern Iowa/Missouri
2022 (so far): 8-1
The lowdown: A basement-dwelling program for much of its history, Iowa State has been revitalized over the past few years by fifth-year coach Jamie Pinkerton, who took the Cyclones to just their second NCAA Tournament in school history last season. ISU could easily make it two straight trips in 2022, especially if senior catcher Mikayla Ramos (.500 batting average, six home runs, 18 RBI) keeps producing at the ridiculous pace she’s on through nine games. Ramos’ prowess at the plate has been especially key after All-American shortstop Sami Williams—arguably the best player in program history—graduated following a single-season ISU record of 21 homers last year. Pitching was the Cyclones’ Achilles’ heel last season as the team pooled for a poor 5.34 ERA, but juniors Ellie Spelhaug and Karlie Charles both currently hold sub-2.00 ERAs while sophomore Saya Swain has struck out 26 batters in 14 innings. If current trends hold as the schedule gets tougher (games against UCLA, Washington and Arizona await), ISU could have a special season ahead.
vs. Boise State at 4 p.m. March 4
vs. North Dakota at 9 a.m. March 5
vs. Texas State at 11 a.m. March 5
vs Loyola Chicago at 1 p.m. March 6
Texas State Bobcats
2021: 39-14, lost in Austin Regional to Texas/Oregon
2022 (so far): 5-3
The lowdown: The kids are alright down in San Marcos. A pair of standout freshmen helped take Texas State to its fourth NCAA Tournament in the past five (completed seasons) last year—and both are poised for even better campaigns this time around. Right now, six qualifying hitters have batting averages over .333, none of which might have more potential than the team’s current leader in the category, infielder Sara Vanderford. Last season’s Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, the native Texan became just the second Bobcat ever to hit for over .400 in a season and currently leads Texas State in all three slash line categories (.364 avg./.500 OBP/.727 SLG). As for pitching, the Bobcats had a Sun Belt-best 2.00 ERA as a team last season and got ace Jessica Mullins (an All-Sun Belt First Team pick) back after a stellar freshman season. The right-hander has paired with Southern Miss transfer Karsen Pierce (3-1, 2.85 ERA in 2022) to make a dangerous duo on the Bobcats’ bump, making it likely Texas State is at or near the top of the Sun Belt’s best rotations once again.
vs. Loyola Chicago at 9 a.m. March 4
vs. North Dakota at 11:15 a.m. March 4
vs. Boise State at 9 a.m. March 6
vs. Iowa State at 11 a.m. March 6
Boise State Broncos
2021: 20-25, no postseason
2022 (so far): 9-1
The lowdown: The fact that the Broncos are already nearing halfway to their 2021 win is Boise State’s way of saying that other programs on the schedule should take notice. And what better way to make a statement than by snatching a player from the transfer portal that was on the defending national champion? Oklahoma transfer and redshirt sophomore outfielder Alycia Flores made 18 starts as a true freshman in the shortened 2020 season on a loaded Sooners team—now, she currently looks poised to be the star of the show for the Broncos as the Californian has a slash line of .514/.541/.771 through just 10 games, showing why one of the premier programs in college softball wanted her in the first place. Pitchers Taylor Caudill (4-0, 0.62 ERA) and Hannah Bailey (3-0, 0.76 ERA) are also both amid stellar starts, with Bailey looking to follow up on her All-Mountain West Second Team selection in 2021 by having a productive final year in the circle as a fifth-year senior.
vs. North Dakota at 1:30 p.m. March 4
vs. Iowa State at 4 p.m. March 4
vs. Loyola Chicago at 1:30 p.m. March 5
vs. Texas State at 9 a.m. March 6
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
2021: 17-33, lost in Summit League Tournament to Omaha/South Dakota State
2022 (so far): 5-6
The lowdown: Production at the plate couldn’t have been much worse for North Dakota in 2021, as its team batting average of .211 was the lowest in the Summit League and one of the bottom-10 marks in America. But a pair of juniors —Madi Moore and Alexys Campos—are doing their best to demand pitchers respect the Fighting Hawks’ lineup. The players are currently batting .400 and .351 respectively, and though producing power is still an issue (North Dakota has just one home run thus far), consistent contact can go a long way toward restoring UND’s fortunes. It can also help the pitching staff rack up some wins and confidence, too, as the Fighting Hawks have a solid unit that’s only allowing a 2.78 ERA thus far. Senior Jannay Jones is leading the way with a 2.08 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 30⅓ innings, but too often insurance runs aren’t there for her. In her four years in Grand Forks, Jones has an ERA under 3.00 but just a 19-34 record.
vs. Texas State at 11:15 a.m. March 4
vs. Boise State at 1:30 p.m. March 4
vs. Iowa State at 9 a.m. March 5
vs. Loyola Chicago at 11:15 a.m. March 5
Loyola Chicago Ramblers
2021: 13-29, lost in Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to Drake
2022 (so far): 2-3
The lowdown: There aren’t a lot of bright spots for Loyola to look back on from last season, but one of them was the consistency of Madison Ebeling last season at shortstop. The then-junior was named the Missouri Valley’s Defensive Player of the Year despite playing on a bad Ramblers team, an impressive feat considering the league had three programs eclipse the 30-win mark. Eberling is back for her senior season in the Windy City, and she’s got some offensive firepower, too, she’s currently tied for the team lead early in 2022 with a .294 batting average. In addition, freshman infielder Haley Wallace has been promising in a small sample, also batting .294 with a team-high five RBI to boot. Pitching hasn’t gotten off to the best start as Loyola currently has a team ERA of over 5.00, but senior Sydney Ruggles was a Second Team All-MVC pick and has been Loyola’s leader in nearly every statistical category on the mound for the past two seasons as a veteran presence.
vs. Texas State at 9 a.m. March 4
vs. North Dakota at 11:15 a.m. March 5
vs. Boise State at 1:30 p.m. March 5
vs. Iowa State at 1 p.m. March 6
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