BIG EAST Softball

BIG EAST Softball Championship: Semifinals Recap

BIG EAST Softball Championship: Semifinals Recap

The stage is set for the BIG EAST softball championship.

May 14, 2022 by Briar Napier
BIG EAST Softball Championship: Semifinals Recap

The stage is set.

The two teams that triumphed over the remaining rest of the field in the BIG EAST Softball Championship on Friday will now compete against each other Saturday for the right to be called conference champions—and the right to represent the league on the top stage in college softball.

Before that happens, however, there’s lots to break down in terms of what all happened in Friday’s semifinal round. There were extra-inning battles, pitching duels and everything in between, and it leads up to just a final few moments in the BIG EAST season this weekend.

What’s to look out for as UConn and Villanova battle for the BIG EAST crown? Take a look at a recap on what went down in the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Softball Championship.

UConn Rebounds Friday

After No. 4 seed DePaul shocked top-seeded UConn in the BIG EAST Championship opener Thursday, the Huskies needed to reestablish that they were a force to be reckoned with by having a strong Friday session. Mission accomplished. Not only did the seven-time BIG EAST champions seal a spot in Saturday’s championship series with its backs against the wall, but it also clinched the spot in style with a 6-2 revenge win over DePaul to knock them out of the tournament—ironically, by the same scoreline of which the Blue Demons beat the Huskies a day prior. 

UConn pitcher Meghan O’Neil (13-7) held the conference’s top-hitting team in the regular season to just five hits in a complete-game performance, though she was also helped by the fact she had plenty of insurance runs behind her to start the game. The Huskies scored all six of their runs in the first inning as the lineup teed off on DePaul starter Erin Hocker early and often. The Blue Demons’ two-run third inning, though a valiant offensive outburst facing elimination, ultimately wasn’t enough, leaving UConn as the squad to move on to Saturday for a berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova’s Rotation Shines Once More

The race for the honor of being named the BIG EAST Championship’s best player is still wide-open, but Villanova’s Paige Rauch certainly deserves a shout. The two-way grad student and 'Nova’s all-time home run leader has been utterly dominant on the mound through two games in two days thus far, but her 1-0 shutout against DePaul in the Friday opener was one of the best of her decorated career, given the circumstances. 

The Blue Demons had been riding a wave of confidence following their win over UConn on Thursday, but Rauch (16-6), pitching her second gem in as many days, threw a six-strikeout one-hitter and stayed in to close the show—even after the two teams were deadlocked at 0-0 after seven innings. DePaul’s Sarah Lehman (15-6) hurled a stellar two-hitter of her own but crucially, was the one who blinked first. Villanova shortstop Chloe Smith’s RBI base hit in extras was the decider to send the 'Cats on to compete for a chance to earn their second straight berth to the NCAA Tournament. With no runs allowed through 15 innings of BIG EAST Championship play, Villanova has been near-unhittable over this weekend and won’t be going down easy.

Wildcats Hold Advantage For Championship Saturday

Perhaps the most critical part about Villanova’s thrilling win over DePaul on Friday wasn’t regarding the matter in which it did it, but how advantageous a position it sets the Wildcats up for on Saturday. Paired with 'Nova’s 2-0 triumph over Butler on Thursday, coach Bridget Orchard’s team now just needs to win one game—while opponents UConn need to win two—in order to clinch the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Regional round. 

It makes the first game, scheduled for noon Saturday on Fox Sports 2, not a must-win as the Wildcats can afford to drop a game, though they’ll likely be pushing to end the series outright from the get-go. However, the Huskies hold the regular-season series 2-1 over Villanova, and have an opportunity to compete for history in Chicagoland and make it to their first NCAA Tournament since 2001—a 21-year drought. Winning two games in a single day to make it to the postseason isn’t an unheard-of concept. In fact, Villanova did the same thing to UConn in 2021. Now, the tables are turned, but do the Huskies have enough left in the tank to pull off the comeback?