BIG EAST Softball

BIG EAST Softball Championship: Final Recap

BIG EAST Softball Championship: Final Recap

Villanova booked their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a BIG EAST Softball Championship win.

May 16, 2022 by Briar Napier
BIG EAST Softball Championship: Final Recap

The big rematch had a replay ending.

Villanova, one year after coming back from two games down to beat UConn and earn an NCAA Tournament berth via winning the BIG EAST Softball Championship, prevented the Huskies from doing the same Saturday—allowing the Wildcats to now officially say that they’re going dancin’.

’Nova earned the honor through shutdown pitching and timely scoring that made it a comfortable (and celebratory) weekend in Rosemont, Illinois. Now, the repeat champs await their fate in the NCAA Tournament—and get to officially start preparing for their Women’s College World Series dream.

Here’s who shined in the title-decider as the BIG EAST softball season came to an emphatic close.

Villanova Victorious

Welcome back to the big time, Villanova. Despite being the No. 3 seed and on paper a bit less powerful than the 37-15 team that won the BIG EAST Championship title a year ago, the Wildcats made it back-to-back berths to the NCAA Tournament after it clinched the crown with a 3-0 win over No. 1 UConn on Saturday afternoon. At 32-22, 'Nova will be the BIG EAST’s representative on the top stage in college softball—and few will say it doesn’t deserve the honor after the weekend it had in Chicagoland. 

As UConn needed to beat Villanova twice to get to the NCAA Tournament (having lost its tournament opener Thursday to DePaul), a three-run first inning from the 'Cats set the tone for the eventual championship-decider. Right fielder Kelsey White scored two from a two-out, bases-loaded RBI single before a fielding error on the same play allowed the third runner to reach home plate. Those early runs would end up being all Villanova needed; the Wildcats were held to three hits by Huskies starter Meghan O’Neil (13-8) and reliever Elise Sokolsky, but through some stellar pitching of its own, Villanova held on and prevented UConn from taking it to a winner-take-all second game Saturday. 

Rauch Dominant, Repeats As Most Outstanding Player

Villanova grad student and two-way star Paige Rauch was likely the favorite for the BIG EAST Championship’s Most Outstanding Player entering Saturday anyway, but her championship performance to get her team back to the NCAA Tournament sealed the deal. Rauch, who also won the award in 2021 in helping take the Wildcats to the national postseason, was nearly unhittable all weekend, throwing 20 scoreless innings along with 25 strikeouts to just one walk in three starts. And even with the pressure of clinching a consecutive BIG EAST title on her shoulders Saturday, Rauch (17-6) didn’t budge, throwing five scoreless innings and allowing just three hits with four strikeouts in her start against the Huskies. 

Reliever Sara Kennedy came on in the sixth inning and made the save as she allowed just one hit over two innings herself, ensuring that the Wildcats won the championship without allowing a single run all tournament. It was a historic feat for the Villanova rotation to accomplish in BIG EAST Championship play and had only been done twice before—first by UConn in 1990, second by South Florida in 2013. Can the Wildcats keep it going against the very best in America, too?

Where To Next?

The Wildcats, now holding their second BIG EAST title in program history, will have to wait until Sunday evening’s NCAA Selection Show concludes to find out where and who they’ll play next in the NCAA Tournament. The 64-team event will begin with the regional rounds Friday, and Villanova, with its low RPI (92), will be traveling to somewhere other than Philadelphia for its opening games in the tournament. The Wildcats’ debut in the NCAA Tournament last season (after they were selected to play in the Tucson Regional) didn’t go exactly to plan as they lost to Ole Miss twice to get knocked out early, though did snatch a first-ever tournament win against UMBC in the process. 

Brackets before release are tough to predict, meaning Villanova could go anywhere among a selection of sites, but a recent projection by 247Sports had UConn—a fill-in as the BIG EAST champion—slated to play in the Clemson Regional against the host, Georgia and Delaware. As the Huskies’ RPI of 56 is a bit higher than Villanova’s, it likely isn’t a foolproof prediction, but it does give a bit of a barometer on how the BIG EAST stacks up to the rest of the country’s softball leagues.