Mary Nutter Classic's Best Matchups: UCLA, OU Set For WCWS Rematch
Mary Nutter Classic's Best Matchups: UCLA, OU Set For WCWS Rematch
National Champions, All-Americans, aces and sluggers come together for one of college softball's premier events at the 2023 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
The Mary Nutter Collegiate Invitational has a reputation for a reason.
It could be the best event outside the Women’s College World Series and regularly sees the best in the sport do battle at an elite level. With all of these heavy-hitters in one place, it can also serve as a preamble, creating memorable matchups that may meet again later in the year. The Mary Nutter is the nation’s largest and most prestigious college softball tournament for a reason—the best come to take on the best.
The 2023 tournament schedule, released earlier this year, maintains the high standard of play from years past, seen across multiple days and diamonds at the Big League Dreams Complex in Cathedral City, California.
It’s a can’t-miss showcase unlike any other across America.
Here’s a look at the best matchups to check out for each day of the 2023 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, which will be broadcast live throughout the event on FloSoftball.
NOTE: All first pitch times are listed in Eastern Time and are subject to change.
Washington Vs. Kentucky
3pm ET, Feb. 23
How much effort did it take for Washington’s Baylee Klingler to be the first Husky since 2005 to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award? She had to become the league’s first Triple Crown winner this century.
The Texan had one of the most spectacular seasons in the long and gilded history of the Pac-12—.435 batting average, 24 home runs and 71 RBI—and when she took a fifth year and opted to return to the program for the 2023 season, UW rejoiced.
The program will certainly need her, as they’ll be without their longtime ace, former All-American Gabbie Plain. This is especially true in their matchup against a Kentucky offense that averaged an SEC-best .333 average a season ago (the sixth-best rate in the country). UK returns two All-SEC First Team picks in graduate catcher Kayla Kowalik (.419 average for career) and junior infielder Erin Coffel (36 home runs in two years).
Still, with likely a new Husky favorite to lead production in the circle in Arizona State transfer Lindsay Lopez (First Team All-Pac 12, 2.12 ERA, 94 strikeouts in 2022), UW should be plenty ready for what the Wildcats will bring to the batter’s box, particularly as the program aims to get back to the Women’s College World Series after three straight trips from 2017-19.
Expect offensive fireworks in this one to kick off the Mary Nutter.
UCLA Vs. Florida
10:30pm ET, Feb. 23
How’s this for a nightcap on the first night of the Mary Nutter? A rematch between UCLA and Florida, who met in the second round of the WCWS last season.
Florida is bound to be a national contender yet again as the 2014 and 2015 national champs have now won at least 45 games in every season since 2006 (excluding the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign). The team made a run back to Oklahoma City last season after a year’s absence following a loss in the Super Regional in 2021.
Redshirt junior and All-SEC First Team infielder Skylar Wallace returns to the fold for 2023 as both an elite hitter with a .386 average and 53 RBI and a distinction as one of the fastest players in America with 52 stolen bases to her name a year ago, second best in the nation.
But the Bruins are a different type of beast, as UCLA proved when it ended the Gators’ season with an 8-0 victory in the national quarterfinals. With a showdown later in the weekend against national-title rival Oklahoma looming, watch to see if the Bruins unleash Oregon transfers Brooke Yanez and Rachel Cid or possibly Arizona transfers Sharlize Palacios and Janelle Meoño against the Gators.
Yanez—an All-Pac 12 First Team selection in 2021 with the Ducks—tallied a 31-7 record with 362 strikeouts during her three years there. It’ll be a comeback of sorts, after she missed the entirety of the 2022 season due to injury before transferring to UCLA.
Now a new wrinkle on an already loaded pitching staff—more on that down below—it’s going to make the Bruins rotation a hard one to hit off no matter which programs they face in the batter’s box this year.
Northwestern Vs. Oregon
3:30pm ET, Feb. 24
Northwestern made its way back to the big tournament last season. Dream runs to the Women’s College World Series are increasingly rare, and it can seem as if spots are simply reserved in Oklahoma City for the Floridas, Oklahomas and UCLAs of the world.
But, the Wildcats’ return to the WCWS for the first time since 2007 was well-earned as they dominated their home regional, then fought back from elimination to take down Arizona State at the Tempe Super Regional and get back to playing in the national finals.
Reigning Big Ten pitching Triple Crown winner Danielle Williams is back in the circle to try and help Northwestern make it repeat trips to the WCWS for just the third occasion in program history, too. The program will need her punch-out prowess (333 strikeouts a year ago) without last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, Rachel Lewis.
Danielle Williams.— Northwestern Softball (@NUSBcats) May 28, 2022
That's it, that's the tweet. pic.twitter.com/vJF7L2mas1
Oregon returns all four of its All-Pac 12 selections from last season on a team that went 33-19 overall, and the Ducks would love nothing more than to spoil the Wildcats’ optimism early in the 2023 campaign.
Right-handed Oregon sophomore Stevie Hansen (a Third Team all-conference nominee), will likely have extra weight on her shoulders with her running mate in the circle this past season, Makenna Kliethermes, having now transferred to Ole Miss.
This is a matchup of two programs who will be trying to find their identities early in the season, with plenty of talent at their disposal to do so.
Missouri Vs. Oregon State
6:30pm ET, Feb. 24
Want to check out two programs on the rise? Look no further than Oregon State and Missouri, two teams that are on some of the best runs in their respective histories.
The Beavers made it to the Women’s College World Series a year ago for just the second time ever after an epic postseason run that included wins at both the Knoxville Regional and Stanford Super Regional to make their way to Oklahoma City. The team was led at the plate by now-senior infielder Frankie Hammoude and her clutch performances throughout the year as she batted .384.
Now, with a chance to prove that they belong for an extended stay near the top of the Pac-12, Oregon State has a motivated squad that’ll be looking to be part of the main clique that’s ruled the league’s softball scene for years.
Missouri has made every edition of the NCAA Tournament held since 2007, though two narrow losses to Arizona in the Columbia Regional denied the Tigers from reaching successive Super Regionals for the first time since 2015 and 2016.
Junior shortstop Jenna Laird (the 2021 SEC Freshman of the Year) should be the hitting leader for the Tigers once again as the team’s most potent offensive force (team-high .338 batting average a season ago), but Texas Tech transfer Payton Jackson (.336 average with the Red Raiders last year) should help carry some of the offense for a team that hasn’t qualified for the WCWS since 2011.
Ohio State Vs. San Diego State
6pm ET, Feb. 25
Pitch to Mac Barbara if you dare. Ohio State’s pitchers should take heed when facing the San Diego State redshirt sophomore, as she had one of the biggest breakout years in America last season—and has the power to do it again.
After two seasons at Ole Miss in which she only batted 2 for 19 across her time with the Rebels, the Aztecs welcomed Barbara with open arms as she smashed a .395 average with 18 home runs and 61 RBI to win the Mountain West Player of the Year award in the Californian’s first year back out west.
But the Buckeyes also have a slugger of their own in catcher/utility Sam Hackenbracht, a senior who has hit .352 for her career with 30 home runs and 84 RBI to her name.
With both teams missing their aces from last year in San Diego State’s Maggie Balint (last season’s Mountain West Pitcher of the Year) and Ohio State’s Lexie Handley (22-11, 2.52 ERA, 271 strikeouts), it may come down to whichever team fills the void faster.
The advantage in that department may go to the Aztecs with their acquisition of DePaul transfer Sarah Lehman (14-6, 2.82 ERA last season) from the portal, but a lot can change in the long days of the college softball season.
UCLA Vs. Oklahoma
12:30pm, Feb. 26
Intertwined as the old guard (with UCLA’s all-time leading 12 titles) and the new royalty (with Oklahoma’s five titles in the past 10 years), the Bruins and Sooners have developed one of the best rivalries in college softball over the past decade, with almost every meeting bringing high stakes.
That can’t ring more true considering the last time the two schools met in the Women’s College World Series semifinals. With the Sooners the heavy favorite to win it all due largely to a record-breaking offense, UCLA put OU on the brink of elimination with a 7-3 victory in the first game.
The Sooners roared back with authority as they ripped the Bruins apart 15-0 in five innings later the same night and eventually won the national title over rival Texas three days later.
So, yeah, with all that recent history still fresh in the minds of both programs, the rematch at Mary Nutter is going to have plenty of tension behind it, and there’s reason to expect best-on-best in what could be a preview of yet another classic WCWS showdown.
UCLA ace Megan Faraimo is a Team USA member, the reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, and one of the most decorated figures in the long history of Bruins softball—but she also got tagged for four earned runs in three innings by the Sooners the last time they squared off.
From top to bottom, the Sooner's offense is lethal. Last season, OU led the country in nearly every team offensive category. Last season scoring 579 runs with a team batting average of .371, OU returns offensive standouts Tiare Jennings and Grace Lyons.
Last time around, Jennings broke an all-time WCWS record with 15 RBI as a critical piece of OU’s title run, and is expected to greatly contribute to the place left by all-universe Jocelyn Alo, who graduated last season.
Just when you thought that the Sooners offense couldn't get any scarier, Arizona State slugger Cydney Sanders entered the transfer portal and becomes a Sooner. Sanders posted outrageous freshman stats racking up 63 RBIs and 21 homers last season.
Let's not forget 2022 NFCA National Freshman of the Year Jordy Bahl in the circle. Last year, Bahl silenced the Bruins offense punching out 14 K's ahead of the Mary Nutter Classic in 2022.
It's an immovable object versus an unstoppable force when these two programs collide at Mary Nutter in late February.
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