By Otis Kirk
Special to the Nate Allen Sports Service
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 4 Arkansas will host the Fayetteville Regional beginning Friday with Oregon, Princeton and Wichita State also in the field.
Arkansas (44-9) will open play on Friday at 5 p.m. hosting Princeton (27-15-2) and televised on the SEC Network. Oregon (31-17) and Wichita State (33-16) will then meet at 7:30 and the game is available on ESPN+.
Courtney Deifel has already seen her team experience a lot of success this season. They won the regular season without losing any SEC series. They followed that up winning the SEC Tournament for the first time ever with a 4-0 victory Missouri. Deifel is elated the team is a national seed at No. 4.
“That’s the highest in program history,” Deifel said. “It’s really exciting. It’s also nice when you go into the Selection Showing knowing your team is going to show up. When that No. 4 was next to our name it was just a moment of excitement, pride and a little bit of emotion. This group has earned it and absolutely deserve it.”
Arkansas captured several SEC awards for the season. Deifel was named the SEC Coach of the Year. Redshirt senior outfielder KB Sides earned SEC Player of the Year. Sides hit .395 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI.
Redshirt junior Chenise Delce was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year. She was 17-2 in 21 starts, 128 innings pitched, struck out 161, walked 33 and had a 2.19 ERA. Another standout on the mound is redshirt senior Mary Haff. She was 18-4 on the season with 19 starts and 32 appearances. Haff worked 133 innings, struck out 140, walked 32 and had a 2.79 ERA.
In addition to Sides, Arkansas had some other standouts at the plate. Redshirt senior Danielle Gibson led the team hitting .442, redshirt senior Linnie Malkin crushed 20 home runs and then both Gibson and Malkin had 63 RBI to top that chart.
Deifel knows the Razorback fans will pack into Bogle Park to watch the team play and that has her excited.
“You always want to play yourself into position to stay home as long as possible,” Deifel said. “We really do feel like Bogle Park is the best college softball atmosphere and really excited for these teams to get to experience it. They are a difference maker for us. We have great fans and they are electric and they are loyal to us which is really nice.”
Deifel is impressed with the group of teams coming into Fayetteville to challenge the Razorbacks.
“It’s a really tough region,” Deifel said. “We got a really tough draw. Most of them are at this time. They’re all tough. There’s a lot of big hitters in this region. It’s going to be fun.”
Princeton hopes to upset the Razorbacks and stay out of the loser’s bracket. Princeton has two key pitchers as well. Alexis Laudenslager has a record of 11-7 and a 1.93 ERA in 109 innings pitched. Ali Blanchard is 10-3 with an ERA of 2.65 in 105.2 innings on the mound.
Catcher Adrienne Chang leads Princeton with a .368 batting average. Outfielder Lauren Sablone is hitting .330 with five home runs. Outfielder Serena Starks is hitting .356 and leads the team with 27 RBI.
Oregon has ace Stevie Hansen leads the team with a record of 13-8, 3.10 ERA, 120 strikeouts and 28 walks in 115.1 innings. Hanna Delgado leads the squad hitting .372, Ariel Carson has hit 13 home runs and Allee Bunker tops the squad with 39 RBI.
Wichita State has posted some very big offensive numbers. Sydney McKinney leads the team hitting .511 while Addison Barnard has blasted 32 home runs and has 82 RBI. On the mound, Wichita State has Alison Cooper who is 8.3 with a 3.36 ERA in 60.1 innings. Erin McDonald is 10-8 in 103 innings with an ERA of 4.01. Catlin Bingham also is good on the mound for the Shockers. She has a record of 12-4 and an ERA of 4.27 in 100 innings.
Arkansas and Princeton meet for the first time in program history. The Hogs are 0-2 against the Ducks and 10-4 all-time against Wichita State. Arkansas defeated the Shockers, 7-4, on Feb. 19.
Friday, May 20
Game 1: #1 Arkansas vs. #4 Princeton – 5 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 2: #2 Oregon vs. #3 Wichita State – 7:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Saturday, May 21
Game 3: Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2 – 1 p.m.
Game 4: Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Game 5: Loser of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4 – 6 p.m.
Sunday, May 22
Game 6: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5 – 1 p.m.
*Game 7: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5 – 3:30 p.m.