FAYETTEVILLE – Throwing their second consecutive shutout in the NCAA Women’s Softball Tournament’s Fayetteville Regional and again offensively ignited by designated player Linnie Malkin, the SEC co-champion Arkansas Razorbacks followed Friday’s 8-0 victory over Manhattan College with a 4-0 second-round victory over the Summit League champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits Saturday at Bogle Park.
Coach Courtney Deifel’s nationally sixth-seeded/Fayetteville Regional top seeded Razorbacks advance 42-9 to Sunday’s 3 p.m. championship game, and, if necessary Sunday, an approximately 5:30 p.m. winner take all championship game.
South Dakota State, a 7-1 first round Friday victor over Stanford, Saturday night played Saturday afternoon’s winner between Manhattan vs. Stanford.
Asked if she can take a relaxing deep breath in Sunday’s driver’s seat, Deifel replied, “ I will take no breaths but it’s always nice to go into Sunday as the undefeated team that’s got to be beat twice.”
Seems Deifel would feel very confident Sunday if she saw the same pregame look from her team that she saw in Saturday’s pregame.
“Just really pleased with the way the team came out today,” Deifel said. “They had a very good look in their eye and stayed very businesslike throughout the game.”
Haff, Deifel and Haff both said, pitched better for her six shutout innings of Saturday’s 7-innings regulation game than her five against Manhattan’s Jaspers who hit the ball hard but often right at Arkansas fielders in Friday’s game that was stopped by the 8-run rule after five innings.
Malkin whose second-inning double Friday set the table for her scoring the first run against Manhattan and eventually finishing 2 for 2 with 2 RBI, on Saturday followed Danielle Gibson’s second-inning single with a 2-run home run off losing Jackrabbits starter Grace Glanzer, Friday’s complete game victor over Stanford.
“Linnie’s home run was a momentum shifter obviously,” Deifel said. “It was huge. She has a ton of power, a really strong hitter and has the ability to change the game.”
And the ability to make her pitching life easier, Haff said.
“After Linnie’s home run, having that lead really made me feel more comfortable,” Haff said, noting of her comparatively better stuff against South Dakota State than Manhattan. “I controlled my emotions better today and just stayed with the process.”
Two more runs in the fourth on Kayla Green’s RBI double and Aly Manzo’s RBI single increased Haff’s comfort.
If Haff felt any discomfort, which she and Deifel said they didn’t, it would have been in Saturday’s seventh with Haff not pitching.
No. 2 pitcher Autumn Storms retired the first two hitters but via three singles, two on the infield, faced the Jackrabbits with No. 2 SDS hitter Emma Osmundson representing the tying run at the plate.
Storms struck her out.
“They are a big swinging team and Autumn got a big strikeout at the end,” Haff said.
Even while noting of the 43-7 Jackrabbits that “the way they swing it they can be back in the game quickly,” Deifel said she never fretted in the seventh.
“I felt fine,” Deifel said. “Maybe I shouldn’t. But I have a ton of confidence in Stormy and I have confidence in our defense and I felt great about it.”
And about being armed Sunday with Haff and Storms.
“The best thing about Mary is she obviously has great stamina but is also very efficient and if she keeps her pitch count down, she’ll have plenty to go tomorrow and Autumn will have plenty. So I feel we’re in a really good spot.”