Razorbacks softball heads to NCAA tournament

Nate Allen on Friday NCAA softball advance

FAYETTEVILLE – With a full house and a full roster, the SEC softball co-champion Arkansas Razorbacks today start actively playing in and hosting the NCAA’s 4-team, double-elimination women’s softball Fayetteville Regional at Bogle Park.

On the SEC Network Coach Courtney Deifel’s nationally sixth-seeded and Fayetteville Regional top-seeded Razorbacks, 40-9 overall including 19-5 in the powerful SEC tying Florida for the regular season title, at noon play the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Manhattan College Jaspers, 22-14, followed by today’s first round game between the Pac 12’s Stanford Cardinal, 31-20, and the Summit League champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 42-6.

Winner’s and loser’s bracket games await Saturday.

Coming off the injured list, shortstop Braxton Burnside, batting .347 with 51 RBI and a team leading 24 home runs, and No. 2 pitcher Autumn Storms complementing first-team All-SEC ace Mary Haff, will be available, Deifel said, which they weren’t when Arkansas, lost, 1-0 in last week’s SEC Tournament game against Tennessee in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

And for the first time this season, with the NCAA lifting the covid-19 attendance restrictions,  full crowd will be allowed at the 1,200-seats for Bogle Park.

Deifel and senior outfielder Hannah McEwen recalled the home crowd advantage when the Razorbacks last hosted a NCAA softball  regional which they won in 2018.

“That’s really exciting,” Deifel said. “It absolutely was a difference (in 2018). I remember other coaches saying every move they made they felt the crowd was on their back. Like they’d go out and argue a call and all of Bogle was yelling at them.  It’s going to feel like a ton of people after the crowds have been limited this year.”

McEwen called lifting attendance restrictions “perfect timing” and also recalled  the 2018 Regional crowd.

“It makes a big difference having the home field,” McEwen said. 

Regarding Burnside and Storms, Deifel called them “ready to go.”

Deifel did not commit whether Haff, 11-3 with a 2.01 earned run average, or Storms, 4-1, 1.24 would start against Manhattan.

“We’ll have one ready early and one ready late as we do every game,” Deifel said.

Deifel was asked about Manhattan led in hitting by third baseman Annie Moore,  .361  five home runs and 20 RBI, and expected to pitch right-hander Nicole Williams, 13-2, 2.02.

 or left-hander Jessie Rising, 5-5, 3.89 ERA.

“I don’t have any worries about us looking ahead,” Deifel said. “We’ve had a focused stay one game at a time mentality all year.  The focus has been entirely on Manhattan as it should be. We are getting a very hot Manhattan team that came in as the sixth seed and ran through  their MAAC Tournament like they did. From the selection show on we’ve watched a ton of video on them.”

Regarding looking ahead to Stanford or South Dakota State, McEwen implied that might be difficult for some teams but not this one and certainly not for her.

Asked if she knows much  about Stanford and South Dakota State,  McEwen replied, “Not yet, focusing on Manhattan.”

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