Photo Courtesy: UA Athletics (Gunnar Rathburn)
NORMAN, Okla. (Univ. of Ark.) - The No. 24 University of Arkansas softball team will travel to Norman, Okla. as a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas' first game is slated for 5 p.m. on Friday against Fordham.
Arkansas (34-18, 12-11) has won eight of its last ten games heading into the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Regional berth is the Razorbacks' second in as many years. Last season Arkansas was able to advance to the Regional Final of the Berkeley Regional. The Razorbacks defeated Boston University and the No.1 overall seed, California, to reach the final day of play. This is the second straight season that the Hogs travel to the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament as No. 1 Oklahoma is the host of this year's regional.
"Last year at this time we were just happy to be in the tournament," head coach Mike Larabee said. "We were the best team for two hours against Cal and we stole one. We can use that as an experience and we have to do it twice this year."
Before the Razorbacks can face No. 1 Oklahoma they will have to defeat Fordham, the No. 3 seed in the region. The Rams won the Atlantic-10 tournament and have tallied a 35-21 re¬cord. The team is led in hitting by their stud-senior Jamie Labovick. She has tallied a .411 average at the plate and has belted a team-leading 16 doubles. She has also been solid in the circle and is 13-9 this year with a 2.62 ERA. The team's number one pitcher, Michele Daubman is 17-8 with a 3.51 ERA. Arkansas defeated Fordham in nine innings, 7-3, in 2009. The Fordham game is on Friday at 5 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN3.com.
"They swing the bat really well," Larabee said. "They have used four pitchers this year and they throw a lot of off-speed pitches. Historically they are one of the better teams out of the Atlantic-10. At this point in the season, everyone is 0-0 and we have to come ready to play."
Following the Fordham game, No. 1 Oklahoma will take on the No. 4 seed, Marist. The Sooners (47-4) are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The team features three players on the USA Softball Top-10 ballot for player of the year, Lauren Cham¬berlain, Michelle Gascoigne and Keilani Ricketts. Ricketts leads the team in the circle with 27-1 record and a 1.10 ERA. Not far behind is Michelle Gascoigne. She is 17-3 with a 0.91 ERA. Lauren Chamberlain, the team's leadoff batter, finished the season with a .442 batting average. She is on pace to set the NCAA record with a 1.072 slugging percentage. The Sooners finished with a .332 team average and an NCAA-leading 1.09 team ERA. Arkansas is 2-16 all-time against OU.
"Everyone looks up to the No. 1 overall seed," Larabee said. "We have respect for Oklahoma but we do not fear them. We have been successful against Top-25 competition this season and we have beat some great pitchers. We have played great competition all year long."
The Razorbacks have put together an outstanding season to reach their second consecutive NCAA Regional. The 2013 squad is on pace to break single-season team records in batting average (.282), slugging percentage (.471), on-base percentage (.388), walks (212) and strikeouts per seven innings (7.62). This season has also featured numerous accomplishments including nine victories against ranked teams, the most in Razorback softball history. This was the first team since 2000 to sweep a ranked team and was the first team to ever complete a three-game sweep of Georgia.
"We are much better than last year," Larabee said. "Offensively, defensively and in the circle. We got to a regional final last year and I think we have had a better year this season. Our conference schedule this season has prepared us for this tournament."
Another accomplishment on the list of accolades this season was the first no-hitter since 2006. The no-hit effort was recorded by Kimmy Beasley against Savannah State on March 20. Beasley has remained hot since the no-hitter and has defeated No. 10 LSU, No. 6 Missouri and No. 5 Tennessee. Opponents are hitting .215 off of the sophomore lefty.
"When she is on she can shut down anybody," Larabee said. "We matchup well with Oklahoma and Fordham. Oklahoma has seven lefties in their lineup and Kimmy has been excellent against left-handed batters. This is the time of the year that you have to step up."
The Southeastern Conference sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament this season and has seven teams hosting a regional. The Razorbacks have played 12 teams that qualified for the tournament this year. This is the sixth NCAA Regional selection for the Razorbacks and the team is 5-10, all-time, in the tournament. This is the fifth time that the Hogs have been placed in the Normal Regional. For information on tickets to the NCAA Regional, click here.
Friday, May 18
5 p.m.-Fordham vs. Arkansas
7:30 p.m. -- Oklahoma vs. Marist
Saturday, May 19
1 p.m. -- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
3:30 p.m. -- Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
6 p.m. -- Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 3
Sunday, May 20
1 p.m. -- Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5
3:30 p.m. -- Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 (if necessary)