Of the four teams in the final eight which did not host a super-regional, which one do you feel is the best suited to win a championship?
Oklahoma is best suited to win a championship despite having to win a super-regional away from home. The Sooners as the defending champion are going to be a tough team to knock out as Paige Parker has shown that she can put a team on her back if she must pitching wise. Also, there is no substitute for experience in the Women’s College World Series and Oklahoma has plenty of players who have been there before on the Oklahoma City stage. LSU is also dangerous because they have the pitching depth to overcome an early loss and have the experience of playing well in the Women’s College World series. Thus, the Tigers are going to play fearlessly, and that makes them a very dangerous team.
On the flip side, is there a higher seeded team that seems particularly vulnerable for an earlier than expected elimination?
Oregon could be vulnerable to early elimination from the Women’s College World Series. The Ducks have fallen behind in games against Wisconsin in regional play, Kentucky in game two of the Eugene Super Regional and had to rally late for wins. It will be crucial for Oregon to avoid falling into a deep hole in any of their games in Oklahoma City and get off to an early lead and put the hammer down like they did against Florida State earlier this month.
Which player(s) will you be focusing the most on over the coming days?
Kelly Barnhill has been the most dominant pitcher in the country all season long for Florida. However, Barnhill also proved she was human in game one of the Super Regional with Alabama by committing two errors that led to the Crimson Tide scoring three unearned runs. Bailey Landry and Sahvanna Jaquish of LSU can take over a game at any time for the Tigers offensively. Tori Vidales and Riley Surtain for Texas A&M can change the Aggies fortunes with one swing of the bat by hitting timely homeruns. Ali Aguilar and Taran Alvelo for Washington as Aguilar sets the table for what is a very explosive lineup for the Huskies. Alvelo, has taken a big step forward in her sophomore season as the ace for Washington and she will need to step up and be dominant for the Huskies to make a deep run. Nikki Udria for Oregon is the senior leader who has had a fantastic season offensively and will need to lead by example with clutch hits to give the Ducks a chance to go deep in Oklahoma City. As for Baylor, Kelsee Selman, and Gia Rodoni will need to be special in the circle for the Bears if they are going to get to the championship series.
For LSU, which opponents do you see as favorable match-ups? Which opponents could be particularly challenging?
UCLA should be a favorable matchup for LSU as they played the Bruins very tough back on February 25 in 6-5 loss in eight innings. In that game, Carley Hoover struggled with her command as she walked six batters in 6.1 innings and yet LSU still had a chance to win that game. So, if the walks can be kept down to a minimum by either Hoover or Walljasper then the Tigers can knock off UCLA and move on to the winners’ bracket on Friday. Florida would present challenges pitching wise for LSU as Barnhill, Delanie Gourley, and Aleshia Ocasio can dominate any opposing lineup in the country when they are on their game. So, it would be important for the Tigers to be patient at the plate and force the Gators into defensive mistakes and then take advantage of limited opportunities to score runs.
What are your overall predictions on how the rest of the tournament will play out?
Every one of the eight teams that will be playing in Oklahoma City have an excellent opportunity to win it all as they are close to each other talent wise. It would not surprise me if the two teams that make it to the championship series lose one game at some point along the way. The final four teams for semifinal Sunday will be Florida, LSU, Washington, and Oklahoma. Finally, the 2017 Women’s College World Series champion will be the Florida Gators in three games over the Oklahoma Sooners.