Defending champion Florida State survives, Texas rallies after scary injury
In a span of 24 hours, defending NCAA softball champion Florida State went from a loss away from elimination to a win away from a return trip to the Women's College World Series. Ditto for Texas, which rallied after ace Miranda Elish was injured in a 7-5 victory Friday over Alabama.
The Seminoles beat Oklahoma State 4-1 in Game 2 of the best-of-three Tallahassee Super Regional to force a winner-take-OKC game Saturday at noon ET (ESPN). The Longhorns play Alabama at 2 ET (ESPN).
By Sunday night, the eight-team field for the Women's College World Series will be set.
Top-seeded Oklahoma will also look to cement its trip 30 miles north Saturday. The champions two of the past three seasons, Oklahoma beat Northwestern 3-0 in Norman.
The Women's College World Series opens Thursday. A champion will be crowned either June 4 or June 5.
Here's where the contenders stand after Friday's action.
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Meghan King was never going to fold under pressure. That's just not in her DNA.
What happened in extra innings Thursday night, when she allowed Oklahoma State a game-winning two-run homer to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three super regionals, was an aberration.
Remember, this is the same pitcher who entered the supers with a record of 29-5 and a 1.42 ERA. She's the ace of the Florida State staff for a reason.
Remember, this is the same player who a season ago pitched back-to-back complete games to lift the school to its first national championship. She can handle pretty much anything.
On Friday, with her team facing elimination, she showed exactly that as she shook off the previous night's mistakes, stood in the circle and delivered, pitching seven innings of one-run ball to lift FSU to a 4-1 victory over Oklahoma State. Game 3 will be played Saturday at noon ET.
The way FSU played in the opener was an anomaly, coach Lonni Alameda felt. Her message to her team afterward was simple: Flush it.
If the Seminoles did that, if they let their anxiety go and let their talent shine, Alameda knew they'd be fine.
"Really excited about our fight today," she said afterward. "Extremely proud of Meghan King and the tone she set today. I wouldn't expect anything less."
Feeding off an energized crowd, King was loose and effective. And the bats that fell silent for much of the opener finally woke up.
Oklahoma State ace Samantha Show, who set down the final 17 FSU batters Thursday night, was never allowed to get comfortable. During a pivotal third inning, the Seminoles loaded the bases, got one run on a walk and scored another on a sacrifice fly. Then Elizabeth Mason, who was coming off a disappointing 0-for-4 performance, broke things open with a sharp two-run single through the box.
That was enough for King, who steered clear of trouble the rest of the way, not allowing a single extra-base hit. When she delivered the final strike and whipped off her pitcher's mask, she grinned ear to ear.
"I'm just happy we got to play in another game in our stadium tonight," King said. "I was pumped to get the ball. I love to compete in those moments."
The hope for Alameda is that this is a repeat of last season, when her Seminoles dropped the first game of their super regional against LSU and then won two straight to reach the Women's College World Series. They lost the first game of the WCWS and then won six straight to claim the national title.
All told, FSU has won seven consecutive elimination games in the NCAA tournament dating to last season's super regionals, which is the longest active streak and tied for the fifth-longest in NCAA tournament history.
Whatever it is about this team -- from King's performance in the circle to its timely hitting -- it has shown a penchant for delivering when it counts.
You might say it's in the Seminoles' DNA.
In the postgame news conference, King was asked whether she wanted the ball again the next day. She didn't waste a second to respond, answering before the reporter even finished asking his question.
"I always want the ball," she said.
-- Alex Scarborough
Game 1: (13) Oklahoma State 3, (4) Florida State 1 (9 innings)
Game 2: (4) Florida State 4, (13) Oklahoma State 1
Game 3: (13) Oklahoma State (43-15) vs. (4) Florida State (55-9), noon ET (ESPN)
No. 8 Alabama vs. No. 9 Texas
Miranda Elish put Texas on her back in the regionals. Her teammates picked her up on Friday.
Elish left the game when she took a throw to the face in the second inning, but the Longhorns rallied to beat Alabama 7-5 in Game 2 of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.
Catcher Mary Iakopo, whose throw toward second base on a bunt attempt struck Elish in the face, started Texas' rally with a three-run homer in the third inning. An inning later, she gave the Longhorns the lead when her bases-loaded grounder was thrown away, a two-run error that made it a 6-4 game.
Texas, which was shut out 3-0 in Game 1, will look to advance to its first Women's College World Series since 2013 when it plays Game 3 on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.
After Texas lost its regionals opener to Sam Houston State, Elish pitched all 29 innings in four consecutive victories.
She struggled early Friday, allowing a two-run, two-out single to Skylar Wallace that gave Alabama a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
With a runner on first and one out in the second, Alabama's Elissa Brown tried to bunt but was ruled out of the batter's box. As the home plate umpire called the play dead, Iakopo tried to cut down the lead runner at second, but her throw hit Elish in the face from close range.
Elish was helped off the field by athletic trainers and medical personnel and was taken to a local hospital emergency room as a precaution. Texas sports information director Brian Davis said Elish is "doing well."
Shealyn O'Leary allowed an inherited run to score on an error but quieted the Crimson Tide bats, allowing just one run and two hits in 5⅓ innings of relief.
Game 1: (8) Alabama 3, (9) Texas 0
Game 2: (9) Texas 7, (8) Alabama 5
Game 3: (9) Texas (46-16) vs. (8) Alabama (56-7), 2 p.m. ET
No. 2 UCLA vs. James Madison
The matchup has been circled, starred, highlighted and exclamation-pointed since Monday, when James Madison upset Michigan to advance to the super regionals against UCLA.
Megan Good vs. Rachel Garcia. Two of the three finalists for USA Softball national player of the year on the same field for a super regional. Two of the best hitting pitchers/pitching hitters in the game. Garcia, the reigning player of the year vs. Good, the (unofficial) comeback kid of the year after missing last season with a knee injury.
With a trip to Oklahoma City and the Women's College World Series on the line.
Round 1 on Friday night went to Garcia in a landslide.
UCLA won 6-1 and needs one more victory over James Madison on Saturday to advance to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City for a record 29th time.
Garcia, a redshirt junior, went 2-for-3 with four RBIs, including a three-run home run off Good in the third inning. In the circle, Garcia (24-1) gave up a first-inning home run to Kate Gordon but shut down the Dukes the rest of the way. She gave up two hits over seven innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks. It was her 12th game of double-digit strikeouts this season.
Good (21-7) went 3⅓ innings and gave up six runs -- only two earned -- on four hits. She struck out two and walked four. At the plate, she went hitless with three strikeouts.
James Madison, the Colonial Athletic Association champion, is the first unseeded team to reach super regionals since 2016.
Game 1: (2) UCLA 6, James Madison 1
Game 2: (2) UCLA (50-5) vs. James Madison (51-9), 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: James Madison vs. (2) UCLA (if necessary), 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
No. 3 Washington vs. No. 14 Kentucky
SEC player of the year Abbey Cheek came to the plate in the top of the seventh inning with Kentucky down by three runs and a runner on first.
Cheek chased the first pitch from Washington sophomore pitcher Gabbie Plain for a strike. The second one she sent deep to left field, but it veered foul. And then on the third, she sent a ground ball right into the glove of Plain, who threw to first for the final out of the game.
That's how Friday night went for Kentucky. Washington leaned on its pitchers to get a 3-0 win in the opening game of the Seattle Super Regional.
Teams might have an ace and a close No. 2, but it's rare for a pitching staff to feature two true aces. That's the luxury Washington has with senior Taran Alvelo and Plain, both of whom saw action in the circle Friday night.
Alvelo went the first 3⅔ innings and gave up two hits. Plain pitched the final 3⅓ and gave up two hits. Each struck out three and walked one.
Washington has allowed just one run in the postseason, outscoring opponents 19-1. The Huskies aren't known for a high-powered offense, but Washington executed when it mattered, manufacturing two runs in the third. Morganne Flores added a solo home run in the fifth, her 22nd of the season.
With the win, Washington, the runner-up in 2018, is one victory away from punching its ticket to Oklahoma City.
Game 1: (3) Washington 3, (14) Kentucky 0
Game 2: (3) Washington (49-7 vs. (14) Kentucky (36-23), 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: (14) Kentucky vs. (3) Washington (if necessary), 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Northwestern
When you have the best offense, defense and pitching in the nation, there's more than one way to win a softball game. That's proving to be a good thing for top-seeded Oklahoma.
The Sooners' offense, which came into the NCAA tournament averaging nearly 9.5 hits per game and 8.0 runs per game, has hit the skids since a 12-0 victory over UMBC in the regional opener.
In its four games since, Oklahoma has averaged 5.0 hits and 2.5 runs, including three of each in its 3-0 win over Northwestern on Friday in the opener of the Norman Super Regional.
Oklahoma had just one hit and one run off Big Ten freshman of the year Danielle Williams through four innings before breaking through in the fifth with a pair of hits and a pair of runs.
Still, the Sooners are one win away from their 13th trip to Oklahoma City, and ace Giselle Juarez gets a big chunk of the credit for that.
The lefty transfer from Arizona State pitched a complete-game two-hitter and struck out 11 while walking two. She got out of her one serious jam in the sixth -- a runner on third with none out -- by striking out two of the next three batters.
Player of the year finalist Sydney Romero, who scored two of the Sooners' three runs, moved into second place in Oklahoma history for extra-base hits (116) with a double in the two-run fifth. She trails only Lauren Chamberlain, who had 145.
Jocelyn Alo got the final out of the game with a sliding catch in right field.
Game 1: (1) Oklahoma 3, (16) Northwestern 0
Game 2: (1) Oklahoma (53-3) vs. (16) Northwestern (46-12), 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: (16) Northwestern vs. (1) Oklahoma (if necessary), 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
No. 5 Florida vs. No. 12 Tennessee
Tennessee walked out of Gainesville in March, heads held high, after winning two of three games against SEC rival Florida.
Two months later, the Gators seem to be an entirely different team.
Since the first pitch of the SEC tournament, Florida has outscored its opponents 33-6, including a 3-0 win over Tennessee in the opening game of the Gainesville Super Regional.
Florida didn't wait long to show Tennessee and freshman ace Ashley Rogers how much times have changed. Amanda Lorenz led off the bottom of the first with a walk and scored on a Kendyl Lindaman double. Two outs later, Jaimie Hoover's single to left scored Lindaman.
Kelly Barnhill took the 2-0 lead and did Kelly Barnhill things. The senior ace pitched a complete game and allowed just two hits while striking out seven en route to her 33rd win of the season. This is Florida's fourth consecutive shutout, and Barnhill has been in the circle for part of each of them, including two complete games.
The Gators have won 19 super-regional home games, the most of any team since the format was created in 2005. Now they're a win away from returning to the Women's College World Series for the third consecutive season.
Game 1: (5) Florida 3, (12) Tennessee 0
Game 2: (5) Florida (48-15) vs. (12) Tennessee (42-16), 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: (12) Tennessee vs. (5) Florida (if necessary), 2 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Ole Miss
Arizona is one win away from its first Women's College World Series berth since 2010. And the Wildcats did it with their two top home-run hitters staying quiet.
Alyssa Palomino and Malia Martinez combined to go 6-for-7 with four RBIs while ace Taylor McQuillin settled down after a rough first three innings to lead the Wildcats to a 5-2 win over Ole Miss in the Tucson Super Regional.
Jessie Harper and Dejah Mulipola, who combined for 49 Arizona home runs this year, managed only one single against the Rebels' Brittany Finney.
Palomino and Martinez, meanwhile, kept the hits coming. Palomino singled and scored on Martinez's RBI double in the first inning, then hit an RBI single in the second. She broke a 2-2 tie with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, and Martinez also added an RBI single in that inning.
McQuillin gave up an unearned run in the first inning and an RBI double to Abbey Latham in the second. She then faced a bases-loaded jam in the third inning.
But beginning with her strikeout of pinch hitter Gabby Alvarez to end the threat, McQuillin found her rhythm, retiring 13 of the final 14 batters she faced.
Ole Miss has its backs up against the wall ... again. The Rebels were resilient in the regionals, winning three straight elimination games -- including a walk-off victory over Louisiana in Game 7 -- to reach the super regionals.
Game 1: (6) Arizona 5, (11) Ole Miss 2
Game 2: (6) Arizona (46-12) vs. (11) Ole Miss (41-19), 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: (11) Ole Miss vs. (6) Arizona (if necessary), 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 LSU
It wasn't exactly textbook, but Minnesota is a win away from booking a trip to Oklahoma City after the Gophers came out on top 5-3 Friday in a back-and-forth win over LSU in the Minneapolis Super Regional.
There was a moment when things looked dicey for Minnesota.
In the top of the fourth inning and the game tied 1-1, Minnesota ace Amber Fiser (30-7, 1.18 ERA) sent a pitch toward the plate. Amber Serrett sent it back, over Fiser's head, over the Gophers in the outfield and over the scoreboard.
It was just the seventh home run Fiser had given up all season.
By the time LSU was finished, the Gophers trailed by two.
But Maddie Houlihan was having none of it. The senior outfielder, who grew up in nearby Plymouth, Minnesota, and went to games as a kid, had already hit a home run in the third to tie the game. She arrived at the plate in the fourth with two out and one on. Her RBI double brought the Gophers within one.
Freshman Natalie DenHartog brought in Houlihan with an RBI single, and Allie Arneson knocked in two more to give Minnesota a lead it wouldn't give up.
Fiser, who has thrown all 468 of Minnesota's pitches this postseason, became the third pitcher in program history to get 30 wins.
Now she and her teammates are one away from becoming the first players in program history to qualify for the Women's College World Series.
Game 1: (7) Minnesota 5, (10) LSU 3
Game 2: (7) Minnesota (45-12) vs. (10) LSU (43-18), 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: (10) LSU vs. (7) Minnesota (if necessary), 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)