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  • The Oklahoman

    Oklahoma State softball braces for Arizona, a future Big 12 foe it can't take lightly

    By Scott Wright, The Oklahoman,

    28 days ago

    STILLWATER — Arizona is not a team you want to cross paths with in the college softball postseason.

    But that’s the fate of fifth-seeded Oklahoma State, which will host the unseeded Wildcats in the best-of-three Stillwater Super Regional at Cowgirl Stadium, with the winner advancing to the Women’s College World Series.

    The opening game of the series is set for 7 p.m. Friday, with the second game at 6 p.m. Saturday. If needed, the finale will be Sunday at a time to be determined.

    Arizona has won 10 of its last 13 games and is coming off a 3-0 run through the Fayetteville Regional, which included an upset win over host Arkansas — the No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament field.

    Arizona remains one of the most prestigious programs in college softball, with eight national championships in 25 WCWS appearances. And though the Wildcats have not won it all since 2007, their name still carries significant weight in the sport.

    While going on the road for regionals is a rare occurrence for the Wildcats, winning those regionals is not. Of Arizona’s 10 regionals played on the road, it has won eight of them.

    In all, Arizona has 33 regional championships in 36 appearances and nine super-regional championships in 16 appearances since the best-of-three round was added in 2005.

    Though this will be the first super regional matchup between OSU and Arizona, it’s their eighth postseason meeting, with the Wildcats owning a 4-3 record. But the Cowgirls won the last one, a 4-2 victory in the opening round of the 2022 WCWS.

    Overall, Arizona has a 21-13 record against the Cowgirls, and 10 of those OSU wins came between 1979-93. Since then, OSU is 3-16 in the series.

    Here are a few things to know about Arizona:

    Get to know the Wildcats

    Record: 37-16-1 (13-11 Pac-12)

    NCAA Tournament history: 187-67, 36th appearance

    Leading hitter: There’s no obvious answer in the Wildcats’ potent lineup, but Dakota Kennedy is their most versatile hitter, posting a .404 batting average with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. She leads the team with a .529 on-base percentage and has six stolen bases in eight attempts.

    Leading pitcher: Aissa Silva and Miranda Stoddard have each pitched more than 125 innings, but Silva has the edge in numbers. She’s 22-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 152 ⅔ innings.

    OSU’s all-time record vs. Wildcats: 13-21

    Last meeting: OSU won 4-2 in the opening round of the 2022 WCWS when Karli Petty hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Kelly Maxwell allowed two runs on five hits with 14 strikeouts for the Cowgirls, who came one win away from the championship series that year.

    Short hops: Pitching has been a staff effort this season, with Silva throwing the team’s only complete game. She’s thrown more than five innings just five times in her 47 appearances, though she went 10 ⅓ in a 14-inning win over Indiana. … The Wildcats have four hitters with at least 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. Allie Skaggs has a team-best 14 homers and Carlie Scupin has 58 RBIs. … Caitlin Lowe was a four-time All-American outfielder for the Wildcats from 2005-08, and won an Olympic silver medal as a player. Now in her third season as head coach, following in the footsteps of legendary Mike Candrea, Lowe has a record of 105-63-1, and is making her second super-regional appearance.

    Keys to beating Arizona

    The Wildcats are an offense-first team, ranking 13th nationally in batting average (.331) and runs per game (6.31), but coming in 150th with a 3.70 team ERA.

    Though they’ve won a few low-scoring games, the Wildcats have scored at least six runs in 29 of their 37 victories, with only three losses when they score at least six.

    On the other side, they’re 4-9 when the opponent scores at least six runs.

    Offensively, OSU is averaging 6.0 runs per game for the season and has scored at least six in 11 of its last 15 games. In that span, the Cowgirls are 13-2, allowing more than three runs just four times.

    Wildcats change with the calendar

    Arizona’s momentum this season seems to swing with the turn of the calendar.

    The team opened the season with 16 wins in 17 games through February, the loss coming to the same Arkansas squad the Wildcats upset in running to the regional title over the weekend.

    But March opened with a pair of losses to host Alabama at the Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa, and that started a 6-10-1 month that included a 3-6 mark in Pac-12 play.

    The Wildcats’ record swung back in a positive direction in April. Despite opening the month with a loss to Utah, Arizona went 11-6 for the month, including two wins over Oregon, a sweep of rival Arizona State and a win at then-No. 9 UCLA.

    The mood of May will be heavily dictated by how this weekend goes. Arizona is 5-1 this month, going 1-1 in the Pac-12 Tournament with a loss to UCLA before the perfect run through the Fayetteville Regional. Overall, Arizona comes to Stillwater on a bit of a hot streak, having won 10 of its last 13 games.

    A future conference rivalry

    Though the Wildcats and Cowgirls have played 34 times in their history, this will be Arizona’s first visit to Stillwater.

    But it certainly won’t be the last.

    Arizona officially joins the Big 12 in July, and instantly will become one of OSU’s top rivals for conference supremacy.

    In the final coaches’ rankings of the regular season, OSU (No. 5) and Arizona (No. 17) were the only teams from the future Big 12 ranked in the top 25. In the final RPI poll, OSU, Baylor and Arizona were the only such teams in the top 35.

    Both because of its history and its current status, Arizona is clearly the biggest addition to the conference for softball, and the regular-season series with OSU will carry a lot of weight.

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