No. 21 Georgia Heads to Tempe, Arizona for NCAA Regionals

Our 21st-ranked Georgia Bulldogs have their work cut out for them as they head to the 2013 NCAA Tempe Regional in Tempe, Arizona. The NCAA Regional is the first step to the 2013 Women’s College World Series, as teams must win their respective Regionals, followed by winning a best 2 of 3 format in the Super Regional Round before making it to the big dance in Oklahoma City. Georgia is certainly no stranger to the Regionals, and in fact have made it to the Regional round in the past 12 seasons consecutively. Georgia is also very familiar with the Super Regionals, having made it there in the past 6 consecutive years. This year’s Regional Round sends Georgia across the country, approximately 1,900 miles, to Tempe, Arizona where the round will be hosted by the 5th-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils. Our Bulldogs will not be the only visitors to Tempe this weekend, as San Diego State and San Jose State are both also participating and vying for a spot into the Super Regionals.

Georgia is 1-2 overall against the teams featured in the Tempe Regional, including an 0-2 mark all time against the Sun Devils, and a 1-0 tally over the San Diego State Aztecs. Georgia has never faced off against the Spartans of San Jose State, although it is a possibility that the two teams may get the chance to play for the first time ever in Tempe this weekend. It is noteworthy that the Dawgs are 44-22 in program history while playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia will face the first obstacle standing in their way of an NCAA Super Regional in the form of the San Diego State Aztecs. The Bulldogs and the Aztecs will square off on Friday at 3:30 ET on ESPNU before the host Sun Devils will play San Jose State (also on ESPNU). With a win, Georgia will face the winner of the Sun Devils and the Spartans, but with a loss the Bulldogs will play the loser of the aforementioned teams. In order to win the Regional Round, Georgia will either have to win three consecutive contests or battle their way through the lower bracket and defeat the team with the undefeated record twice.

A huge good luck is in order for the Dawgs, but it goes without saying that they are going to do us proud and fight down to their very last out! The girls have been playing extremely good ball as of late and I believe in this team’s ability to make it back to Oklahoma City for the first time in three years! The Bulldog nation will be watching, as the Tempe Regional is one of the select few Regional Rounds to be broadcast live on national television via the ESPNU and WatchEspn networks. Gooooo Dawgs, Sic’ Em!

Seniors Tess Sito and Christine Olney are looking to go out in style in their final NCAA Tournament.

Seniors Tess Sito and Christine Olney are looking to go out in style in their final NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy Twitter, shot by Evan Stichler)

If the Bulldogs can escape victoriously out of Tempe, which will not be an easy feat, I really like our chances in a Super Regional. If our Dawgs were to hypothetically win their Regional, they would face the winner of the Lexington Regional. The Lexington Regional features the host Kentucky Wildcats, the Irish of Notre Dame, as well as the Hokies of Virginia Tech and the Thundering Herd of Marshall. I would personally rather face any of those four teams over the Arizona State Sun Devils! What makes our Regional so much more difficult than the other Regionals is that the average RPI of teams in Tempe average out to be the highest RPI overall when compared to the four-team combos in other Regionals.

The host-team and national #5-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils enter the Tempe Regional with an impressive 45-10 record, with a minimal three losses coming at home. What makes the Sun Devils so dangerous is their ability to score lots of runs via their speed and power, all while possessing two dynamic and outstanding pitchers in the circle. You rarely find a team that can hit the ball as well and as hard as Arizona State does, but it is even more rare to find a team that has two pitchers like Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue. Combine the deadly offensive numbers with their stellar pitching and you have one tough group in the form of the Sun Devils. While they have shown that they waiver at times, more particularly with some recent series losses to struggling Arizona and Pac-12 bottom feeders, Utah, the Sun Devils are a team that can regroup and reload from one outing to the next. It goes without saying that they will be a tough test, but I think our Dawgs have enough diversity in the circle and certainly enough offense to really do some damage while in Tempe.

In the circle, Arizona State is led by an excellent duo of junior hurlers in the form of Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue. Not only is Dallas Escobedo a formidable opponent in the circle, but she has shown just how good she can be when she won the National Championship as a rookie in 2011 in the WCWS Finals against the Florida Gators. Dallas Escobedo enters post season play sporting a modest 2.31 ERA to go along with a fantastic 25-4 record. Dallas is the epitome of a pitcher that relies on the strikeout as she has fanned a whopping 289 batters in only 209 innings thrown. Although her numbers are slightly elevated this season, do not let them fool you because Escobedo has the experience and is the real deal. Escobedo is a phenomenal athlete, although when teams have been able to find a chink in her armor, she has often fell apart mid-game or been tagged for a plethora of runs. Escobedo relies predominantly on the rise ball and she has the ability to throw both a low rise ball and a rise ball out of the zone. What makes Dallas so good is her ability to make opposing batters guess as to whether she is coming with a low rise or high rise, although when teams have laid off of the high rise and waited on her to come into the zone, they have been very successful. It helps that Arizona State has the option to go to their solid co-Ace behind Escobedo in the form of Mackenzie Popescue. Popescue enters the Regional Round with a 19-6 record, a 2.03 earned run average, all while striking out 100 batters in 134.1 innings pitched. Popescue brings a totally different look from Escobedo in that she throws much slower, has a great off-speed and good precision. I feel confident about our plate discipline against Escobedo and I really do not think that Popescue would pose much of a challenge if we indeed get the opportunity to face her.

Arizona State’s Dallas Escobedo delivers a pitch in a 2013 contest. (Courtesy ESPN.com)

Where Arizona State wreaks the most havoc, or at least in 2013, is at the plate. The Sun Devils are only one home run behind the Georgia Bulldogs with 89 bombs on the season. Not only can these girls from Tempe strike with power, but they also all hit for average. While the Sun Devils possess a lot of power at the plate, they also have an array of lefty slappers that set the table for the big hits. If Georgia can limit the power as well as the free passes, I think we will have a lot of success against the Sun Devils. Arizona State is led at the plate by Amber Freeman (.385, 16 HR, 58 RBI) and Bethany Kemp (.374, 9 HR, 23 RBI). It would be naive to think that these are the only two players who supply power and runs driven in for the Sun Devils as Sam Parlich (.360, 10 HR, 41 RBI) and Cheyenne Coyle (.364, 19 HR, 60 RBI) both are excellent at the dish also. Also worth noting, lefty slapper Bailey Wigness (.365) is third on the team in average and is a constant table setter for the Sun Devils. Clint Meyer’s Sun Devils are a formidable offense and one of the best in the country without a doubt. If Georgia can mix speeds and movement enough in the circle in order to keep ASU guessing, I think we can outscore them in some very close games.

ASU middle infielder and Florida-transfer, Cheyenne Coyle, fields a ball in a home game at Farrington Stadium.

ASU middle infielder and Florida-transfer, Cheyenne Coyle, fields a ball in a home game at Farrington Stadium. (Courtesy Arizona State Athletics)

Although the Sun Devils of Arizona State are certainly the favorite and top-seeded team in the Regional, it would be unwise to overlook our first match-up with a very dynamic San Diego State team. San Diego State comes into Tempe with a similar record to the Bulldogs at 35-18. The Aztecs are a very well-balanced team with respect to pitching, defense, and offensive performance. Although their power numbers and team average are much lower than the Dawgs, this San Diego State team has gotten some clutch power hitting from Lorena Bauer and Patrice Jackson. Lorena Bauer (.421, 13 HR, 49 RBI) and Patrice Jackson (.368, 14 HR, 41 RBI) are the team’s leading hitters for average, home runs, and RBIs. Georgia pitching has often fell susceptible to the long ball, and it will be imperative to keep these two Aztec hitters in the park in order to pull out a victory. Not to be overlooked, the Aztecs have found much of their success in 2013 on the back of their two main pitchers, rookie Danielle O’Toole and senior Rebecca Arbino. O’Toole enters the Regional with a 14-6 record to accompany her 1.71 ERA, all while having fanned 111 batters in 143 innings pitched. With more overall experience and innings in the circle, Arbino heads the pitching staff with a 20-12 record, 1.96 earned run average, and all while striking out 196 batters in 207.1 innings pitched.

Assuming we put bat to ball, get some good pitching performances in the circle, and play well on defense, we should be able to power our way through this very talented and experienced Aztecs squad. The last thing we want to do is come out flat and play bad defense, in turn giving away free passes and free runs that will only hamper our overall performance. Friday cannot get here soon enough as I really think this will be a great match-up to open up the Tempe Regional.

Finally, rounding out the four teams in the Tempe Regional are the WAC Champions, the San Jose State Spartans. The Spartans are headed by Head Coach Peter Turner, who it is worth mentioning is also the Head Coach of the USA Men’s National Fastpitch Team. San Jose State has played some very talented teams this year and have given some big time schools some very stiff competition. The Spartans of SJSU have played the likes of Hawaii, UCLA, California, Oregon, and Oregon State just to name a few. Playing this caliber of competition will surely have SJSU prepared for any team they may meet in the postseason, Arizona State included. Entering the Tempe Regional with an impressive 40-15 overall record, the Spartans are looking to get thing going with an upset as they take on the Sun Devils. The Spartans are led at the plate by Michelle Cox (.373, 1 HR, 22 RBI), Markesha Collins (.356, 9 HR, 36 RBI), and Jessie Hufstetler (.321, 3 HR, 27 RBI). Although they are an overall decent hitting squad, the SJSU Spartans have garnered much of their success in 2013 thanks to some absolutely brilliant pitching performances by Amanda Pridmore. Pridmore has tallied a 29-9 record, 1.51 ERA, and has also picked up a ton of strikeouts as she has fanned 250 batters in 249.2 innings. When San Jose State is the #4 seed in your Regional, you know the competition is stiff and that truly anyone could advance to the Super Regionals. With Pridmore in the circle and the Spartan offense clicking, it would not surprise me to see San Jose State succeed in the post season.

San Jose State’s pitching staff is led by Amanda Pridmore (pictured above). (Courtesy San Jose State Athletics)

While the future of Georgia Softball’s 2013 season hangs in the balance, only one thing can be for sure: we are in for a treat as we will get to see and play against some terrific competition in Tempe this weekend. Despite what does or does not happen in Tempe, words cannot describe how much fun I have had following and chronicling this Georgia squad so far this season. From the early season struggles, to slowly finding their identity over the ensuing months, to tallying a winning record against ranked opponents in the home stretch of the season, it has been an enthralling season to be a part of and watch. I think Georgia’s dividends have been paid as the team has put their complete trust in what Lu, Gerry, and Tara have been teaching them. This year’s group has truly believed in the process and committed to the G with an amazing effort and sense of dedication. It just goes to show how softball, like in many sports, is not always about how you start the season, but instead how you finish. When this team plays their “A” game, there is not a team in the nation that they cannot succeed against. I wish that my work and lesson schedule permitted me to make the almost-2000 mile cross-crountry trip to Tempe, but alas I will be watching from here in Athens. If we make it to Super Regionals, bet your butts that I will be there screaming, cheering, and chanting for the Bulldogs in Lexington or wherever it may be. Never give up Dawgs and represent Bulldog Nation with a complete effort in every inning of every contest. We believe! I believe!

As always, Go Dawgs!

#RoadToWCWS          #DominateTempe          #CommitToTheG