We’re just over halfway through the college softball season, and we’ve seen records broken, home runs, and thrilling defensive plays on the field.
Just like last year, Oklahoma showed its dominance. The Sooners, who won their first 33 games of the 2021 season en route to the Women’s College World Series title, are 32-0, leading the nation in batting average (.383) and ERA (0.67). Star Jocelyn Alo ranks third in the nation in batting average (.513) and fourth in homers (16).
Can anyone dethrone – or even shut down – the Sooners? The Alabama Montana Fouts started the year with a sub-1.00 ERA but allowed five runs in three of its last four outings and four of its last nine.
Virginia Tech has also been successful in the pitching circle, with rookie Emma Lemley and senior Keely Rochard ranking third and fourth respectively in the nation in strikeouts every seven innings.
While UCLA lost two-way threat and Olympian Rachel Garcia, the Bruins, who rank fourth in the nation in RPI, are averaging 7.2 points per game and have a pitching staff, anchored by Lauren Shaw and Megan Faraimo, who has a paltry 1.16 ERA.
Our softball analysts break down the first two months of the season and make their picks for Oklahoma City.
How long can Oklahoma go undefeated?
Madison Shipman: Looking at the rest of Oklahoma’s schedule, the team that I think has the best chance of beating Oklahoma is Oklahoma State. The Sooners face the Cowboys in their final conference series in May. OU has been so dominant this year because of his consistent throwing in the circle and the way the Sooners control their bats. They rarely leave the area. When they swing, they swing with authority over lands they can knock out of the park.
Amanda Scarborough: I think it can be boiled down to the Oklahoma State series last conference weekend, although unexpected teams like Baylor and UAB have played them the closest to anyone all year over the past week. Sport is so unpredictable. What makes the Sooners so dominant is their approach to home plate. Their hitters just see the ball so well. They are on time and their barrels stay through the zone forever. Their alignment is the toughest in the country.
Michele Smith: Oklahoma has an exceptional pitching staff, as well as a top-notch defense. Add an incredible attack and it’s a very complete team. their offense alone would be able to compensate for a below average pitching staff and defense, but the fact that it’s just as hard to score runs against them makes this team one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Jenny Dalton Hill: I think this Oklahoma team has what it takes to win every game this season. I remember the 1994 Arizona team I played on and we ran into the same hurdles. We rarely stumbled that year, and Oklahoma has the same kind of feel: dominant pitching, quality defense and bats that can outplay anyone in the country. The key to this team is attacking every opponent. The Sooners have a target on their back that forces them to always be the aggressor. A game that is not attacked from the start will give the opportunity for defeat. I think the toughest opponent they will have in the rest of the regular season is Oklahoma State, and then the real show starts in WCWS for them. I can’t imagine them not being in Oklahoma City this season.
Besides Jocelyn Alo’s record home run, what has been your favorite moment of the season so far?
Ship : My favorite moment of the season so far has to be UCF first baseman Shannon Doherty’s home run to beat Georgia in the season opener. From swing to bat flip to celebrating at home, everything about it reminded us why we love the sport so much. Turns out this game was a good representation of the craziness we’ve seen so far this softball season.
Scarborough: My favorite and most memorable moment of the season so far was seeing Northwestern come back and face UCLA at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational in February. (That answer has a lot more to do with Northwestern than UCLA.) Northwestern has been the real deal this season, and that landslide victory was a statement that defines who this Northwestern team is all season: feisty competitors and ferocious with a pitcher, Danielle Williams, who is having one of the best seasons in the country.
— Northwest Softball (@NUSBcats) February 19, 2022
Dalton Hill: Watch Ohio University’s Brooke Rice throw the ball down the field and throw base stealers with ease. I was blown away by his talent and the strength of his arms. Her team may not make the playoffs, but for me it reminded me that some of the best players in the country don’t play for the top 25 teams and always have to be given as much attention as possible. .
Which team surprised you the most this season?
Ship : Auburn surprised me the most this season. I love that Coach Mickey Dean took a hard look at last season and made some drastic changes in how they approached their fall training to be better in the spring. So far, Auburn’s offensive numbers have been significantly better than last season, and the bats don’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
Scarborough: Michigan surprised me the most this season. At the start of the year I thought the Wolverines would be in the top 10 all year, but here we are and they’re barely hanging on to the top 25. They still have April to get things back on track, but at this point, I’m surprised they have 11 losses.
Black-smith: I am very surprised by Virginia Tech. I knew Keely Rochard was going to be strong in the circle, but the Hokies have great rookie addition Emma Lemley, making them a strong 1-2 pitching staff. Their offense really got strong; I was worried about all of them offensively at the start of the year, but they’ve been absolutely in tears lately and are definitely among the top five teams in the country.
Support the Hokies with Pledge for K ➡️ https://t.co/WpLZjfH364 pic.twitter.com/gEHfPHqSrO
—Virginia Tech Softball (@HokiesSoftball) April 4, 2022
Dalton Hill: I was surprised by the game in the Pac-12. While UCLA continues its trend of consistent, serious, and polished play, other schools in the conference are stumbling this season. The usual suspects such as Arizona and Washington have had unexpected misses this year, and we’ve seen other conferences such as the ACC step up with an increase in quality play from 4 to 5 teams.
Who is your favorite for player of the year?
Ship : Jocelyn Alo, softball’s new home run queen. His consistency, patience and power at home plate were exceptional. It’s hard enough to hit the number of home runs she has this season with pitchers throwing her every shot, but hitting home runs when it feels like she’s intentionally walked every other blows the place to a different level.
Scarborough: My favorite for player of the year is Alo. Batting average, home runs, RBIs, OPS – his numbers are right off the charts! Plus, don’t you get a few extra points if you break the NCAA home run record?
Black-smith: Hello. She broke the home run record and it’s just a matter of how high she’ll set the bar – not to mention her batting average is off the charts for a power hitter.
Dalton Hill: I think it’s a safe bet that the player of the year will come from Oklahoma. While most would say it should be Alo again, I would pause on the fact that she is playing as a DP this season, and would like the award to go to a multidimensional player. It’s always easy to make the case for a hitting pitcher or a completely dominating pitcher, but I’ll give my nod to Grace Lyons. She was the 2021 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and continues to play an incredible shortstop with just four errors. She also has very good offensive numbers, hitting .425 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs, and she has to protect Alo as she hits right behind her in the lineup.
Which team can James Madison be this year?
Ship : To try to make a run like JMU did last season, you need to be led by a good throw into the circle. For that reason, I have my eye on teams like South Florida and Miami (Ohio). Georgina Corrick and her dominating strikeout records for USF speak for themselves. Courtney Vierstra in Miami, Ohio has fantastic movement and has already faced some of the best teams in the country this season. Vierstra is backed up by some big bats from Karli Spaid and Allie Cummins to back her up on her run.
Scarborough: San Diego State is a team that could make a playoff run. Their ace thrower, Maggie Balint, is a veteran with some dominating tricks in the circle, and the Aztecs have found the best way to use Dee Dee Hernandez in plenty of relief appearances. They have a coaching staff with tons of experience and have had some solid wins and games against some very talented teams.
Black-smith: I don’t know if there will be one James Madison – I think there will be several. This is absolutely a year where anyone can be anyone. The key is that these “anyone” can play a series, not just a game.
Dalton Hill: I love UCF. I see them winning the American Athletic Conference, and with the confidence the Knights can play with, I see them having a good run this season behind Gianna Mancha. I also like Ohio State, which is led by Auburn transfer Lexie Handley. She has a lot of race support coming from Sam Hackenbracht, and I wouldn’t want to see them in my area or my super area.
Who will be the last four teams standing in OKC?
Ship : Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida State and UCLA. The last one standing is Oklahoma.
Scarborough: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, UCLA and Florida State. Last standing: UCLA.
Black-smith: UCLA, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and, the last standing, Oklahoma.
Dalton Hill: The final four teams in contention will be Oklahoma, UCLA, Alabama and Tennessee, with Oklahoma picking it all up in 2022.