ASU softball is the ninth-seeded team in the NCAA Championship Tournament and will be staying home for its first set of postseason games in Tempe to host Michigan, Dartmouth and San Diego State.
The Sun Devils (44-10-1) are the top seeded in their bracket and will take on the Big Green (31-17) first while the Wolverines (42-12) take on the Aztecs (39-17) in the double elimination tournament that will decide who moves on to Super Regionals, and then ultimately the Women’s College World Series.
The tournament is narrowed from more than 300 teams across the country down to 64 teams that play in Regionals across 16 campuses during Regional matches. Each team involved in postseason games has earned its spot, and there are no more games to be taken lightly.
The Sun Devils do get the advantage of being at home to begin the postseason, but losses at the tail end of the season put coach Craig Nicholson and his team seeded lower than was thought a few weeks ago.
“The thing is we had a chance to do something about it this week but we can’t complain about it after the fact,” Nicholson said. “I think we probably are somewhere in the realm of where we should be…I feel pretty good going in.”
Dartmouth has the worst win percentage (.646) out of the four teams in the Tempe bracket but is coming in with more momentum than the Sun Devils after winning its first Ivy League Championship against Penn.
The Big Green have no astounding statistics but do have a strong starting pitcher in junior Kristen Rumley, who sports a 1.86 ERA with an opponent batting average hovering just above .200.
However, the Big Green don’t play as well on the road as they do at home. They are only one away from a perfect home record but have lost nearly half of their away games this season. This could be especially difficult to overcome against a Sun Devil team that plays exceptionally well in Tempe.
But that isn’t always the case, as seen in ASU’s last regular series of the season against UCLA that lead to two consecutive losses at home.
Senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue has been hit hard while in the circle for ASU during her last three starts. She played well all season long but struggled against top teams UCLA and Oregon. These are the two top schools in the country but that is the level of talent that will be seen in the postseason and how Popescue handles that nearing the end will be crucial to the Sun Devils victory.
The Sun Devils will still be the overwhelming favorite in the bracket despite losing their final two regular season series.
Michigan will most likely be the other big threat in the bracket despite coming off troubles of its own after losing the Big Ten Tournament on a walk-off hit against Minnesota.
The Wolverines have an impressive offensive staff, notably including sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero, who has the only batting average above .500 in the NCAA (.510) and has 16 home runs on the season.
They also have two starting pitchers that both have earned run averages under 2.00, which can be invaluable to a team in the postseason.
San Diego State made it into the postseason after clinching the Mountain West title against Boise State to automatically place it in the NCAA Regional Tournament.
That gives the team positive momentum coming into the tournament, but its biggest flaw on the roster is going to be how much they weigh on sophomore pitcher Danielle O’Toole.
O’Toole has thrown almost three times as many innings as her secondary pitcher which can wear down a pitcher in a long multi-game weekend.
Whichever team comes out on top of the Regional weekend moves to Super Regionals, where it will take on the victor of the Florida State series in Tallahassee, Florida.
Games begin Friday, with San Diego State taking on Michigan at 3:30 p.m., followed by the Sun Devil’s game against Dartmouth at 6 p.m.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit