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South Carolina Gamecocks Softball - 2017 NCAA Softball Tournament, Tucson Regional: Preview, start time, how to watch/live stream and more

Is this the year South Carolina breaks through the top and makes a Super Regional?

In now her seventh season, Beverly Smith had gradually improved South Carolina’s softball program little-by-little each season.

Under her guidance the team has matched or improved its win total the last four seasons and improved its RPI finish in each year — and 2017 was no exception. The Gamecocks finished with the program’s highest RPI ranking (22) since she arrived in 2011.

Granted South Carolina would have to win five more games to match their 2016 total of 38, but nonetheless the Gamecocks are back in the NCAA Tournament to try and do something they’ve never done under Smith: make a Super Regional. Last season the Gamecocks made the regional final but lost the final game to No.8 Florida State 2-1.

Now, they’ll be in Tuscon to face off with the No. 2 seeded Arizona along with New Mexico State and St. Francis. SC should be a shoe-in favorite to go back to the regional final, but to get a grander picture of what’s going down today let’s take a closer look at every team SC could face.

Tuscon Regional: Quick Glance

Team Record Conference Record RPI Ranking Runs per game (Rank) Team ERA (Rank)
Team Record Conference Record RPI Ranking Runs per game (Rank) Team ERA (Rank)
No. 5 Arizona 48-7 18-6 (PAC-12) 5 7.35 (3) 1.35 (6)
No. 24 South Carolina 32-23 8-15 (SEC) 22 4.53 (105) 2.97 (89)
St. Francis 48-9 16-0 (NEC) 53 6.19 (13) 1.93 (21)
New Mexico State 29-23 11-4 (WAC) 132 6.08 (15) 4.34 (209)

Arizona (No. 2 National Seed)

Team summary: Since the PAC-12 doesn’t have a tournament, the senior-laden Arizona won the conference title outright the old fashion way. All seven of their losses came to ranked teams as Arizona would only drop two series all season to No. 9 UCLA and No. 16 Utah. Arizona was the best team in what was the best conference in the country outside of the SEC.

Best win: On March 24-26 Arizona swept now No. 7 Washington, shutting out the Huskies twice 3-0 and 12-0 in five innings.

Worst loss: If you can even call this a bad loss, Arizona dropped a 6-3 game to now No. 22 Arizona State but would win the three-game series. Outside of that, the only two series the Wildcats lost were in the top 20.

Staff Ace: Senior Danielle O’Toole was not only the best pitcher in the PAC-12, she was easily one of the five best pitchers in the country. Her 1.08 ERA was ranked 4th among power five pitchers strikes out nearly one out of every four batters she faces.

Best hitter: Senior Katiyana Mauga is one of the best power hitters in the country. Her slugging % of .869 is third among power five hitters and holds an absurd OPS of 1.344.

Opening game: vs. New Mexico State at 8:30 on ESPNU

South Carolina

Summary: Playing in the insanely deep SEC proved to be a challenge for South Carolina all season long. The Gamecocks were 8-15 in the best conference in the country and didn’t win a conference series until the final two weekends of the regular season. Though South Carolina was 24-8 outside of the SEC, they didn’t beat a ranked team until the final week of their regular season. If anything, the Gamecocks are peaking at the right time.

Best win: In the final week of the regular season South Carolina picked up the most important series of their season by taking two out of three games from No. 18 LSU in narrow 5-4 and 4-3 wins.

Worst loss: Against the consensus No. 1 team in the country in Columbia, South Carolina was swept by Florida with little to no resistance — being outscored 29-1 and run-ruled twice.

Staff Ace: Four year starter Nickie Blue will try to make her final hoorah her best pitching in her fourth straight NCAA tournament. Blue relies on control and ground balls to get her outs with a team high ERA of 2.40.

Best hitter: The surprise of South Carolina’s season has been freshman Mackenzie Bosel. The California native leads the team in batting average (.337), OBP (.439), Slugging % (.554) and RBI (31).

Opening game: vs. St. Francis at 7:00 on ESPN3

St. Francis (PA)

Summary: St. Francis is one of the best mid-major programs in the country, as the little school from tiny Lorette, Penn. ended the year receiving votes in the top 25. The Red Flash didn’t lose a single game in the Northeastern Conference and took down a handful of tournament teams like Tulsa and Fordham.

Best win: Near the beginning of March St. Francis went to the UT-Arlington Tournament and won the entire event, splitting two games with now AAC champions Tulsa in a 4-0 win and a 1-3 loss in nine innings.

Worst loss: Right before that UT-Arlington tournament St. Francis was beaten by a mediocre North Texas team 2-0 before going back to split the series with an 11-2 win in a doubleheader.

Staff Ace: Senior Ethel Santai has made a successful transition from being a reliever to a Friday starter. Her ERA of 1.61 is one of the 50 best in the country and will pitch for ground ball outs very similar to South Carolina’s Blue.

Best hitter: Junior shortstop Jordan Seneca boasts a OPS of 1.190, is tied for 3rd in the country with 21 home runs and 8th in the country with 64 RBI.

Opening game: vs. South Carolina at 7:00 on ESPN3

New Mexico State

Summary: If there’s one thing you can say about New Mexico State, it’s they didn’t shy away from playing way above their competition level. NMSU played ten power-five tournament schools and held their own against their conference en route to beating Seattle University for the WAC title.

Best win: Even though they would wind up the runners up at the Rebel Invitational back in early March, NMSU would wind up beating a couple of NCAA Tournament teams in that run in Southern Illinois and DePaul.

Worst loss: NMSU’s only series loss came to Grand Canyon University in late April, giving up 32 runs in three games (lost two).

Staff Ace: The worst weakness of any team in this regional absolutely belongs to NMSU’s pitching staff. Their best pitcher is freshman Samaria Diaz, who’s season ERA is 4.27.

Best hitter: Sophomore Kelesy Horton ranks in the top-25 in the country in batting average (.424), slugging percentage (.816) and RBI (59).

Opening game: vs. Arizona at 8:30 on ESPNU