It's Softball Time in Tennessee: Knoxville Regional Preview (May 19-21)
I'm not going to pretend to be a softball expert or even that I've watched much of the Lady Vols' games this season. They have been on the periphery of my sports attention. I knew they were good, but I didn't know just how good until I heard they had won both the SEC regular season and tournament titles and starting digging into some stats. And yeah, it turns out these girls are pretty dang good.
The Lady Vols are the #4 seed overall and will host Indiana, Louisville, and Northern Kentucky in the Knoxville regional this weekend. Pertinent stats:
Note that the three leading home run hitters in America are featured in this regional with UT's Kiki Milloy, IU's Taryn Kern, and UL's Taylor Roby. Good news is that Tennessee also has some of the best pitchers in the country. It speaks volumes that the third-best pitcher on Tennessee's staff was still good enough to be SEC Freshman of the Year and 2nd-team All-SEC.
Northern Kentucky will be Tennessee's first opponent on Friday, and don't be surprised if the Lady Vols run-rule the Norse (college softball run rule is 8 after 5 innings). NKU has an RPI of 214--by far the worst of your directional Kentuckies--and although they won the Horizon League, the Norse still have an overall losing record on the year and are probably looking at an 0-2 weekend.
Indiana (RPI of 31--UT is 8 btw) is likely Tennessee's opponent on both Saturday and Sunday. The Hoosiers have some legit threats with 2B Kern, who hits for average and power, and P Brianna Copeland. In fact IU has better hitting stats nearly all around than the Lady Vols, but score slightly fewer runs and don't field as well. UT's pitching will likely be the difference here.
If Louisville (RPI 32) makes it to Sunday (and I'll be shocked if Tennessee isn't playing Sunday), it's pitcher/designated player Taylor Roby to look out for. Roby has hit the second-most homers in the NCAA this season as well as being the Cards' best pitcher.
Again, not pretending to be a softball expert. But I know enough about the game to know it's similar to women's basketball in that the best teams tend to be a lot better than the rest of the field. I also know that a sport with bats, balls, and gloves has a lot of moving parts; and that it just takes one weekend of cold bats, or a pitcher with the yips, or a few unexplained errors to derail a great season.
However it looks like (from my admittedly brief recon) Tennessee is really among the best in college softball this year, and have a real chance to win it all. It should be a fun ride even for those of us that don't really follow the sport, and I'm jumping on the bandwagon this weekend.