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Road to WCWS set: 5 Pac-12 teams hosting regional round, 8 teams in total

NCAA softball regionals in Tucson, Eugene, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Salt Lake City start this weekend. A look at who’s playing, how to watch the games, and what to expect.

The Utah softball team runs out to celebrate a walk-off hit as the Arizona pitcher exits.
utahutes.com

Arizona: #2 overall seed, hosting Tucson regional

Teams in group: #2 Arizona (48-7), South Carolina (32-23), St. Francis-PA (48-9), New Mexico State (29-23)

Arizona’s first game: vs. New Mexico State (Fri, 6:30 MST/PDT, ESPNU)

Chance of advancing to Super Regionals: prohibitive favorite (March Madness 2-seed beating 15-seed). South Carolina isn’t a pushover, having pulled upsets against Florida State, Auburn, and LSU (twice), but it would be a colossal upset to see the Wildcats fail to advance. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see the Gamecocks take one from the Cats, though.

Oregon: #3 overall seed, hosting Eugene regional

Teams in group: #3 Oregon (47-6), Wisconsin (33-15), Missouri (29-26), Illinois-Chicago (38-20)

Oregon’s first game: vs. Illinois-Chicago (Fri, 8:30 PT, ESPNU)

Chance of advancing: large favorite (3-seed beating 14-seed). Oregon is similarly good to Arizona, but a slightly more difficult draw gives me a touch lower confidence in their ability to advance. Both Wisconsin and Missouri have won games against tough competition this year. Oregon routed Missouri twice early this season in non-conference play.

UCLA: #5 overall seed, hosting Los Angeles regional

Teams in group: #5 UCLA (42-13), San Jose State (36-17), Cal State Fullerton (33-21), Lehigh (36-18)

UCLA’s first game: vs. Lehigh (Fri, 8:30 PT, ESPN2)

Chance of advancing: large favorite (3 over 14). Oregon is a better team, but UCLA got one of the easier regionals in the tournament with no other power-conference tested opponents. I’m not impressed by San Jose State as a 2 seed at all, and although CSUF is a solid 3 seed, UCLA defeated them fairly soundly in Fullerton a few weeks ago. The Bruins should be fine.

Washington: #6 overall seed, hosting Seattle regional

Teams in group: #6 Washington (43-11), Michigan (41-11-1), Fresno State (34-21), Montana (35-22)

Washington’s first game: vs. Montana (Fri, 8:30 PT, ESPN3)

Chance of advancing: significant favorite (4/5 over 12/13). In my mind, the first host with a significant chance to lose twice and therefore be eliminated, not so much because of their abilities, but because of who’s coming. Michigan had a sub-par season by Wolverine standards this year, but ace Megan Betsa (#2 in all of NCAA in strikeout percentage) can single-handedly shut down an offense when she avoids the walks. Huskies pitching should be able to keep UM to no more than a couple of runs, so as long as the Huskies offense can get to Betsa a few times, they should be okay.

Utah: #11 overall seed, hosting Salt Lake City regional

Teams in group: #11 Utah (33-14), Brigham Young (43-11), Mississippi State (36-20), Fordham (45-15)

Utah’s first game: vs. Fordham (Thu, 6:30 MT/5:30 PT, ESPN3)

Chance of advancing: Slightly better than a toss-up. In my mind, the Utes got a pretty favorable draw, in terms of seeding, but BYU and Mississippi State are both quite capable of winning this group. Utah is definitely the most likely team to advance out of this region, but significant upset chances for multiple teams means they’re a pretty small favorite. Watch out for defensive jems by Mississippi State center fielder Amanda Ivy in these games.

Arizona State: nationally unseeded, 2 seed in Oxford (MS) regional

Teams in group: #12 Ole Miss (40-18), Arizona State (30-20), North Carolina (38-19), Southern Illinois

Arizona State’s first game: vs. North Carolina (Fri, 4 PM MST/PDT, ESPN)

Chance of advancing: significant upset, but not a large one (11 over 6). Mississippi has been on fire the last few weeks, including a remarkable run to win the SEC tournament as the 8 seed, the lowest seed ever to to so. Pint-sized pitcher Kaitlyn Lee is on a roll for the Rebels, but as far as pure overall talent, this team is probably as vulnerable as any host in the field. Momentum can’t be ignored, but the Devils clearly could move on here.

California: nationally unseeded, 2 seed in Auburn (AL) regional

Teams in group: #7 Auburn (46-10), California (30-22), Notre Dame (33-21), East Tennessee State (29-24)

California’s first game: vs. Notre Dame (Fri, 11 AM PT, ESPN2)

Chance of advancing: large upset (13 over 4). Auburn should cruise through this regional. The Golden Bears have shown a strong ability to hang with tough teams in conference play and not get blown out, but their inability to bunch runs together makes it hard to win against a team that regularly puts crooked numbers on the board.

Oregon State: nationally unseeded, 3 seed in Waco (TX) regional

Teams in group: #15 Baylor (43-12), James Madison (50-6), Oregon State (28-25), Kent State (32-26)

Oregon State’s first game: vs. James Madison (Fri, 2 PM PT, ESPN3)

Chance of advancing: historic upset (15 over 2). I’m not even sure who the favorite is in this region, but it’s not the Beavers. James Madison is as dangerous as any non-host in the field besides criminally shafted Minnesota, but Baylor is a well-tested host, too. James Madison pitcher Megan Good is as good (pun intended) as they come in NCAA softball. The star junior is one of the best pitchers in the country, and some of her best performances have come against JMU’s toughest opponents, including a complete game shutout at #7 Auburn.