Beavers ready for Auburn Regional

Joshua Lucas Daily Barometer
Softball team

Josh Worden Senior Beat Reporter

The Oregon State softball team officially earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013 on Sunday and the Beavers will head to Auburn, Ala. for the Regional round starting Friday.

OSU is the No. 2 seed of the four Regional teams and will start the double elimination bracket against No. 3 South Carolina Upstate at 2:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. local time) on Friday. The other two teams in the Regional are host Auburn, the No. 4 seed of the entire tournament, and Jacksonville State.

If the Beavers win the Regionals in Auburn, they will advance to the Super Regionals for a best-of-three series against the winner of the Regional hosted by No. 13 Tennessee. The eight Super Regional victors earn a spot in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The Auburn Regional Teams

No. 2 Oregon State (30-18-1, 9-14 Pac-12). RPI Ranking: No. 24

The Beavers don’t do any one thing extremely well, but they’ve been capable in all three aspects of the game: hitting, pitching and fielding. OSU is batting .310 this season, which is good for fifth in the Pac-12 but the highest average in OSU school history. If the Beavers stay above last year’s mark of .298, this season will be the fourth in a row OSU has set a new batting average record.

Sophomore shortstop and leadoff hitter McKenna Arriola (.370 batting average, .443 on base percentage) will need to help spark the Beavers’ offense along with players like junior first baseman Natalie Hampton (.342 average, 48 runs batted in).

Freshman Meehra Nelson or senior Bev Miller have been in the pitcher’s circle for all but 10 of the team’s 319 2/3 innings this season. Their efforts in the postseason will play a huge factor in OSU’s potential success.

No. 3 South Carolina Upstate (42-13, 11-6 Atlantic Sun). RPI Ranking: No. 54.

The squad from Spartanburg, S.C. earned an NCAA Tournament bid on Saturday by beating Florida Gulf Coast in the Championship Game of the Atlantic Sun Tournament. The Spartans are making their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

The player to watch for USC Upstate: junior pitcher Holly McKinnon, who has tossed 19 complete games this year with a 2.21 earned run average. Oregon State can bet it will see plenty of the right-handed McKinnon in the circle: she pitched for 54.1 percent of the Spartans’ innings this season. On the offensive side, USC Upstate hits .312 as a team but doesn’t have any single breakout player; no batter averages above .350 on the year.

No. 1 Auburn (49-9, 16-7 SEC). RPI Ranking: No. 5.

The Tigers are used to being the nation’s No. 4 seed: they earned the same slot in last year’s postseason as well. Also just like last year, Auburn won the SEC Tournament Championship on Saturday. The Tigers wouldn’t mind repeating last year’s success in the postseason itself, too: Auburn won the Regional and Super Regional rounds to advance to the Women’s College World Series before being eliminated by Florida in the semifinals.

This year’s Auburn team is a hitting powerhouse, boasting five different players batting .363 or above, including junior infielder Kasey Cooper’s .431 mark with a .922 slugging percentage and 19 home runs. The Tigers pitching staff owns a 2.20 ERA compared to the 7.61 from opponents.

No. 4 Jacksonville State (41-15, 26-0 Ohio Valley Conference). RPI Ranking: No. 57.

If only the entire NCAA Tournament were made up solely of Ohio Valley Conference teams — Jacksonville State went 30-1 against conference teams this year but was 11-14 against nonconference opponents. The Gamecocks are making their seventh appearance in the NCAA Regionals in school history after earning a school record 20-game win streak. JSU may be the No. 4 seed of the Regional and will be heavy underdogs against Auburn, but if the Gamecocks can advance it will likely be due to sophomore pitcher Whitney Gillespie, who has a 0.94 ERA to her name in the 134 1/3 innings she’s pitched this year.