FAYETTEVILLE — No. 4 Arkansas and Princeton practiced on Thursday as Friday’s Fayetteville Regional opener grows nearer.
The Razorbacks and Princeton will open play with the 5 p.m. game at Bogle Park. Arkansas (44-9) is the No. 4 national seed and is favored to advance to the Super Regionals. But Princeton (27-15-2), Oregon (31-17) and Wichita State (33-16) have plans of their own in hopes of advancing. Following Thursday’s practice, Courtney Deifel and two players met with the media.
“I think we’re just looking forward to competing at Bogle again,” Deifel said. “I’m proud of the team working us into a national seed and having the ability to stay home as long we play for it. I just feel like we’re in a really good spot. I think we have a tough field. I think we’re tough too. So it will be a really fun weekend.”
One aspect of Friday’s game that it appears something has to give is the home run. Arkansas has hit 102 home runs on the season and Princeton has only allowed five the entire season.
“That is incredible,” Deifel said of Princeton only allowing five home runs all season. “I think this regional has more home runs combined than any other by a longshot. It’s definitely a huge part of three of the team’s games, but it’s also a part of Princeton’s defensive approach limit the long ball. So it’s not something it’s gonna be something we can rely on. If numbers tell us anything then it’s not going to be. So that’s where I like our team knows different ways to win. Just looking at the SEC Tournament our games were very different. This team doesn’t just rely on one thing or one person or one area and that’s why I think they all have so much confidence.”
Bogle Park is sold out and fans are on social media searching for tickets. That happens for big football, basketball and baseball games in Fayetteville, but how satisfying is that it’s now happening in softball as well?
“Yeah it’s really exciting,” Deifel said. “I think our crowds, our fans have been tremendous for us all year. It gets a little better as the weather gets better. I’m just gonna go off what [the players] said. It’s just a really special place with a really special fanbase. The thing that is even more special about it’s just the atmosphere that’s all about the Razorbacks. It’s not about cheering against the other team, it’s just a really classy fanbase creates the best atmosphere I think in college softball. I think it’s the second year we’ve sold out our regional and I’m really excited for these teams to get to experience a packed Bogle.”
Deifel has built Arkansas Softball to the point it’s on a level with most, if not all, schools in the nation. They won the SEC regular season without losing a single series and then won the SEC Tournament for the first time in school history. Is this something she envisioned could happen by this time of her at Arkansas?
“Well, I hoped that we would,” Deifel said with a wide smile. “One of the things we set out to do is win over the fanbase. And so that’s what really cool is coming from Year 1 to Year 7 is we feel we have done that. We knew how fanatical and loyal Razorback fans are. We knew if we gave them a product they’re proud of they would come out and follow us. And they’ve done that and then some. It’s been a really fun journey.”
Deifel feels good about this team and it’s No. 4 national seed. She talked about what makes this team maybe different than some of others she has had.
“This team is very seasoned,” Deifel said. “They’ve very experienced. We don’t have to get their feet wet with postseason experience they’ve all been there except some of our freshmen. Our veterans have done a really good job getting them all on board. I think this team is deeper and playing better softball this time of year. This team feels better in their bodies after a very long season. Through the fall and start of the season we’ve had to really fight to get where we are right now. So I think we have so many more tools in our tool kit to kind of draw back on this weekend and as we move forward hopefully.”
Game 1: Arkansas vs. Princeton – 5 p.m. SEC Network
Game 2: Oregon vs. Wichita State – 7:30 p.m. SECN+
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 – 1 p.m. TBA
Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 1 – 3:30 p.m. TBA
Game 5: Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 3 – 6 p.m. TBA
Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5 – 1 p.m. TBA
Game 7: if necessary (Game 3 winner loses Game 6) – 3:30 p.m. TBA