FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayetteville Super Regional should have a packed house tonight when No. 4 Arkansas plays host to No. 18 Texas with the winner of this series advancing to Oklahoma City.
Both the Razorbacks and Longhorns got a practice in at Bogle Park on Wednesday. Arkansas (47-9) and Texas (41-18-1) will start the super regional tonight at 6 p.m. with anyone not able to make it to Bogle Field watching it on ESPN2. Texas’ Mike White knows about the history between Arkansas and Texas in all sports.
“Obviously it was a tough road to get here and a long road from one coast to the other,” White said. “But we’re excited to be here in Arkansas to play the Razorbacks. Obviously they’re having a great year having won both the SEC Championship and regular season title. They’re playing extremely well. We know that. They’ve got a tough team, lot of offense, lot of power and two great pitchers. So we’re hoping we can give them a good series here. I know there’s a lot of tradition between the Longhorns and the Razorbacks from the past. I think it’s great to get it going in softball and we’re excited for the matchup this week.”
Texas played in the Seattle Regional. They beat Weber State 8-0, Washington 8-2, then lost to the host 2-1 before bouncing back Sunday night and defeating them 3-2. Arkansas advanced by defeating Princeton 11-0, downing Oregon 6-2 and then 9-3 going undefeated. Courtney Deifel is thankful for this super regional to be in Bogle, but she wants the team focused on Texas, but not get too caught up in all the hype around the game.
“Yeah I think it’s mostly just continuing to focus who we are and what we do,” Deifel said. “We know there’s going to be a huge buzz around this matchup. We know there’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s just reminding us to stay focused and stay within ourselves. Do what we’ve done all year. We’ve addressed it. It’s going to be a really great matchup it’s a super regional. So it’s just making sure we’re staying present in the moment.”
Arkansas is 0-6 against Texas in all-time results. Not sure how relevant that is though considering the two haven’t played since Feb. 13, 2016. Arkansas is 27-4 at home and a 16-2 since March 26 (first SEC home series), dropping its only two games to LSU and Kentucky at Bogle Park. The Razorbacks’ (18-5) 18 wins against top 25 opponents lead all SEC programs. Arkansas’ five losses are also the fewest of all league teams.
White talked about some of his players who he hopes are able to step up big in this super regional.
“We have Hailey Dolcini who is a transfer from Fresno State last year,” White said. “Struggled a little bit to start the year. Starting off new coach, new team and a lot of pressure. But since that time she has really settled down to be one of the best pitchers in the country. She was the key for us to beat Washington out there at their field. That’s the first thing we need a go-to pitcher. Then Janae Jefferson not so much undiscovered right now, but maybe a player that was overlooked in the past. She is heading toward a four-time All-America you never know. But she’s the key for us, the catalyst. Then we have a young kid behind her Mia Scott that’s got a lot of wheels. I think she’s really exciting and going to become a real top player for us in the future.
“Then we have a pretty old team. We have six seniors, well six possibly graduating from our ranks. Along with Mary Iakopo and Lauren Burke they’re the last holdouts from the long ducks I suppose as people were calling them. But they’ve been instrumental in our success this year as well. I think we’ve been playing a lot better the second half of the season than the first half. The first half was a struggle for us. It was tough. We thought we were going to have a pretty good team going into the year and we got our come upeth so to speak starting off. But we were able to rebound and the adversity created opportunity for a number of kids and we bounced back pretty well.”
Dolcini has a record of 21-9. She has pitched 183.2 innings, has an ERA of 2.21, 204 strikeouts and only allowed 56 walks. Opponents have hit .167 against her. Jefferson is hitting .425 with five home runs and 32 RBI. Scott has three home runs, 32 RBI and a batting average of .380. Iakopo leads Texas with 10 home runs. She has knocked in 52 runs and is hitting .341.
Deifel is very aware of Texas’ players and the problems they could present for the Razorbacks.
“They have one of the best hitters in Janae Jefferson,” Deifel said. “They have a very consistent offense through out. They have a pitcher that’s just a Bulldog in the circle. Is an elite competitor. And they’re playing their best softball right now. So we have a ton of respect for where they are at in their season. They went into a really tough regional and came out of it on the road. I think they’ve had a great year and they’re just continuing to build and playing their best right now.”
In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Arkansas lost to Washington 8-0 and 10-5 on consecutive days Feb. 11-12. Since Arkansas was 0-2 early in the season and Texas just defeated that team two times in three tries does White read anything into that?
“Not at all,” White said. “Not at all. Championship softball is different and you’ve seen it last week with four unseeded teams coming through. The bracket looks like it’s not quite how they picked it. But that’s why we play. We’re hoping we’re one of those Cinderella stories this week.”
Friday’s game will begin at 5:30 p.m. and also televised on ESPN2. If a third game is needed on Saturday the time and network will be determined.