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#pounditSunday, May 29, 2022

WCWS Womens College World Series: Michigan, Auburn the favorites

WCWSThe WCWS (Women’s College World Series) began on Thursday with the first round of action in the double-elimination tournament.

Two-time defending champion Florida’s absence in the event after being swept by Georgia in the super regionals has left a hole in the final eight and will mean college softball will have a new champion this season. In addition to Florida, No. 5 seed Oregon and No. 7 seed James Madison were upset in the super regionals, meaning there are a few lower-seeded teams in Oklahoma City.

Let’s look at the favorites and who has a chance to pull a stunner.

Favorites

#2 Michigan – Although they play in the relatively weak Big Ten, this team received a well-deserved high seed. They enter the tournament with 85 home runs as a team and nearly every regular batting over .300. They are led by Player of the Year contender Sierra Romero, whose .465 average, 11 doubles, 19 home runs, 78 RBIs, 49 walks vs. 11 strikeouts, .916 slugging percentage and .585 on-base percentage are off the charts. Besides knowing that they’ll have her on base at least a few times per game, they have four other players in double-digits for homers, including both Sierra Lawrence and Tera Blanco, who also are hitting above .400 and have over 30 walks this season.

Megan Betsa is the star in the circle. She is 27-3 with a 1.96 ERA and 287 strikeouts. Though she tends to walk a lot of batters, the impressive strikeout totals mean she’s able to get herself out of jams. If she stumbles, they also have veteran Sara Dreisenga, who is 22-1 with a 2.14 ERA this season, though it’s mostly been Betsa in the postseason.

#4 Auburn – They are hot as they won the SEC Tournament, went 3-0 in the regionals, and then rallied to win two straight to overcome Arizona in the supers. They have 81 home runs as a team and a collaborative .323 average, though most of that power is consolidated among three stars. Kasey Cooper has 19 home runs, not to mention 67 walks, while Jade Rhodes has 17 homers and Emily Carosone has 12 homers and 12 doubles. Those three plus Tiffany Howard, Madi Gipson and Carlee Wallace means it’s going to be hard to keep this team off the board.

Unlike last year when Auburn made Oklahoma City, they actually have a few aces this year. UNC transfer Kaylee Carlson has been the go-to pitcher in the circle, and she kicked off the tournament with a win over 12 seed UCLA. In addition to Carlson, they have freshman Makayla Martin, who is 14-3 with a 1.70 ERA and beat Arizona in the supers last weekend. They also have a ton of depth with three other options in Rachael Walters, Lexi Davis and Marcy Harper, meaning head coach Clint Myers will not hesitate to switch pitchers at the first sign of trouble. The strength of their starters plus their depth ensures Auburn will rarely give up more than a few runs in a game.

Sleeper

#6 Alabama – Pitcher Alexis Osorio has had a statistically down season compared to her freshman campaign when she was named SEC Freshman of the Year, but she seems to have regained her form as of late. She was unhittable in the super regionals against a powerful offense in Washington, helping to carry the Crimson Tide into Oklahoma City. She’s up to 263 strikeouts in 177.1 innings and really seems to have her filthy riseball and other pitches working. The way she’s going, she could carry the Tide to the championship game.

Bama could use some help from its offense which did not look great against Washington. They need slugger Leona Lafaele to come through in the clutch and give their pitchers a bit of a cushion.

#16 Georgia – Already with a win over Florida State to start the tournament, Georgia is a serious threat. They got superb pitching from Chelsea Wilkinson in two wins over Florida in the super regionals to advance to the WCWS. If she can keep it up, and the team gets the big hit, they can knock off Auburn in their half of the bracket. For them, it all starts with the Emanuel sisters at the top. Both lefty slappers hitting over .400, the daughters of Bert Emanuel need to get on base to set things up for the power. Tina Iosefa has been awesome all season and needs to come through with some big hits, while freshman Alyssa DiCarlo just needs to keep hitting the way she has been. If Alex Hugo is able to regain her home run stroke, the Bulldogs could win it all.

Despite having a powerful offense, UCLA does not have the pitching this year, especially after expected ace Rachel Garcia missed the season with a knee injury. They just had Oregon’s number, otherwise the Ducks would have been the much tougher tournament team. Florida State has some really good pitching between Jessica Burroughs and Meghan King, but their offense has a tendency to go quiet. LSU has an excellent trio of pitchers in Carley Hoover, Sydney Smith and Allie Walljasper, but their pitching may be a tick below Auburn’s staff, Osorio and Wilkinson, and their offense has largely been a disappointment.

Though I did not include Oklahoma as one of the favorites, they are also a very strong team. They are powered by three standout freshmen in Sydney Romero, Fale Aviu and Shay Knighten. Pitcher Paige Parker will have to carry the squad. She had a bit of an easy road facing Wichita State and Ole Miss in the regionals, and she was roughed up in one game in the supers against Louisiana Lafayette, but she still carries an impressive 33-3 record with a 1.55 ERA into the tournament. If she is on her game for four to five games in a row, they can win it all.

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