NCAA softball regionals: Marist, Army take on powerhouses
The Marist softball team isn't used to being in the national spotlight, but that's exactly where the Red Foxes will be Friday night when they take on arguably the country's best team in their NCAA regional opener.
Marist will face Oklahoma – the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed and the No. 1 ranked team in both major polls – at 8:30 p.m. in the Norman, Okla., regional. The Sooners (47-4) were the national runners-up last season and feature the most decorated player in the country, lefthanded pitcher Keilani Ricketts.
Army also is playing in the NCAA regionals. The Black Knights will play Texas, the fourth overall seed, at 7 p.m. in the Austin, Texas, regional.
Marist (30-24), which won last weekend’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship in Poughkeepsie, is well aware of its underdog status, but the Red Foxes are approaching the regionals with an anything-is-possible attitude.
“We’re happy to be here, but we also want to put in a good show,” said Marist coach Joe Ausanio, a former Yankees pitcher. “We want to represent the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. There are a lot of teams that are pulling for us. I told (the players) the other day: There are 230-something teams sitting home wishing they could be here, so cherish this moment.”
Marist is appearing in the NCAA regionals for the second time in school history – and for the first time since 2006.
“Just being a part of this is unreal, how far we’ve come,” said senior third baseman Danielle Koltz. “We’ve just been wanting this ever since we stepped foot at Marist.”
Ricketts, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year in 2012, has a 25-1 record, 1.14 ERA and five no-hitters this season. The Sooners, who boast the nation’s best team ERA (1.09), have another standout pitcher in senior lefty Michelle Gascoigne (17-3, 0.91 ERA).
“Obviously, a lot of teams in the country have not figured out this Oklahoma pitching staff,” Ausanio said.
The Red Foxes are led by senior pitcher Emily Osterhaus, who is 14-9 with a 2.29 ERA. She was named the MAAC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after going 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA last weekend.
Marist has two first-team All-MAAC players – Koltz and freshman Nicole Cheek, the conference’s Rookie of the Year. Koltz is batting .368 with nine home runs, and Cheek is hitting .352 with a team-high 15 homers.
Fordham and Arkansas are the other teams playing in the double-elimination regional in Norman.
ARMY VS. TEXAS
The Black Knights, too, will face one of the nation’s toughest pitchers.
Texas is led by Blaire Luna, who has struck out 342 batters this season – third-most in the nation – and has a 1.19 ERA – which is seventh-best.
Taylor Hoagland -- .442 batting average with 13 home runs -- leads the Longhorns at the plate. Texas (44-8) is ranked sixth in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll.
Army is 35-24 and recorded back-to-back shutouts against Lehigh on Saturday to win the Patriot League tournament.
The Black Knights’ ace in the circle is Morgan Lashley, who is 29-12 with a 2.21 ERA. She ranks sixth nationally in wins.
Army has three first-team All-Patriot League players. Senior shortstop Alex Reynolds, the program’s all-time leader in RBIs, is batting .362 with four homers and 43 RBIs. Outfielder Amanda Nguyen is hitting .382 with 47 runs scored. And third baseman Kasey McCravey has a .315 batting average, five home runs and 36 RBIs.
Houston and South Carolina are the other teams in the Austin regional.