Game-by-game preview of the 2023 Pac-12 Softball Tournament
The inaugural Pac-12 Softball Tournament opens this week at Arizona's Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, one of the most historic venues in the sport.
All nine Pac-12 teams will participate in the single-elimination event with the action opening with a rivalry game between No. 8 seed Arizona vs. No. 9 seed Arizona State on Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network. The winner will join the other seven teams in the quarterfinals, which begin Thursday.
Here is a game-by-game preview of the first two days. The full bracket can be found here.
Game 1 — No. 8 Arizona vs. No. 9 Arizona State
Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
What happened in the regular season: The Wildcats opened Pac-12 play with a series win at ASU back in mid-March. The Wildcats shut out the Sun Devils twice — 9-0 and 10-0 — before falling 4-3 in the series finale.
1 key to a Wildcat win: Recapture that magic in the circle. The Wildcats finished the regular season with the worst ERA in the Pac-12 and their pair of shutouts vs. the Sun Devils were their lone shutouts in league play. Somehow, someway they need to find a way to replicate that or else we're in for a slugfest.
1 key to a Sun Devil win: Flash the leather. The Sun Devils have committed the second-most errors in the Pac-12 this season. They made six errors in their two losses to Arizona earlier in the season, miscues they cannot afford to repeat against the Conference's highest-scoring offense.
1 Wildcat to watch: Devyn Netz. Arizona's success in the circle will stem from the junior, who pitched a complete-game shutout against the Sun Devils in March. Netz is also a powerful part of the Wildcats' lineup, tying with Allie Skaggs for the team lead in homers (13).
1 Sun Devil to watch: Jordyn VanHook. The senior has been one of the best stories in the Pac-12 this season, leading the league with 19 homers despite only hitting five in her first three seasons as a Sun Devil. She will be facing an Arizona pitching staff that has surrendered the most homers in the Conference.
Game 2 — No. 3 Utah vs. No. 6 California
Thursday, May 11, 10 a.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
What happened in the regular season: The Golden Bears took two of three from the Utes in Berkeley. Cal freshman standout Elon Butler clubbed two homers in the finale to clinch the series win.
1 key to a Ute win: A need for speed. This game features two of the top four offenses in the Pac-12 and two middle-of-the-Pac pitching staffs. In other words, runs could be aplenty. Unlike the Golden Bears who love the long ball, Utah mostly relies on speed and contact hitting to score, leading the Pac-12 in stolen bases (89) and ranking third in batting average (.321). The bouncy infield at Hillenbrand Stadium is ideal for slappers like Haley Denning and Abby Dayton to set the table for a loaded Utah lineup.
1 key to a Golden Bear win: Take advantage of the atmosphere. Cal leads the Pac-12 with 67 homers this season and the hitting conditions at Hillenbrand Stadium — warm, thin desert air — are ideal for long balls.
1 Ute to watch: Ellessa Bonstrom. The fifth-year senior leads the Utes in multiple offensive categories, including home runs (9) and RBI (48). She's also a Tucson native who clearly relishes playing at Hillenbrand Stadium based on her performance against Arizona earlier in the season. She homered twice and drove in five runs in that series victory. Bonstrom had five hits against Cal.
1 Golden Bear to watch: Makena Smith. The catcher-turned-third baseman spearheads the powerful Cal offense, leading the Bears with 14 homers and 43 RBI. She belted the go-ahead long ball in Cal's 5-1 win over the Utes on April 1.
Game 3 — No. 2 Washington vs. No. 7 Oregon State
Thursday, May 11, 12:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
What happened in the regular season: The Huskies won the series in Corvallis in mid-April, taking the first two games 2-0 and 3-2 before the Beavers exploded for 11 runs in a run-rule victory in the finale. That had to have been cathartic after UW's Kelley Lynch and Ruby Meylan combined for a no-hitter in the opener.
1 key to a Husky win: Lean on their postseason experience. Washington is loaded with seniors, some of whom played for the Huskies the 2019 Women's College World Series. They are ranked No. 5 in the country for a reason and the pressure of a single-elimination tournament shouldn't faze them.
1 key to a Beaver win: Keep the momentum going. OSU was in last place for most of the Pac-12 season but won its series vs. Arizona State to finish ahead of ASU and Arizona in the standings. Injuries have hindered the Beavers all season, but as we saw last year when they made a run to the Women's College World Series, you'd be unwise to count them out.
1 Husky to watch: Ruby Meylan. While no one will disagree that slugger Baylee Klingler is Washington's best player, this will be Meylan's first time pitching in the postseason. If it goes anything like the regular season, the Huskies are in good hands. Meylan is 15-5 with six saves while compiling a 2.08 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 141.1 innings. The freshman was pretty effective against the Beavers in April, allowing three runs in 7.2 innings.
1 Beaver to watch: Frankie Hammoude. This could be the final time Beaver fans get to see Hammoude don the black and orange. The senior will leave a lasting legacy, recently becoming OSU's all-time home run leader with 53 career long balls to her name.
Game 4 — No. 1 UCLA vs. winner of No. 8 Arizona/No. 9 Arizona State
Thursday, May 11, 4 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
No matter who wins Wednesday's game between Arizona and ASU, they will be tasked with facing a UCLA team that is ranked No. 2 in the country and has reeled off 23 wins in a row. The Bruins handled both the Wildcats and Sun Devils in the regular season, winning all six games and run-ruling each team once.
UCLA is led by Pac-12 Batting Champion Maya Brady, reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Megan Faraimo and two of the nation's best freshmen in Megan Grant and Jordan Woolery. The Bruins lead the Pac-12 in ERA (1.56) while ranking second in scoring.
Game 5 — No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 5 Oregon
Thursday, May 11, 6:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
What happened in the regular season: The Cardinal and Ducks opened Pac-12 play against each other on March 17 in Eugene. Stanford edged out a series win, but the games were basically as close as could be. The Cardinal bookended a one-run win with an extra-inning win to clinch the series. The Ducks won the middle game 2-1 thanks to a pair of RBI from Allee Bunker.
1 key to a Cardinal win: Manufacture runs. It sounds simple but it's true for this Cardinal team, which is elite in the circle and defensively but ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring and has hit by far the fewest homers in the Conference (19).
1 key to a Duck win: Match pitch for pitch. The Ducks' pitching staff improved greatly throughout the season to finish with the third-best ERA in the Pac-12 (2.56). That could mean we are in store for a good old fashioned pitcher's duel on Thursday. Morgan Scott and Stevie Hansen have both had success against the Cardinal lineup, allowing a combined four runs in 20 innings.
1 Cardinal to watch: Alana Vawter. Stanford has three dominant pitchers, but Vawter is the senior leader. She was excellent in her first two outings against Oregon, allowing just three total runs across 14 innings. She was the winning pitcher in both victories.
1 Duck to watch: Allee Bunker. The fifth-year infielder has elevated her game this season, hitting .404 while matching her career high in homers (10). Bunker is a pest for pitchers to deal with as the only player in the nation to hit 10 or more home runs while striking out seven times or fewer in each of the last three seasons. Bunker had four hits, homered and drove in three runs in the regular-season series vs. Stanford.