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Weber State softball readies for tough NCAA regional in Seattle

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | May 18, 2022

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Weber State outfielder Chloe Camarero swings at a pitch during the Big Sky tournament championship game against Sacramento State on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Ogden. (BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)

When Weber State softball competed at the Los Angeles regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats won a game against Cal State Fullerton, the first NCAA Tournament win in program and Big Sky Conference history.

The next completed season, 2021, ended abruptly with an 0-2 mark in the Big Sky tournament. The bitterness of that juxtaposed with the sublime experience of 2019 was motivation from the start for returning players Chloe Camarero, Faith Hoe, Lauren Hoe, McKell McCuiston, KC Whiting and Brooke Moeai to push to return to the national stage.

It resulted in a 38-10 overall record, which is tied for the most single-season wins in program history and is also a program and Big Sky record for single-season winning percentage. It resulted in a 13-1 regular-season conference record, which is best in program and conference history for single-season winning percentage. And it resulted in a No. 48 final NCAA RPI ranking — again, a program and conference record.

After such a historic regular season, Weber State softball is now in Seattle for an NCAA regional hosted by the University of Washington.

It may be one of the toughest regionals, as the second-best team sent to Seattle is the University of Texas, which very much expected to host a regional of its own.

Here’s a schedule and a rundown of each team.

SCHEDULE

All times Mountain.

All games should be available on ESPN+ or via the WatchESPN app. TV assignments beyond Friday are to be determined. Weber State’s Friday matchup against Texas will air on Longhorn Network; such games in the tournament have historically been available on WatchESPN.

The regional uses a double-elimination format.

FRIDAY, MAY 20

Game 1 — Weber State vs. Texas, 3:30 p.m.

Game 2 — Lehigh vs. Washington, 6 p.m.

SATURDAY, MAY 21

Game 3 –Friday winners, 3 p.m.

Game 4 — Friday losers, 5:30 p.m.

Game 5 — Game 4 winner vs. Game 3 loser, 8 p.m.

SUNDAY, MAY 22

Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 4 p.m.

Game 7 — Repeat of Game 6, if necessary, immediately following

TEAMS

1. WASHINGTON (35-15, RPI 16)

Washington is the No. 13 overall seed in the 64-team tournament, as the top 16 teams are seeded and granted hosting rights for at least the regional round of play.

The Huskies have a run-rule win over Tennessee and a 7-6 win over Oklahoma State, both of whom are hosting NCAA regionals. UW swept a series against Oregon, won a series against Arizona and won a series against Stanford — all teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Washington went 0-3 against regional host Arizona State, was 1-2 against Utah (as was Weber State), lost to San Diego State (a team Weber State went 1-1 against), and lost 1-0 to Northwestern, another NCAA Tournament seed.

Washington’s ace is Gabbie Plain, with a 2.02 ERA and 189 strikeouts to 53 walks in 159 1/3 innings. Infielder Baylee Klingler leads the Huskies at the plate, batting .433 with 22 home runs and 65 RBIs, all best on the team.

2. TEXAS (38-17, RPI 14)

There’s no shortage of people predicting a miffed Texas team, with a higher RPI than Washington, to emerge on top in Seattle.

Texas opened the season with a 4-0 win over Clemson, who is hosting an NCAA regional, and went 3-0 against LSU, who is a tournament team. UT is also one of only two teams to beat Oklahoma this season, going 1-2 against the Sooners in Big 12 play.

The Longhorns went 0-10 in games against NCAA seeded teams Alabama, Florida State, UCLA, UCF, Oklahoma State and Arizona State.

Hailey Dolcini (19-8) is the ace for Texas, posting a 2.32 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 54 walks in 162 2/3 innings pitched over 23 starts, allowing less than one walk or hit per inning. Texas will need to decide if they want to pitch her against Weber State, which would carry an assumption she would beat WSU, and then pitch again against Washington on Saturday.

If not, Sophia Simpson (7-4, 4.00 ERA, 93 to 44 strikeout-to-walk ratio) has the next-most starts for Texas (15) and could get the call against Weber State, while Estelle Czech (10-1, 3.71 ERA, 68 to 20 strikeout-to-walk ratio) has a better win-loss record and lower ERA.

Senior infielder Janae Jefferson hits .419 with a team-high 61 runs, adding 30 RBIs. Senior catcher Mary Iakopo hits .342 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs. Five Longhorns have 30 or more RBIs.

3. WEBER STATE (38-10, RPI 48)

The third-seed in a regional is a historic selection for the Big Sky, but the Wildcats earned it with wins over Texas A&M and Fordham, both in the tournament, and splitting a series with Mountain West champion San Diego State, also in the tournament, and grabbing a win over Utah.

WSU also rampaged through the Big Sky while being threatened only twice in 17 games (a loss to Northern Colorado and a comeback rally against Idaho State). Down the stretch, Weber State has won its last eight games by a cumulative score of 75-10, including six run-rule wins and five shutouts.

Arissa Henderson (16-1) is the ace, though she has pitched fewer innings than most team’s aces due to Weber’s relative pitching depth and their recent run of shortened games. Specifically, Mariah Ramirez (11-8, 3.17 ERA, 101 2/3 innings) was the 2021 Big Sky pitcher of the year and Mandy Sink (10-1, 3.84 ERA, 62 innings) last year’s No. 2.

Henderson has a 1.88 ERA with 128 strikeouts and 45 walks over 130 innings.

Second baseman Faith Hoe (.378, 40 RBIs) and left fielder Chloe Camarero (.376, 11 homers, 40 RBIs) lead WSU at the plate.

4. LEHIGH (30-18, RPI 96)

RPI-wise, Lehigh is closest to Weber State opponents San Diego (111) and Fordham (112), teams WSU went 2-1 against.

The Patriot League tournament champions vanquished Boston U. (RPI 54) 2-1 in the regular season — first-place Boston’s only league losses — then went 2-1 against Boston in the conference tournament, including twice on the final day to claim an upset bid. The only common opponent between Lehigh and Weber State would have been Fordham, but that two-game series between Lehigh and Fordham was canceled due to weather.

Lehigh has started two pitchers nearly equally. Katelyn Young (18-6) has a 3.64 ERA with 103 strikeouts to 54 walks in 154 innings over 23 starts. Gabriella Nora (11-10) has the worse win-loss record but better ERA (2.93) and a scintillating strikeout-to-walk ratio of 110 to 15, throwing 122 innings over 22 starts.

Senior infielder Carley Barjaktarovich leads Lehigh with a .374 average and 34 runs. Power comes from senior outfielder Jaelynn Chesson, who has 14 home runs and 45 RBIs.

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