Arkansas rallies past SEMO to set up Saturday NCAA Tournament clash with Arizona

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2024-05-18 00:18 AM


FAYETTEVILLE – Top seed and No.12 Arkansas rallied past upset-minded and four seed Southeast Missouri 3-2 Friday night in NCAA Softball Tournament Regional action at Bogle Park.

The Redhawks scored two runs in the second inning and kept that 2-0 lead into the fifth inning before the Razorbacks rallied with a trio of runs.

Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel was confident her team would eventually rise to the occasion.

“The game was going to come back to them, and you could feel that from them” Deifel said after the game. “You could feel that from their energy. You could feel that from just how competitively they were locked in.

“So, you know, they’ve been there. That’s what the, you know, our schedule has put them in that position in the past. And so it’s, they’ve been on the other side of that.

“And so they know how to stay the course, and they know how to stay poised. They kind of expect that from each other, but they were loose. They believed, and I’m just proud of them for finding a way when it wasn’t pretty, but you just have to be plus one.”

Arkansas (37-16) advances to play Arizona Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.

The Arkansas-Arizona winner will need just one win Sunday to advance to the Super Regionals.

The loser will have to win Saturday night in an elimination game and then win twice on Sunday to advance to the Super Regionals.

A great nugget came up during the ESPN telecast: 75% of the host teams moved on to the super regional, and 97% of those host teams that moved on won game one of the regional. 

The second-seeded Wildcats hammered Villanova 14-3 in the day’s first game, which had a 55-minute weather delay before first pitch.

Arkansas senior pitcher Morgan Leinstock got the nod to enter the circle for the Razorbacks Friday night. SEMO had faced her a couple of times earlier this season and they were able to catch up with her pitches that were up in the zone. 

Sophomore pitcher Robyn Herron (12-8) replaced Leinstock with one out in the top of the second inning, and Herron was more like Batman than Robin. 

“I mean, I really just wanted to have Morgan’s back because she’s been great for us all season long,” Herron said. “I just wanted to attack every hitter, every pitch, never take a pitch off, and just, my goal was to win. So, win every batter, win every pitch.”

The Redhawks (28-25) did their damage in the second inning against Leinstock with the small ball approach. The Razorback defense helped limit the damage on the scoreboard, which was the difference in the game. 

“Yeah, I was really happy with the way we came out, SEMO head coach Mark Redburn said. “I thought we did exactly what we talked about. We wanna (to) be aggressive and attack. We felt very comfortable in the environment. And we’ve been here this year earlier. So I thought our players did a great job.”

Arkansas finally got its chance to break open the scoring in the fifth inning. Redshirt senior designated player Rylin Hedgecock led off the inning with a double, which was big because she’s batted .220 this season. 

Two back-to-back singles by Nia Carter and first baseman Bri Ellis set the stage for freshman catcher Kennedy Miller. She showed patience and poise at the plate and drew a bases-loaded walk that plated Carter to take a 3-2 lead. 

• • • 
The parallels between 2-seed Arizona and 3-seed Villanova facing each other heading into the first game of the Fayetteville Regional felt like it was meant to be.

The game was effectively over in the first inning after Arizona posted eight runs to put this game out of reach early on. 

Arizona’s senior infielder Carlie Scupin had a day. She was a perfect 3 of 3 at the plate with two singles and a second-inning homer. Scupin drove in two runs and touched the plate twice. 

The Wildcats scored their eight runs on five hits to open the bottom half of the first inning. The onslaught featured three singles, a double, a home run and three walks.

It didn’t help giving up a lead off home run to Scupin in the second inning, extending the lead to 9-0. 

“They’re a fantastic softball team, very well coached, great offense, great bullpen, so I think it’s more, you know, strategizing and, you know, executing in those moments,” Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe said of facing Villanova.

“That’s what we have throughout the entire postseason. It is a bunch of moments, and it’s, you know, up to us to be able to be ourselves in those moments and execute.

“But yeah, all the respect in the world for them, and there aren’t any breaks in this tournament. This is a very good tournament. So I’m just excited for what tomorrow brings.”

Nova put together a little run in the top of the fourth inning, plating three runs to shrink the deficit to 9-3, but Arizona piled on five more to end it.

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2024-05-18 00:18 AM)