For the second straight season, the Arizona softball team is left stumped and sent packing to start the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 9-seeded Wildcats (41-14), instead of getting a home spot in the NCAA regionals, will be shipped to Louisville, Ky., to play Tennessee-Martin (38-22) in first-round play Friday at 1 p.m.. Host Louisville (47-9) will face Purdue (29-18) about 3 p.m. in the double-elimination tournament, with play continuing through Sunday. The games won’t be televised.
“I have no idea why we didn’t get a regional,” said coach Mike Candrea, who will lead the Wildcats to their 23rd straight NCAA Tournament. UA started 17 of those at home.
An upset loss to Oregon on the road Thursday probably sank the Cats on an otherwise delightful weekend in which they matched the 2001 school season record of 126 home runs.
Wins Friday and Saturday at Oregon State gave them a third-place finish in the Pac-10, identical to last year when they had to travel to first-round regional play at Hempstead, N.Y.
Defending national champion Arizona State, which finished behind UA in the Pac-10 with a 10-11 record and was swept in three games by the Cats, will host a regional instead.
“The kids are disappointed because ASU got a regional,” said Candrea, who has led UA to eight NCAA titles. “But the important thing is we are playing.
“In order to win (the title) you have to win on the road, so we might as well start now. We’re going to forget it and move forward.”
Stanford, which finished behind UA in league play, also will host a regional.
The Cats were ranked No. 6 in the USA TODAY/NFCA poll and No. 8 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll last week plus had a NCAA RPI rating of No. 7 before their 2-1 weekend on a loss at Oregon and a two-game sweep at Oregon State.
Louisville was No. 17 in last week’s NFCA poll and 18th in the USA Softball rankings.
“It’s not unexpected, since it happened last year,” Candrea said about not hosting. “(Still) I have no idea what the committee is thinking, to tell you the truth.”
The regional pits the winners of Games 1 and 2 in Louisville in Game 3 on Saturday, with the loser of that game playing later in Game 5, the second elimination contest.
The winner of the Louisville regional will square off against the winner of the Palo Alto regional featuring host Stanford, the No. 8 overall seed. If Arizona and Stanford win, the super regional likely would be held at Stanford.
Tennessee Martin won the school’s first Ohio Valley Conference title to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid.
The Skyhawks are led by pitcher Kara Harper, who is 20-8 and the school’s all-time winningest pitcher with 41 victories.
For host Louisville, Melissa Roth has 14 homers and is three shy of the school’s all-time season record.
Purdue, which finished in sixth in the Big Ten, defeated UCLA earlier in the season. Third baseman Lione Harluchi leads the Purdue offense with a .336 average and 24 RBIs.
• The Wildcats have won regionals on the road in Tempe (1989), Tallahassee, Fla. (1996), Minneapolis (2002) and Hempstead, N.Y. (2008). The Cats won 16 of the 17 regionals played in Tucson, losing only in 2004.
• Arizona is 20-2 in first-round games of the NCAA Tournament in 22 different appearances. The losses came in 1987 to Arizona State at Tempe, 4-3, and to ASU in Tucson in 1990, 1-0.
• Last season, UA assistant coach Larry Ray led the Wildcats to a super regional win over Oklahoma in Tucson to earn the Wildcats’ 20th appearance in the College World Series. Candrea missed the tournament while coaching the U.S. Olympic team, as he did in 2004.
• Arizona finished 13-7 in rugged Pac-10 play for third place behind champion UCLA (16-5) and Washington (14-7). A UA game at Cal was rained out May 1 and the Wildcats finished a half-game ahead of Stanford (13-8).
Game 1: UA vs. Tennessee-Martin, 1 p.m.
Game 2: Louisville vs. Purdue, about 3 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 a.m.
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, noon
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 11 a.m.
Game 7: Same teams (if necessary), 1 p.m.
SCOUTING UA’S REGIONAL FOES
Conference: Ohio Valley
Record: 38-22, 13-10 conference
Top pitchers: Kara Harper, 20-8, 1.70 ERA, 98 strikeouts; Palj Lintz, 11-7, 1.91 ERA, 100 strikeouts
Top hitters: Megan Williams, .340, 34 RBIs; Jenny Bain, .325, 14 HRs, 34 RBIs.
Did you know? This is the first NCAA softball tournament bid for the Skyhawks.
Conference: Big East
Record: 47-9, 19-5 conference
Top pitcher: Kristen Wadwell, 40-8, 1.39 ERA, 244 strikeouts
Top hitters: Melissa Roth, .431, 16 HRs, 51 RBIs; Chelsea Bemis, .382, 8 HRs, 43 RBIs.
Did you know? Louisville fell 3-0 to Notre Dame in the Big East semifinals.
Conference: Big Ten
Record: 29-18, 12-8 conference
Top pitcher: Suzie Rzegocki, 23-11, 1.40 ERA, 184 strikeouts
Top hitters: Liane Horiuchi, .348, 2 RBIs, 12 doubles; Candace Curtis, .305, 27 RBIs, 13 doubles
Did you know? Dana Alcocer, a former Canyon del Oro High and Pima Community College pitcher, has a 4-7 record with a 4.85 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 73.2 innings for Purdue.
TOP 16 SOFTBALL SEEDS
1. Florida. 2. UCLA. 3. Washington. 4. Alabama. 5. Michigan. 6. Georgia. 7. Oklahoma. 8. Stanford. 9. ARIZONA. 10. Arizona State. 11. Ohio State. 12. Northwestern. 13. Tennessee. 14. Georgia Tech. 15. DePaul. 16. Florida State