In the world of college athletics, the so-called revenue sports—namely football and men’s basketball mainly—get most of the attention. But many of the other sports can be every bit as exciting. And because they aren’t in the spotlight the way that football and men’s basketball are, the other sports are often more accessible for fans to attend games in what can be intimate (and inexpensive) atmospheres.
For example, the NCAA softball tournament gets underway this weekend in eight cities across the country. There are five Pac-12 teams participating in the 64-team tournament—Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington. UCLA and Washington are by far the best softball teams in the conference, but Arizona isn’t far behind. In fact, all three teams are ranked within the top six teams nationally, with Washington and UCLA coming in at 2nd and 3rd and Arizona at 6th.
UCLA and Washington have battled all season for conference supremacy, and after the conclusion of the regular season last weekend, they ended up sharing the conference title, though UCLA swept the three-game series that the teams played earlier this year. In that sense, UCLA could be thought of as 1A to Washington’s 1B, but since both teams ended up with the same conference record, 20-4, they shared the Pac-12 title. Washington has only gotten to 20 conference wins one other time in history, so this should be viewed as a major accomplishment.
In terms of seeding, UCLA is number two overall and Washington is number three, largely because UCLA owns the season series against the Huskies, though many observers give a slight edge to Washington based upon the powerful manner in which they closed out the regular season. It’s an academic debate—at least for now—since the first 16 seeds each get to host their own regional, double elimination, four-team tournament this weekend, which will be Washington’s fourth year in a row to do so. And since both teams are on the same side of the bracket, it’s likely they will have to go through each other on their way to the Softball World Series, which is the expected outcome for both teams.
The Seattle regional tournament kicks off this Friday, with Washington playing Fordham (29-14) at 7pm, immediately following the Seattle University (39-15) versus Mississippi State (33-21) game, which gets underway at 4:30 pm. Both games will be televised on ESPN3. The Huskies are far and away the best team in this regional tournament; none of the other three are even ranked in the top 25 nationally. Anything less than coming out of the weekend victorious would be a major disappointment for Washington, who has already beaten both Seattle U and Mississippi State this season. They last played Fordham in 2011, a game that Washington won. In fact, Washington is 21-1 against these three schools. If you’re interested in attending any of the games this weekend in Seattle, it almost couldn’t be easier to do so. For $24 you can all six games (or seven, if it comes to that). Husky Softball Stadium, which has views of Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier, has a capacity of only 1500 so there’s literally not a bad seat in the house.
Some of the statistics and accolades that the Huskies have piled up this season are truly incredible. Collectively the team is batting over .300, which ranks for 40th nationally and 4th in the conference. They’re even better on the other side of the ball, with a team ERA of 1.55, which is good for 5th nationally and 2nd in conference. They’ve scored 289 runs this season and allowed only 94.
If Washington makes it out of this weekend, they move on to the super regionals next weekend. In addition to UCLA, other notable teams on Washington’s side of the bracket include Arizona and a plucky Michigan squad, who just won the Big Ten. Make it out of the super regionals and the Huskies will head to their third consecutive World Series, where they will likely will have to get through overall number one seed Oklahoma if they want to win a national championship, which they accomplished in 2009, and this team absolutely has the pieces to take it all the way.