Posted: 05/16/2012 | Last updated: May 17, 2012 at 07:09 AM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – For the seventh time in nine seasons, Lehigh has earned the Patriot League’s automatic berth into the NCAA Regional Tournament. The Mountain Hawks head to Norman, Oklahoma to open regional play against the No. 4 national seed Oklahoma Sooners, marking the sixth time in eight NCAA appearances that the Mountain Hawks will open with a Big XII opponent. Lehigh posted three shutout wins to claim the league tournament title last weekend, claiming its second straight championship and 12th overall. Lehigh and Oklahoma are joined in the regional by Tulsa and Oregon State. The winner of this double-elimination regional will face the winner of the Tucson, Arizona regional in the Super Regionals next weekend. Lehigh has never won a regional, but reached the regional finals in both 2006 and 2009.
The Mountain Hawks outscored their opponents 8-0 in the three Patriot League Tournament games, blanking Lafayette 2-0 on May 10 before shutting out Army 4-0 and 2-0 on back-to-back days. In the process Lehigh became the first team in Patriot League Tournament history to not allow a run in an entire tournament. Freshman Emily Bausher two-hit Lafayette in the opening game, while junior Becca Bliss threw a four-hitter and a two-hitter against Army on consecutive days to wrap-up the title. More than half of Lehigh’s wins this year (22) have been shutouts. Bliss is tied for the Patriot League single-season record with ten solo shutouts.
In college softball pitching generally dominates in the month of May and the Mountain Hawks feature two outstanding hurlers in Bausher and Bliss. Bausher has struck out 193 batters in 166 innings and leads the Patriot League with a 1.60 ERA, while Bliss has been red-hot over the last month. In her last ten appearances this season, Bliss is 9-0 with a save and a miniscule 0.12 ERA. She has allowed just six runs (one earned) in 59 innings during that span while striking out 34 and walking six. Bliss leads Lehigh with 19 victories and has lowered her ERA to 1.69. Bliss threw 14 scoreless innings in the Patriot League tournament, shutting out Army on back-to-back days to earn tournament MVP honors for the second straight year.
The Oklahoma Sooners are no stranger to the NCAA Regional Tournament, making their 19th regional appearance. Oklahoma has reached the NCAA tournament in all 18 seasons under head coach Patty Gasso, highlighted by a national championship season in 2000. The Sooners have won ten regional titles and have made six appearances in the Women’s College World Series, with the most recent appearance coming last year.
This season, Oklahoma (45-8) won the Big XII regular season title outright and captured the league’s automatic berth to regionals. The Sooners lead the nation in team ERA with dual threat Keilani Ricketts leading the way. The junior lefthander is 28-7 this season with a 1.10 ERA and 344 strikeouts in 223.2 innings of work. Ricketts also leads the Sooners in batting, with a .400 average to go along with 14 home runs and 37 RBI. Freshmen Georgia Casey and Lauren Chamberlain have also made significant contributions at the plate. Casey is batting .392 with 28 RBI, while Chamberlain is hitting .363 with 63 RBI and recently set the Big XII single-season record with her 25th home run.
Tulsa will make its fifth NCAA Regional appearance when the Golden Hurricane makes the short trek to Norman this weekend. All five of the Golden Hurricane’s NCAA appearances have come in the last seven years. In fact, since Tulsa’s first NCAA appearance in 2006, the Golden Hurricane and Mountain Hawks have advanced to regionals in the same five years. Of Tulsa’s five appearances, four have sent the Golden Hurricane to Norman, Oklahoma. Tulsa reached the regional finals in Norman in both 2009 and 2011.
The Hurricane has won 10-of-11 games en route to capturing the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. Tulsa went 41-12 during the regular season. Lacey Middlebrooks has been a dual threat with a 20-5 record and 1.87 ERA in the pitcher’s circle and a .321 batting average with 38 RBI at the plate. Jill Barrett leads Tulsa with a .430 batting average, while Samantha Cobb has been the top run producer with 11 home runs and 46 RBI to go along with a .350 average.
After a five-year absence, Oregon State makes its return to NCAA Regional play as the Beavers prepare to make their tenth regional appearance. Oregon State qualified for nine straight tournaments from 1999-2007, highlighted by a Women’s College World Series appearance in 2006.
Oregon State enters regional play at 34-21 overall and 9-14 in the incredibly tough Pac-12. The Beavers are enjoying one of their best offensive seasons in school history with a .275 team average and 283 runs scored in 55 games. Elizabeth Santana leads Oregon State with 61 hits and a .349 batting average. She also leads the team with 36 RBI. As a team OSU has hit 40 home runs with Dani Gilmore and Desiree Beltran leading the way with nine and seven apiece. The Beaver pitching staff features four players who have each thrown more than 50 innings this year. Marina Demore has seen the most action, compiling an 8-6 record with a 2.97 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 117.2 innings. Paige Hall leads the Beavers in wins (14) and ERA (2.62).
Lehigh is making its eighth NCAA Regional appearance overall, and its seventh in the last nine years. The Mountain Hawks are 6-14 all-time in NCAA Regional Play. Lehigh has won at least one NCAA tournament game in three of its last four NCAA Regional appearances. This weekend, Lehigh returns to the site of its first NCAA Regional appearance. The Mountain Hawks went 1-2 in Norman in 2001, defeating Seton Hall and losing to Oklahoma and North Carolina.
The Mountain Hawks will face Oklahoma in game two of the double-elimination tournament Friday at 7:30 p.m. (CDT) from the OU Softball Complex. Tulsa will face Oregon State in game one of the tournament at 5 p.m. All of Lehigh’s NCAA regional games will be broadcast online for free at Lehighsports.com, through Lehigh’s partnership with Stretch Internet. Coverage will begin 15 minutes prior to first pitch with the pregame show featuring the Fran Troyan Report.
NCAA Norman Regional (all times Central Daylight)
Friday, May 18
Game 1: Tulsa (41-12) vs. Oregon State (34-21), 5 p.m.
Game 2: No. 4 Oklahoma (45-8) vs. LEHIGH (40-17), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 19
Game 3: Winner game 1 vs. Winner game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Loser game 1 vs. Loser game 2, 3:30 p.m.
Game 5: Loser game 3 vs. Winner game 4, 6 p.m.
Sunday, May 22
Game 6: Winner game 3 vs. Winner game 5, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Winner game 6 vs. Loser game 6, 3:30 p.m. (if necessary)