SOFTBALL

Arizona Softball: Cats hit road, can't look ahead to OU

2013-05-13T00:00:00Z Arizona Softball: Cats hit road, can't look ahead to OUPatrick Finley Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

In the end, the Arizona Wildcats' most dicey NCAA tournament selection ever yielded surprises - one good, one bad.

The promising part first: The 32-24 Wildcats will travel to play a double-elimination regional at the home of No. 16-seeded Texas A&M, starting at 12:30 p.m. Friday with a game against Baylor. The host Aggies will play Penn at 3 p.m., with the winners and losers paired off over the next two days until a winner is crowned.

For a UA team whose RPI measured at No. 29 before taking two of three from Stanford last week, being paired with the No. 16 team seemed a stroke of good fortune.

A closer look at the next round, however, reveals the kicker.

No. 1 Oklahoma may await.

Again.

Were the Wildcats - who have now reached 27 consecutive NCAA softball tournaments - to advance out of Texas and into the best-of-three super regional round, they would likely play the top-seeded Sooners in a Norman, Okla., super regional.

"I would never expect that we'd be paired with Oklahoma again," senior shortstop Brigette Del Ponte said. "It's not what I was expecting at all."

To be surprised is to ignore history.

Five times since 2004, the Wildcats have played the Sooners in one of the first two playoff rounds before the eight-team Women's College World Series began.

In 2011, the Sooners swept the UA in the super regional round at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Last year, OU did it again - but at home.

The Wildcats and Sooners have played 12 postseason games, second only on the UA list to longtime rival UCLA.

"That's the way it goes," UA coach Mike Candrea said. "You beat them, and you got a good chance of doing well. You gotta beat them sometime.

"I think right now, with this team, you can't look past the first round."

In College Station, Texas, the host Aggies (39-15) will make sure the Wildcats don't.

The team was tied for No. 21 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 and had an RPI of 16 entering their final week of play, a 10-9 walk-off loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament.

Texas A&M is led by Cali Lanphear, whose .363 average, 18 homers and 53 RBIs are tops on the team. Seven Aggies have hit 10 or more home runs this season; the Wildcats, by comparison, boast two.

Mel Dumezich, the Aggies' ace, has a 2.36 ERA and 21 complete games in 32 starts.

"They're a good team," Candrea said. "They've hit a lot of home runs, they've got some power. Good pitching. They're a solid ballclub."

Friday's foe, Baylor, had an RPI of 25 and was tied for 16th in the ESPN.com poll before a 2-1, nine-inning loss Sunday at Texas.

The Bears (39-15) count pitcher Whitney Canion among the nation's best. The junior left-hander is 23-7 with a 1.62 ERA over 39 appearances. Baylor lacks Texas A&M's power, with no player hitting more than five this season.

"Baylor's going to be good, with Whitney Canion," Del Ponte said.

The Ivy League champion Penn Quakers (30-18) are the tournament's lowest seed.

The Wildcats are traveling to a higher seed for regionals for the first time since the tournament was reconfigured in 2005.

The UA fell out of both major polls for the first time ever after losing eight of nine Pac-12 games last month. The Wildcats finished by taking two of three from both Arizona State - seeded No. 5 in the tournament - and Stanford.

"I'm looking at is as, we're the team with nothing to lose," Del Ponte said.

Even if the Wildcats make it to Norman.

"Going to Oklahoma - if we win our regionals - will definitely be the topping on the cake." Del Ponte said "Once we get through it, it's going to be the best feeling ever."

Up next

• What: Arizona vs. Baylor, NCAA tournament

• When: 12:30 p.m. Friday

• Where: College Station, Texas

• TV: ESPN2

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