Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Two schools are responsible for the last five softball national titles, but the 2018 NCAA Division I Softball Championship remains wide open following the release of the 64-team bracket Sunday.
Although Oklahoma and Florida remain top contenders after combining to win the last five championships, they will have to navigate a tough field to once again raise the trophy in Oklahoma City. With the double-elimination format in each round allowing as many as four losses for an eventual champion, fans should be in for a wild ride over the next month.
Here is a breakdown of the upcoming tournament led by top overall seed Oregon.
Full bracket available at NCAA.com.
NCAA Softball @NCAAsoftball
The 64-team field is set for the 2018 #NCAASoftball Championship! THE BRACKET: https://t.co/fuWMLNJ0v5 https://t.co/xMf9XhGiqe
Regionals: May 17-20
Super Regionals: May 24-27
College World Series: May 31-June 5/6
No. 1 Oregon vs. Albany (Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET)
Drake vs. BYU (Thursday at 6 p.m. ET)
No. 16 Kentucky vs. Illinois-Chicago (Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET)
Michigan vs. Notre Dame (Friday at 12 p.m. ET)
No. 9 South Carolina vs. UNCG (Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET)
Hofstra vs. Liberty (Friday at 5 p.m. ET)
No. 8 Arizona State vs. New Mexico State (Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET)
Ole Miss vs. Long Beach State (Friday at 7 p.m. ET)
No. 5 Washington vs. Boise State (Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET)
Minnesota vs. Texas (Friday at 9 p.m. ET)
No. 12 Alabama vs. Middle Tennessee (Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET)
Oregon State vs. Wisconsin (Friday at 7 p.m. ET)
No. 13 Arkansas vs. DePaul (Friday at 5 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma State vs. Wichita State (Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET)
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. Boston University (Friday at 7 p.m. ET)
Missouri vs. Tulsa (Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET)
Los Angeles Regional
No. 3 UCLA vs. Sacramento State (Friday at 11 p.m. ET)
Texas State vs. CSU Fullerton (Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET)
No. 14 Arizona vs. St. Francis PA (Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET)
Mississippi State vs. North Dakota State (Friday at 9 p.m. ET)
Baton Rouge Regional
No. 11 LSU vs. Fordham (Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET)
Louisiana vs. Houston (Friday at 4 p.m. ET)
No. 6 Florida State vs. Jacksonville State (Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET)
Auburn vs. Kennesaw State (Friday at 12 p.m. ET)
No. 7 Georgia vs. Harvard (Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET)
California vs. Northwestern (Friday at 12 p.m. ET)
No. 10 Tennessee vs. Monmouth (Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET)
James Madison vs. Ohio (Friday at 3 p.m. ET)
College Station Regional
No. 15 Texas A&M vs. Prairie View (Friday at 7 p.m. ET)
Baylor vs. McNeese (Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET)
No. 2 Florida vs. Bethune-Cookman (Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET)
Ohio State vs. South Florida (Friday at 5 p.m. ET)
No team in the country has been more consistent this season than UCLA.
The Bruins ended the year with a 50-4 record, winning the first 25 games of the year and hardly slowing down as the season progressed. Perhaps most impressively, the team went 29-2 away from home in road and neutral games, a good indication it will be able to continue this level of success in the NCAA tournament.
The squad is led by Rachel Garcia, who was the Pac-12 Player of the Year after an incredible season as both a hitter and a pitcher.
Garcia hit .355 with nine home runs, but was even better on the mound with a 21-2 record as a pitcher, featuring a 1.08 ERA. Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the SoCal News Group also noted her ability to step up in the clutch:
Thuc Nhi Nguyen @thucnhi21
Teammates say Rachel Garcia is at her best in the biggest moments. She delivered today with an absolute gem against No. 1 Washington as #UCLA takes the series opener against the Huskies. https://t.co/g9JHShkQhk
The NCAA tournament needs great players to be at their best, and Garcia should be ready to come through when it matters.
Add in Aaliyah Jordan and Holly Azevedo, among others, and UCLA will be a tough team to beat.
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Although UCLA had a better record overall this season, Oregon showed it can succeed against elite teams.
The Ducks won two out of three against the Bruins at home, swept three games against Washington on the road and earned a 5-0 win over Oklahoma in a nonconference game. This effort against top opponents helped them finish with the No. 1 RPI in the country, per NCAA.com.
Of course, the squad also won the Pac-12 this season, which was arguably the toughest conference in the country.
The key is the team’s depth, featuring seven starters hitting .300 or better. The squad is batting .322 as a team this year.
On the mound, both Megan Kleist and Miranda Elish can act like an ace after each finished the year with 20 wins. Kleist struck out 200 on the year, while Elish came just short with 196.
Oregon might have a bigger risk of an early stumble than the other top contenders, but this is also a team that can go all the way.
Head coach Patty Gasso has led Oklahoma to two straight national championships and three in the last five years, but the team is still looking for more.
While the Pac-12 and SEC were extremely competitive this season, it was all Oklahoma in the Big 12, as the squad went 18-0 in conference while winning the Big 12 tournament.
This was also seen in awards season, with the Sooners adding a lot of trophies to their shelves:
Oklahoma Softball @OU_Softball
#Sooners dominate Big 12 end-of-year awards. 🏆 Pitcher of the Year – @paigeparker008 🏆 Defensive Player of the Year – @kelsarnold12 🏆 Freshman of the Year – @78jocelyn_alo 🏆 Coach of the Year – @GassoPatty 📝 https://t.co/T5SPYSffIM #ChampionshipMindset https://t.co/kG8kMOw4Dz
Paige Parker’s Pitcher of the Year award was the fourth of her career, an obvious choice for voters after her 0.51 ERA during the season. With freshman Jocelyn Alo ranking second in the country with 23 home runs, there is no questioning the talent on this roster.
The fact Oklahoma has only one loss since the start of March should also instill fear in its opponents.
The only reason for doubt is the lack of top competition in recent weeks, but this experienced group will be ready to play this weekend.
Note: All statistics courtesy of team sites.