The number of undefeated softball teams dwindled to two after the latest week of competition.
No. 16 Indiana (17-2) traveled to the Purple & Gold Challenge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and suffered shutout losses against Stephen F. Austin and Illinois State — although it also upset No. 10 LSU. No. 3 Florida (21-2) lost twice against No. 2 UCLA in a five-game stretch when it also beat No. 20 Oregon and No. 5 Washington in Fullerton, California, at the Judi Garman Classic. UCLA (17-1) lost against Michigan at the same competition.
The defeats left No. 1 Florida State (21-0) and No. 6 Alabama (20-0) as the only remaining unbeaten teams in Division I. FSU went 4-0 against Toledo, Louisiana Tech, Dartmouth and UCF. Alabama beat Southern Miss twice, UAB, Michigan State and Saint Francis.
They are trying to do something no team has ever done — finish the season undefeated. Last year Washington won 28 games and UCLA won 25 before each team lost March 17 for the first time during the 2018 season. Here’s how the Seminoles and Crimson Tide have come this far and why they could surpass the streaks the Huskies and Bruins, who both reached the 2018 Women’s College World Series, recorded last season:
— Alabama Softball (@AlabamaSB) March 3, 2019
The Crimson Tide relied on their pitching and defense these last four games in a way they were able to, but didn’t necessarily need to, in the majority of their previous outings this season. At no point during the Easton Crimson Classic did Alabama score more than three runs and each game was decided by two runs or less. There were no shutouts.
This Alabama team, which dropped at least 10 runs on opponents in three of its first four games and has run-ruled six teams, showed its pitching staff is able to sustain quality outings game after game. Freshman ace Montana Fouts is the focal point of that success. She’s 8-0 in eight starts with eight complete games and a 0.53 ERA. Three others pitchers have pitched more than 19 innings this season and own ERAs of 2.82 or better. Alabama as a staff has a 1.59 ERA and teams are hitting just .183 against it.
— FSU Softball (@FSU_Softball) March 4, 2019
The Crimson Tide is hitting .302 this season and averages 6.6 runs per game even with the recent downturn. Freshman Skylar Wallace leads the team with a .381 batting average. Junior Bailey Hemphill is first in home runs (7) and RBIs (26). And six of the regular starters all are batting at least .310 with at least 10 runs scored and 13 hits.
It’s a balanced lineup for a balanced team that can weather a bad game from its staff in the circle, which hasn’t happened often, or lackluster performances at the plate. The SEC will prove brutal again this year. But this is a Crimson Tide team that traveled to Tucson and beat now-12th ranked Arizona, 6-1. It handled two games against now-No. 23 Minnesota. And it will always have an offense with the potential to score 16 and staff and defense that can hold an opponent to zero. Alabama has shut out its opponent in more than a third of its games this season.
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— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) March 3, 2019
The Seminoles couldn’t have asked for a better start to their campaign to repeat as national champions. First they allow just two runs in five games at the Joanne Graf Classic. Then they beat Ohio State, now-No. 4 Oklahoma, LSU, Minnesota and now-No. 7 Tennessee at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational. And from Feb. 22-24 they outscored opponents 68-4 in five games during the Unconquered Invitational.
More recent outings haven’t proven to be as electric. But not every win will be. What FSU has shown is an ability to score as many as 17 against a top 25 team and hold a top 10 team to one run.
Each of the nine batters with at least 18 starts are hitting .333 or better with at least three doubles, two home runs and 15 RBIs. Sophomore Sydney Sherrill leads the team with a .509 batting average, eight doubles and six home runs. Junior Cassidy Davis has a team-best 23 RBIs. Senior Cali Harrod paces the Seminoles with 18 stolen bases and 26 runs scored. Just twice has this team, which averages more than eight runs per game and is hitting .390, scored two runs or less.
Easton Crimson Classic All-Tournament Team 🏆@AlabamaSB: Montana Fouts (MVP), Elissa Brown, Skylar Wallace@SouthernMissSB: Sarah Van Schaik, Destini Brown @MSU_Softball: McKenna Gregory, Ebonee Echols@RedFlashSB: Tina Clark, Cheyenne McKee
— Alabama Softball (@AlabamaSB) March 3, 2019
Redshirt senior Meghan King leads the FSU pitching staff with a 10-0 record in 11 appearances and nine starts. Her 0.72 ERA in just more than 58 innings, along with the quality play of freshman Kathryn Sandercock and others, has the Seminoles’ team ERA down at 1.33. Opponents are also hitting just .202, too. And don’t forget they’re pitching in front of the ACC’s best fielding team.
Florida State lost just three games against ACC opponents last year and is close to the start of conference play. It’s no easy task replicating that sort of success and it’s even tougher to sweep it all, but it’s not easy to go 21-0, either.