The 2023 DI softball bracket has been unveiled and the postseason is upon us, and by the looks at this year's bracket, it is going to be a WILD one. There are some crazy potential matchups and rematches, question marks, potentials for upsets and more. I guess there is a word for it — storylines. We love a good storyline.
Here are the top 16 storylines to watch in the 2023 DI softball tournament — one for each regional.
1. Who can compete with the Sooners? Can they 3-peat? — Norman Regional
Oh the Oklahoma Sooners. What other storyline is there when you look at this year's tournament other than this? Who on this planet Earth can compete with the reigning back-to-back champions? We know they are not bulletproof, of course. They are in the midst of a 43-game win streak, but they did lose one game this season. The bats went cold, and Baylor was somehow, someway able to score more runs than them on that one day in February. But, the thing about postseason softball is, you have to beat them twice, and I am not sure anyone can do that. The Sooners will look to three-peat this season behind a loaded lineup and pitching staff with three candidates for USA Softball Player of the Year — Jayda Coleman, Tiare Jennings and Jordy Bahl. And those three are just the start of the kind of depth that team has. Given the Sooners make it out of their regional, they will have a date with likely Clemson or Auburn. Both are really tough teams that should make for a great matchup. But I don't think there are a lot of people that would wager OU isn't back in Oklahoma City this year.
2. Who deserved that 16th seed? — Clemson Regional
The Clemson Tigers received the 16th and final top 16 seed to host a regional in this year's tournament. This wasn't necessarily a highly debated spot by any means, but by nature of it being the final seed, there is always chatter about a few teams in the mix that COULD have been regional hosts this year. Auburn, was certainly one of them, and Baylor as well. This isn't to say Clemson didn't deserve a seed, some might even argue the Tigers should have been higher on the seed list. They are ranked higher than Auburn and the other contenders, but because they received the 16 seed, they are going to be in a tougher regional with tougher competition. And they have BOTH Auburn and a strong, ranked Cal State Fullerton team. Three great teams, all vying for a super regional spot, only to face......... Oklahoma? How can that be? Well, whoever got that 16 seed was inevitably going to face the dreaded Oklahoma Sooners. That is just a fact. Both Clemson and Auburn are great, strong teams that have a chance to compete with the Sooners. D1Softball's Tara Henry mentioned that Valerie Cagle throws a strong down ball that could cause some trouble with the Sooner lineup, and if it is Auburn instead that makes it, they are a scrappy ball club.
3. Stanford will host its first regional in 12 years — Stanford Regional
Stanford has been awarded the No. 9 overall seed in the tournament and will host its first regional in 12 years when competition gets underway. They have qualified for the postseason in four straight seasons, and made a memorable run in 2022 when they won the Tuscaloosa Regional and reached its first Super Regional since 2011. The Cardinal look to continue that good fortune this season, led by some really outstanding freshmen players. NiJaree Canady has been turning heads all season in the circle for Stanford, and for good reason. The freshman has a minuscule 0.49 ERA, a 14-1 record with 168 strikeouts through 99 innings pitched. She is a finalist for National Freshman of the Year, as well. Then offensively, River Mahler is leading the offense in her freshman campaign with a .389 average. I am very intrigued to see how they perform on the big stage. The Cardinal will host Long Beach State, Florida and LMU, a team they beat 6-1 to open the 2023 season. Stanford's pitching staff has carried a heavy load for most of the season, since the offensive lineup doesn't have a ton of power, so that will be interesting to watch out for in the postseason. I am also particularly excited to see Florida's Skylar Wallace matchup against Stanford's pitching staff, so watch out for that as well.
If the Cardinal advance, and Duke advances out of Durham, we will see a battle of some of the nation's strongest freshmen this season. That leads me to my next one.
4. Can Duke freshmen get it done in the postseason? — Durham Regional
Duke earned the No. 8 seed in the tournament after a really impressive season. And they did it while being led by a couple of freshmen... in the circle and at the plate. Jala Wright was one of the top pitchers to watch entering the season for Duke, but little did we know Cassidy Curd would be an absolute dominating force in the circle this season, as just a freshman. The freshman has a 1.57 ERA with 136 strikeouts and just one loss on the season. Most recently, she threw a no-hitter against Clemson in the ACC tournament to send the Blue Devils to the ACC title game. That's not against just anybody, that's Clemson, another national seed. Then there is D'Auna Jennings, the freshman outfielder who is leading the entire Duke lineup with a more than impressive .453 average and .482 on-base percentage. Both Curd and Jennings have been named top 25 finalists for Freshman of the Year. The big question mark, or storyline you could say, is how these freshmen, will perform on the big stage this postseason.
5. Alabama earned five-seed, all eyes on Montana Fouts injury status — Tuscaloosa Regional
The Crimson Tide received the five-seed in the tournament, and though the Committee explained during the Selection Show why, it was a surprise to a lot of the college softball world. Especially given the fact that they have 18 losses on the season and are ranked No. 11 in the USA Softball/ESPN top 25 poll. Well, it just became a storyline. Even more so though will be the status of Montana Fouts — who exited the SEC tournament game against Arkansas after landing wrong on her left leg. Her status for the NCAA tournament is still unknown, and it is a pretty big deal for the Tide. Fouts accounted for the majority of innings pitched this season, 213.1 to be exact. Not to mention, an NCAA-leading 311 strikeouts. It would be easy to argue that Fouts means more to Alabama's success than any other individual player in the nation.
IF Montana Fouts is healthy, Alabama does have a pretty good path to the WCWS. The toughest team in their regional is Central Arkansas, a 44-10 team this season that has beaten multiple top-25 opponents, including Arkansas twice and Utah. IF they can get through them, they would potentially have a date with Northwestern in the supers. D1softball's Tara Henry mentioned in our bracket breakdown that IF that is the case, and IF Fouts is healthy in the circle, she likes Bama's odds. A lot of question marks to be played out before we get to that point, though.
2023 SOFTBALL BRACKET — View the interactive bracket
6. Northwestern sole Big Ten team hosting — Evanston Regional
The Northwestern Wildcats are the sole top-16 seed representing the Big Ten. Last season, they made it to the Women's College World Series before losing two straight in OKC to No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 UCLA. Danielle Williams returned for her fifth season at Northwestern this year with hopes of making it back, and the Wildcats managed a top-16 seed yet again.
7. Can Texas make it back to WCWS final as underdogs again?
The Texas Longhorns finished last season as runner-ups at the WCWS. And they made it all the way there as an UNSEEDED team. They took down No. 11 Washington in the regionals before upsetting No.4 Arkansas in the supers. They then beat UCLA, Arizona and Oklahoma State twice in the WCWS before getting swept by Oklahoma in the championship series. They clearly didn't mind the fact that they were underdogs when they were taking down the top teams in the country at the WCWS. Now this year, I wouldn't necessarily say a seeded team is an "underdog" by literally any means. They were given the No. 13 seed and will host in the regional round. However, this team is No. 8 in the USA Softball/ESPN rankings and they did not look happy at the Selection Show on Sunday night. But, whether or not they feel slighted or not, they will look to make it back to the WCWS again.
8. Can Tennessee's historic season continue?
The Tennessee Volunteers won both the regular-season and SEC tournament championship for the first time in program history. They now enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed with a very strong chance of making it to the WCWS. If we rewind allllll the way back to the beginning of the 2023 season — I asked Tara Henry for a team she thinks could make a run to the WCWS. Her answer was Georgia and Tennessee. "I think the addition of Payton Gottshall in the circle with them and a healthy Ashley Rogers..." Henry said. "I think they have a good shot at it."
Well, now they have that shot. The Vols have Louisville, Indiana and Northern Kentucky in the regionals. And if the regional host advances out of the Austin Regional, they will face No. 13 Texas in the supers.
9. Florida State faces a tough regional and super regional path to the WCWS, looks to make a run after getting upset last season in the regionals — Tallahassee Regional
The Florida State Seminoles have the No. 3 seed in the tournament this year. But boy were they dealt some tough cards. The Noles have BOTH a hot South Carolina team and UCF in the regionals, and then the potential to match up against a high-powered No. 14 Georgia offense in the supers. There has been a lot of chatter about how difficult Utah's regional is, which I will get to later, but Henry picked Tallahassee as the toughest regional in our bracket breakdown. The Gamecocks are hot right now, and Donnie Gobourne is rolling for them in the circle. They have 20 losses on the season, yes. And that is why they are in FSU's regional, but they just upset both Georgia and Auburn in the SEC tournament to advance to the SEC championship game, before losing by just two runs to Tennessee. In a two-week span this season, on April 29, Gobourne threw a no-hitter against No. 17 Auburn, tossed a one-hitter against No. 11 Florida on April 2, where she struck out a season-high 15 batters and picked up a two-hit shutout over No. 23 Texas A&M on April 16. She pitched three shutout innings in the win over Auburn in the SEC tournament with six strikeouts, too.
Then there is UCF, a team that hosted a regional last year. Jada Cody was a first-team All-American by D1softball last season, and didn't put up the same caliber numbers this season, but who knows who can get hot in the postseason? She surely has the potential to as we have seen in the past.
Then like I mentioned, there is the possibility that if they get past the regional, they meet a high-powered offense in Georgia. The Seminoles have a tough road, but they are a battle-tested club, to say the least. Henry said if anyone can compete with the Oklahoma Sooners for the title, it's the Noles. They now look to make it back to the WCWS after getting upset in the regionals last season.
10. Georgia looks to regain momentum in NCAA tournament — Athens Regional
The Georgia Bulldogs just lost three in a row to end the season, including getting upset by South Carolina in the SEC tournament. For what is normally a high-powered offense, the Bulldogs only scored three runs in the last three outings. The offense ran cold at the wrong time of the season and now must return to its former glory to make it out of the Athens regional. The typically high-powered offense is highlighted by the trio of Jayda Kearney, Sara Mosely and Sydney Kuma who account for 45 of Georgia's 81 homers this season. Those bats will now likely have to face one of the best strikeout pitchers in the nation in Virginia Tech's Emma Lemley. Lemley has the third most in the NCAA with 268 Ks for the Hokies. Watch out for this Virginia Tech team, they have shown some strong moments this season despite the 18 losses.
11. Arkansas looks to make it to the WCWS for first time in history — Fayetteville Regional
I said it at the very beginning of the regular season, could it be the year the Razorbacks make it to the WCWS for the first time in history? This team has been on the rise for the past few seasons — They set a program single-season record 48 wins in 2022, won the first SEC tournament title in program history, and hosted a Super Regional for the second straight year before losing to WCWS runner-up Texas. This year, they are the No. 11 seed in the tournament and will look to do what they have never done before. But, Oregon might have something to say about that. The Razorbacks will host the Ducks, Notre Dame and Harvard in Fayetteville. I expect the Ducks to be a TOUGH matchup, this team has some big wins this season as well as a strong strength of schedule under their belts in the Pac-12. Excited to see who comes out on top in Fayetteville.
12. Can Wichita State upset Oklahoma State for the third time this season? — Stillwater Regional
Oh, how we love to see rematches in the postseason, and we sure have a good one on our hands in Stillwater. Wichita State played Oklahoma State twice during the regular season, and won both games by just ONE run. The first was an 8-7 victory on April 4, which marked the program's highest ranked win in school history. In the second win, Sami Hood hit the go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the eighth inning with two outs and Alex Aguilar held the OSU offense to just one run on eight hits. Oklahoma State was given the No. 6 seed in the tournament and will host a regional despite showing some holes lately. They lost 11 of the last 13 matchups, including getting upset right out of the gates of the Big 12 tournament by Kansas. Now they will have to face the Shockers again, who are led by Sydney McKinney, a top-10 finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year. Let's see who comes out on top of the third rematch.
13. Washington looks for redemption after getting knocked out in regional play last season — Seattle Regional
The Washington Huskies are looking for some redemption in 2023. Last year, the Huskies were the No. 13 seed in the tournament, but were eliminated early on by the unseeded Texas Longhorns, who went on to make the WCWS and championship series. The loss ended the career of Washington great, Gabbie Plain. But this season, they did return the 2022 Pac-12 Player of the Year, Baylee Klingler, for her fifth and final season. And she will look for redemption in this year's tournament. The power hitter is averaging over .400 this year with 11 homers and a 1.205 OPS. Ruby Meylan has been another impressive freshman this year, and she leads the way in the circle for the Huskies with a 2.11 ERA and 178 strikeouts through 152.1 innings pitched. With the No. 13 seed, the Huskies will host Minnesota, McNeese and Northern Colorado. If both national seeds advance, they will face No. 10 LSU in the supers. Let's see if the Huskies can make it back to the WCWS.
14. LSU back in as a regional host after one year off — Baton Rouge Regional
LSU will host an NCAA Tournament Regional for the seventh time over the last eight years, excluding 2020 which had no tournament. Last season was the first time they had not hosted in eight years. Now, they are a top 16 seed yet again as the No. 10 overall seed, and will welcome the Sun Belt Conference Champions and the all-too-familiar in-state foes in Louisiana. The two teams have faced twice already this season, and split the series. The Ragin' Cajuns took the first game by a narrow score of 5-4, and LSU won the second meeting 4-1. That alone should make for a very interesting regional matchup
15. Utah, Baylor and Ole Miss will battle to advance out of regionals — Salt Lake City
The Salt Lake City Regional is loaded with tough competitors. I mean this regional is a toss-up. Utah will host, after upsetting UCLA for the Pac-12 championship. Baylor was placed here, as the one team that beat Oklahoma this season and a team that COULD have been a regional host. And then there is Ole Miss, an SEC battle-tested team. IF the host makes it out of both this regional, and the UCLA regional, we are looking at a Pac-12 championship game rematch. Utah and UCLA played three times during the regular season and UCLA won all three.
16. UCLA regional is an alumni affair — Los Angeles Regional
The Los Angeles regional will be a homecoming for multiple former UCLA players — Stacey Nuveman, now the head coach of San Diego State, AND Dot Richardson, the head coach at Liberty. Both are some of the greatest UCLA softball players to ever do it, and now will be coaching the teams facing their alma mater. That is quite the storyline.