Wildcat Invitational Preview: Duels in the Desert
Arizona could host (and the namesake of) the Wildcat Invitational to kick off college softball’s first weekend in March, but the eight-time NCAA champions aren’t the focus of this preview.
These are the games between the other five teams on the field March 4-6 at Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, all of which will have their chances at the Wildcats, but also the other teams, with these games being broadcast live on FloSoftball.
There’s a lot to love about the event’s non-host teams, too. There are tournament appearances, nods to every conference, and plenty of wins between them, leaving up for grabs which school can escape the wilderness with good vibes for the rest of the regular season.
Take a look below at what to expect from the five non-Arizona teams at the Wildcat Invitational next week.
NOTE: All early launch times are shown in Mountain Time and are subject to change. All 2022 records and stats are through February 24.
2022 Wildcat Invitational
Iowa State Cyclones
2021: 34-23, loss at Columbia Regional against Northern Iowa/Missouri
2022 (so far): 8-1
The truth : A basement program for much of its history, Iowa State has been revitalized in recent years by fifth-year coach Jamie Pinkerton, who took the Cyclones to their second NCAA tournament in franchise history. school last season. The ISU could easily make two back-to-back trips in 2022, especially if senior catcher Mikayla Ramos (.500 batting average, six home runs, 18 RBIs) continues to produce at the ridiculous pace she’s been following for nine games. Ramos’ prowess at home plate was particularly significant after All-American shortstop Sami Williams – arguably the best player in program history – graduated after an ISU single-season record 21 home runs l last year. Throwing was the Cyclones’ Achilles’ heel last season as the team regrouped for a poor 5.34 ERA, but juniors Ellie Spelhaug and Karlie Charles currently hold ERAs below 2.00 while sophomore Saya Swain struck out 26 in 14 innings. If current trends continue as the schedule gets tougher (games against UCLA, Washington and Arizona await), the ISU could have a special season ahead.
vs. Boise State at 4 p.m. March 4
vs. North Dakota at 9 a.m. March 5
vs. Texas State at 11 a.m. March 5
vs. Loyola Chicago at 1 p.m. March 6
Texas State Bobcats
2021: 39-14 loss at Austin Regional against Texas/Oregon
2022 (so far): 5-3
The truth : The children are doing well in San Marcos. Two outstanding freshmen helped Texas State to its fourth NCAA Tournament in five seasons (completed seasons) last year — and both are set for even better campaigns this time around. Currently, six qualified hitters have batting averages above .333, none of which has more potential than the team’s current leader in the category, infielder Sara Vanderford. Sun Belt Freshman of the Year last season, the native Texan became the second Bobcat to hit over .400 in a season and currently leads the State of Texas in all three slant line categories (0.364 avg / 0.500 OBP / 0.727 SLG). When it comes to throwing, the Bobcats had a 2.00 ERA as a team last season and picked up ace Jessica Mullins (a first-team All-Sun Belt pick) after a stellar season of first year. The right-hander has teamed up with transfer Southern Miss Karsen Pierce (3-1, 2.85 ERA in 2022) to form a dangerous duo on the Bobcats hump, making it likely Texas State is either at the top or near the top of the Sun Belt’s best rotations. once again.
vs. Loyola Chicago at 9 a.m. March 4
vs. North Dakota at 11:15 a.m. March 4
vs. Boise State at 9 a.m. March 6
vs. Iowa State at 11 a.m. March 6
Boise State Broncos
2021: 20-25, no playoffs
2022 (so far): 9-1
The truth : The fact that the Broncos are already approaching halfway through their 2021 win is Boise State’s way of saying other programs on the schedule should take heed. And what better way to make a statement than by ripping a player off the transfer portal who was on the reigning domestic champion? Oklahoma transfer and redshirt sophomore outfielder Alycia Flores has made 18 starts as a true rookie in the shortened 2020 season on a team loaded with Sooners — now she currently looks set to be the star of the spectacle for the Broncos as the Californian has a .514/.541/.771 slash line in just 10 games, showing why one of college softball’s top programs wanted her in the first place. Pitchers Taylor Caudill (4-0, 0.62 ERA) and Hannah Bailey (3-0, 0.76 ERA) are also both amid stellar starts, with Bailey looking to follow up on his All-Mountain West selection Second Team in 2021 by having a productive last year in the circle as a fifth-year senior.
vs. North Dakota at 1:30 p.m. March 4
vs. Iowa State at 4 p.m. March 4
vs. Loyola Chicago at 1:30 p.m. March 5
vs. Texas State at 9 a.m. March 6
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
2021: 17-33, Summit League tournament loss to Omaha/South Dakota State
2022 (so far): 5-6
The truth : On-platform production couldn’t have been much worse for North Dakota in 2021, as his .211 batting average was the lowest in the Summit League and one of the bottom 10 ratings in America. But a pair of juniors — Madi Moore and Alexys Campos — are doing their best to demand pitchers stick to the Fighting Hawks formation. Players are currently batting .400 and .351 respectively, and while energy production is still an issue (North Dakota has only one home run so far), consistent contact can go a long way in restoring the fortune of the UND. It can also help the pitching staff rack up kills and gain confidence, as the Fighting Hawks have a solid unit that only allows a 2.78 ERA so far. Senior Jannay Jones leads the way with a 2.08 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 30⅓ innings, but too often the insurance runs aren’t there for her. In his four years at Grand Forks, Jones has a sub-3.00 ERA but only a 19-34 record.
vs. Texas State at 11:15 a.m. March 4
vs. Boise State at 1:30 p.m. March 4
vs. Iowa State at 9 a.m. March 5
vs. Loyola Chicago at 11:15 a.m. on March 5
Loyola Chicago Ramblers
2021: 13-29, lost at Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to Drake
2022 (so far): 2-3
The truth : There aren’t many positives for Loyola to look back on last season, but one was Madison Ebeling’s consistency last season at shortstop. The then-junior was named Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year despite playing on a bad Ramblers team, an impressive feat considering the league had three programs eclipsing the bar. 30 wins. Eberling is back for her senior season at Windy City, and she’s got offensive firepower too, she’s currently tied for the team lead at the start of 2022 with a .294 batting average. Additionally, freshman infielder Haley Wallace showed promise in a small sample, also batting .294 with a five-point RBI to start. The pitch didn’t get off to the best start as Loyola currently has a team ERA of over 5.00, but Sydney Ruggles senior was a second-team All-MVC pick and was Loyola’s leader in almost every the statistical categories on the mound for the past two seasons as a veteran presence.
vs. Texas State at 9 a.m. March 4
vs. North Dakota at 11:15 a.m. March 5
vs. Boise State at 1:30 p.m. March 5
vs. Iowa State at 1 p.m. March 6