Softball Tournament Bracket Preview
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced the 2017 softball tournament bracket with Alcorn State University and Texas Southern University claiming the number one seeds after clinching the eastern and western division titles, respectfully.
The tournament format is double elimination, beginning Wednesday, May 10, at Alabama State University's Barbara Williams Softball Complex in Montgomery, Ala. The championship game is set for Saturday, May 13, at 1 p.m. with the event to be broadcast on the SWAC Digital Network
Wednesday's first-round games will be played with eastern division seeds matching up against the western division.
The eight teams are seeded in the following order:
East #1 - Alcorn State University
West #1 - Texas Southern University
East #2 - Alabama State University
West #2 - University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
East #3 - Alabama A&M University
West #3 - Prairie View A&M University
East #4 - Mississippi Valley State University
West #4 - Southern University and A&M College
First pitches of the tournament are Wednesday at 9 p.m. as the Lady Hornets face Prairie View A&M in game one. At noon, UAPB will take on Alabama A&M. The Lady Tigers will clash against the Devilettes at 3 p.m. and closing day one will be a tilt between the Lady Braves and the Jaguars.
Below are capsules for the opening-round contests. For more information, visit the 2017 SWAC Softball Tournament Central Page. The full bracket is available for viewing HERE.
East #2 Alabama State (16-31, 10-8 SWAC) vs. West #3 Prairie View A&M (19-26, 11-7 SWAC)
The opening contest of the 2017 Southwestern Athletic Conference Softball Tournament has the potential for a lot of runs, as it pits arguably the two best offenses -- from a conference-only play standpoint -- against one another. Alabama State -- paced by Kendall Core (.312 BA, 9 HR, 42 RBI), Perry Hindi (.354 BA, 46 H, 32 R, 22 RBI) and Valerie Centeno (.382, 50 H, 25 RBI) -- leads the SWAC in runs scored (137), batting average (.367), and hits (182) against conference opposition. Prairie View is second in hits and batting average, and leads the SWAC in doubles (28) and home runs (11, tied with Alabama State), as the Lady Panthers' Alyssa Garcia (.319 BA, 6 HR, 35 RBI) and Laurisa Hernandez (.352 BA, 5 HR, 27 RBI) flesh out an equally formidable lineup.
Vanessa Bradford (10-12, 4.60 ERA) and Ashley Higgins (11-14, 4.01 ERA) are the likely starters for the Lady Hornets and Lady Panthers, respectively. Two potential X-factors bear watching: Prairie View A&M is coming in on a slump, having dropped seven of its past eight games in a slide that ultimately cost the Panthers the Western Division title. Secondly, the Panthers field the best base-stealing unit in the conference (104 steals), but Alabama State has caught a league-best 25 percent of opposing base thieves this year.
West #2 Arkansas-Pine Bluff (18-22, 11-7 SWAC) vs. East #3 Alabama A&M (16-29, 9-8 SWAC)
Both Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff are coming into the tournament hot, as Alabama A&M clinched its spot with a resounding three-game sweep of Jackson State to close the season. However, no team in the SWAC has been on the kind of roll UAPB is currently in the midst of, as the Lady Lions have won nine-straight contests, including sweeps of Prairie View and Southern.
With Caitlyn Hayden (11 W, 2.70 ERA) likely to get the start, the Lady Bulldogs' ace will be tasked with putting the clamps on a stout Lady Lions lineup that ranks second in the league in batting average (.295) and third in runs scored (203), thanks in part to the efforts of SWAC batting champion Tonnay Hawkins (.432 BA, 61 H), Ta'Lyn Moody (.446 BA vs. SWAC teams) and slugger Paige Garcia (41 RBI, 38 H, .308 BA).
Alabama A&M has not hit as well as the lineup is capable of, ranking ninth in average (.263) and having the most strikeouts (211) of any team in the league, but with UAPB carrying what is, at least statistically, a middle-of-the-pack pitching staff, the opportunities may be there to get the bats going for Tiana Sanders -- who has slumped considerably in terms of her power numbers from 2016 -- Viridiana Ramos (.276 BA, 24 RBI) and Ariel Smith (.262 BA, 27 RBI).
West #1 Texas Southern (21-18, 12-6 SWAC) vs. East #4 Mississippi Valley (13-31, 8-10 SWAC)
On paper, this looks like a mismatch of sorts in favor of the Western Division champion Lady Tigers, as TSU's top-ranked fielding defense and pitching staff (2.28 ERA) will be up against a MVSU lineup that has managed to hit just .245 on the season thus far. Jasmin Fulmore (9-3 W/L, 1.80 ERA) is likely to take the circle against the Devilettes, and Fulmore has posted a sparkling 22-1 record over the course of her career against SWAC opposition. Lauren Rodriguez (8-4, 1.71 ERA) is the second half of what has been a nearly untouchable pitching duo for the Lady Tigers.
However, the Devilettes, a longtime softball power in the SWAC under Lee Smith, have played up to the competition in league play this season. While Mississippi Valley's overall conference record is below .500, the Devilettes did take two of three from perhaps the league's most improved team -- Prairie View -- as well as the No. 1 overall seed in the conference in Alcorn State. Mississippi Valley State's seeming penchant for rising to the occasion coupled with the fact that Texas Southern carries what is statistically, the least productive offense in the conference from a run-scoring perspective, allows the Devilettes more than a fighting chance, if the lineup can find ways to generate offense against what ranks as the top pitching staff in the league.
East #1 Alcorn State (16-29, 13-5 SWAC) vs. West #4 Southern (15-20, 7-10 SWAC)
The Eastern Division champion Lady Braves have looked like the most balanced team in the league all season long, and next up for Alcorn State will be a Southern unit that has struggled with consistency during the year. While Southern's overall batting average (.293) is impressive, that number drops to .238 when the Jaguars are up against conference play.
Meanwhile, Alcorn State fields a unit that has, at times, punished conference opposition, as Taylor Hughes (.491 BA, 20 RBI vs. SWAC, No. 1 in categories), Jessica Crum (22 RBI vs. SWAC, No. 1 in category), Mariah Ortiz (21 R vs. SWAC, No. 1) and Sametria Collins (20 R vs. SWAC, No. 2) power what has been one of the most consistent batting orders all season. The Jaguars field a strong batting lineup as well, as Kiara Suttles (.326 BA, 8 HR, 22 RBI), Shauna Knighten (.341, 3 HR, 21 RBI), Jazmine Dukes (.277 BA, 7 HR, 25 RBI) and Tiara Scott (.358 BA, 5 HR, 18 RBI; 3-7 W/L, 3.11 ERA) have all produced at the plate for SU.
Where this matchup becomes a bit more even is within the circle, as both sides have one of the most effective pitching corps in the SWAC against conference play. Alcorn's Robin Harrison has shined against league foes with a 5-1 record and 1.68 ERA, but Scott, Aubrion James and Ambria Dorsey each posted a ERA of 2.05 or less for the Jaguars against SWAC opponents.