College: Stellar Pitching rules the roost on the opening day of the playoffs

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Emily Kirby was a star in Liberty’s first-round win over Georgia. (Photo: Liberty Athletics)

Friday was pitcher day. Sure, there were some quality offensive outbursts along the way (looking at you, McNeese), but there were some truly terrific performances in the circle that headlined the day’s action.

Liberty Pitcher Emily Kirby was one of the first to stand out on the day – tasked with controlling a powerful Georgia roster, Kirby dominated the Dawgs, collecting 13 strikeouts and allowing just three hits en route to a dominating victory. Streamer Brittany McKinney called Kirby “surgical” in the circle, referring to her ability to pinpoint locations and place them exactly where she wanted them.

Kirby was the day’s headliner, but by far not the only star in the day’s circle; by Clemson Millie Thompson decided to kick off his team’s first-ever hosting stint off to a flying start, throwing a hit over UNC Wilmington to open things up at McWhorter Stadium. Thompson didn’t give up a hit, run or walk — UNCW’s only two base runners both came out hit by pitches. She struck out four, and she didn’t know it, she was just the opening act of a no-hitter night on the opening day of Regionals.

Virginia Tech’s Keely Rochardstate of florida Danielle Watson, and a pair of Oklahoma pitchers all joined that party—Rochard topped Saint Francis, with seventeen strikeouts under his belt. Watson took care of Howard in a run-rule victory, while Nicole May and Hope Trautwein combined to keep Prairie View A&M off the base paths.

The no-hitters weren’t the only impressive accomplishments in the circle on Friday.

Arkansas’ Mary Haf set a new program record for shutouts by eliminating Princeton; it was the 27th time in his career that the Hogs super-senior did not allow a point in a game. South Florida Star Georgina Corrick hit the incredible plateau of 1,300 strikeouts, yet another incredible number to add to his growing legend in his time.

Two performances that went unnoticed in the middle of a busy day – Stanford v Murray State was a veritable pitching duel between Alana Vawter and Murray State’s dueling ace combo Hannah James and Jenna Veber. A final score of 3-1 ultimately worked in favor of Stanford, but the strength of both teams in the circle really shone through for much of the game.

In Knoxville, Oregon State and Ohio State played a close game but Sarah HaendigesRound 7 performance raised eyebrows, then dropped jaws. Going into the game in relief to try and complete a win, Haendiges allowed two singles and a walk to charge the bases with no outs; Streamer Danielle Lawrie speculated that the Beavers should reinstate starting pitcher Mariah Mazon, but they stuck with Haendiges and gave her a chance to get out of her own mess.

Oh boy, did she ever get away with it. With zero margin for error, Haendiges forced a pop-up, then recorded strikeouts on the Buckeyes’ top two hitters to seal the win and leave all three runners on base. The rookie’s confidence was impressive and her team’s confidence in her paid off.

*****

Pitching wasn’t the only place teams shone on Friday – these McNeese Cowgirls have a case as the stars of Regionals, Day 1 after putting ten (10!) runs on Notre Dame… in the top of the first inning.

McNeese, the Southland Conference champions, sent fourteen batters to the plate, forced the Fighting Irish to make a six-batter pitching change in the game and took over thirty minutes of real time to end the inning. Jill Poulard had three hits and reached base four times to lead the Cowgirl offense in what was ultimately an 11-1 win.

Elsewhere: Kentucky redeemed a regular-season loss to Miami by absolutely dominating the Redhawks on Friday, posting 15 points and limiting Miami’s usually potent offense to just one point. Loyola Marymount scored four runs in the first inning against Ole Miss and that was all it took, as the Lions opened their first NCAA Tournament in over a decade with a quality win.

If you had told the LSU head coach Beth Torin that his team would score five runs against the San Diego State pitcher Maggie Balint, Torina said she would have been “delighted.” Unfortunately, five wasn’t enough on Friday night – the Aztecs scored ten points alone, hitting first Ali Kilponen and then Shelbi Sunseri en route to victory.

The most unexpected – or perhaps just the most surprising – development of the day was Arizona’s dominating victory over Illinois in the Columbia region. The Cats offense hit a quartet of home runs and Hanah Bowen threw a quality game in the circle, going the distance and recording the victory. Bowen has suffered from multiple ailments this year and has been “out of her game” at times, but she was very ON her game on Friday.

*****

Regionals conference records, Day 1 (multiple bid leagues only):

DRY – 8-4

IPC-12 – 7-0

CCA – 5-1

Big 10 – 3-4

Big 12 – 3-0

American – 2-1

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