By Adam Brown
Ole Miss softball takes the diamond this evening against the Villanova Wildcats in the opening game of the Tucson Regional in the NCAA Softball Tournament. The first pitch is set for 5 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
Ole Miss (34-20, 12-12) returns to Tucson for the first time since the 2019 Super Regionals against the Wildcats to start their run at a chance to play in Oklahoma City in the Women’s College World Series.
“It was nice to come out here yesterday (Wednesday) to practice in the air and on a field that is comparable,” head coach Jamie Trachsel said. “It’s postseason play and anything can happen. In order to advance your season, you’re going to be on the road at some point, and I look forward to the challenge.”
This season, at-the-plate senior Sydney Gutierrez finished the SEC slate with a .366 batting average in conference play, ranking 11th in the league. The average is the fourth-highest in a conference season for a Rebel in the last decade.
In the circle, the Ole Miss pitching staff has been giving opposing hitters fits all season long. The Rebels have tallied 16 shutouts on the season, second-most in the SEC, 11th most in the nation and just one shy of the program record set in 2017. Of the 16 shutouts, 10 have come in complete-game efforts from the starting pitcher, with Anna Borgen pacing the team with five and Savannah Diederich with three.
Villanova (36-13, 15-2) comes into the NCAA Tournament fresh off their Big East crown. The Wildcats have won 36 of their last 43 games and boast a .735 winning percentage on the season.
Villanova has a high-powered offense beginning with senior pitcher/utility Paige Rauch, who is one of the nation’s top performers, both at the plate and in the circle. She is the first person to be named BIG EAST Player of the Year and BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year in the same season. Rauch is batting .420 on the season with a team-high 60 hits and 43 RBIs while posting a 1.97 ERA through 163.2 innings pitched this season.
“We expect her best,” Trachsel said. “She is a pitcher and a player that plays her best when it matters. We know that she is hard in the zone on both sides of the plate.”
Against Rauch in the circle, the Rebels want to try and take a pitch away from her.
“We want to go up there and have quality at-bats and be aggressive,” Trachsel said. “Put pressure on their defense and not have her beat us on both sides.”
The Rebels are 2-0 all-time against Villanova on the diamond.