Last season the Razorbacks boosted their confidence with an NCAA appearance. This season they look to use the experience gained to not only make the tournament but also win a Southeastern Conference championship.
Last season, under coach Courtney Deifel’s leadership, the Hogs went to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. Arkansas did not make it past the group stage as they lost to No. 23 Tulsa, 5-4, on May 19 and No. 6 Oklahoma, 5-3, on May 20, eliminating the team from the next round.
“Going to the NCAA tournament proved to our team that all the hours of work that we put in are worth it,” junior outfielder Haydi Bugarin said. “The experience gained at the tournament will give us more confidence and poise for future season play.”
Deifel, then in her second season, was last year’s Division I coach of the year. She led the Hogs to a 31-24 record on the season while going 7-18 in conference play. This was a big improvement from her first season with the Razorbacks in which they would only win 17 games overall with only one win in conference.
This season, Deifel and the Razorbacks return four of their five starting pitchers: junior Katie Warrick, sophomore Caroline Hedgcock, redshirt junior Allison Stewart and sophomore Autumn Storms. All together, these pitchers had 85 appearances in the circle last season.
Storms has gained the most accolades. As a freshman last season, she made the All-Southeastern Conference freshman team and was the third freshman in team history to record 15 wins and was the first to do so since 2001. The righty led the pitching staff with an ERA of 2.28 and pitched in 172 innings while also tying the second highest win total for a freshman in program history.
As freshmen, Storms and Hedgcock were outstanding. They held their own in the pitcher’s circle and were not intimidated by being underclassmen. They helped boost the Razorbacks pitching staff by giving the bullpen more of a rotation.
The tandem, at the end of the season, gave Arkansas a key 4-3 win, for their NCAA tournament resume, over the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies. In this game, the lefty-righty combo kept the Aggies scoreless through six innings before they would gain their signature win. This was the first ever win by any Arkansas softball team over the Aggies.
Most underclass pitchers feel that there is a sort of pressure to do well in their first season, but there is no sense of urgency for the team, Hedgcock said.
“We have a relatively young staff but we all compliment each other so well,” Hedgcock said.
The Razorbacks will start off their 2017-2018 season going to Hammond, Louisiana, for the Lion Classic tournament Feb. 9. The Hogs will go up against Kennesaw State, Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana University.
“Our expectations this year are for a great season,” junior outfielder Carley Haizlip said. “Ultimately, we want to win a conference championship and eventually a national championship.”