ARK NCAA softball tourney preview

Senior Aly Manzo high-fives sophomore Larissa Cesena. The sixth-ranked Razorbacks will host a regional, beginning Friday at noon against the Manhattan Jaspers.

The No. 6 Arkansas softball team is set to host an NCAA Regional for the second time in program history, following the first in 2018. The Hogs, who earned a share of their first Southeastern Conference regular-season title with the No. 4 Florida Gators, finished the year 40-9 with an SEC record of 19-5.

The Hogs will face the Manhattan Jaspers in the first game of the regional. The other teams in the Fayetteville Regional are the Stanford Cardinal and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Razorbacks are 1-0 all-time against the Jaspers, run-ruling them 9-1 in six innings during the 2018 season. Arkansas is 1-0 against South Dakota State and 0-2 against Stanford.

Junior first baseman Danielle Gibson, a second-team all-SEC selection, said the opportunity to stay at home for the postseason is an advantage for the Razorbacks.

“To be home, sleep in your own bed and have your family here in the stands, it’s a heartwarming feeling,” Gibson said Monday in a Zoom press conference. “To play freely almost. I think this team plays just as well on the road, so I wasn’t really worried if we weren’t gonna be called in the top eight [seeds]. But I’m really excited to stay at home.”

The Razorbacks make their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. They were the No. 13 seed and went undefeated during the Fayetteville Regional in 2018, before getting swept in the Norman Super Regional by the Oklahoma Sooners.

All-SEC shortstop Braxton Burnside is expected to start this weekend after missing the SEC Tournament game against Tennessee with an unspecified injury. Burnside finished second in the country with 24 home runs on the season.

Arkansas lost 1-0 in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals to Tennessee last Thursday, but Deifel said the team is focusing on this week’s task at Sunday’s practice.

“There was a great energy about them,” Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel said. “This is a really great vibe. Everything that they kind of brought to the table today was ‘we’re not looking back, we’re looking forward.’ We took that a couple of different ways. One, not looking back to the SEC Tournament. Although, there’s some lessons learned there.”

The Jaspers came into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament as the No. 6 seed but won five of six games to claim the title and earn their second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, their first since 1999. The MAAC champions are 6-52 all-time in the tournament and have lost 23 games in a row.

South Dakota State is coming off a Summit League Tournament championship, finishing the year at 42-6. Stanford completed the year at 31-20 and took two of four from the No. 16 Washington Huskies in their last outing.

“South Dakota State came in here either last year or the year before, and they’ve done an incredible job of continuing to get stronger every year,” Deifel said. “They are playing really great right now. And Stanford’s hot.”

Attendance will be at 100% capacity for all postseason games, Razorback representatives said in a tweet Wednesday. Individuals who have been vaccinated do not need to wear masks, while those who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to wear masks.

The Razorbacks take on the Jaspers at noon Friday in Bogle Park and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network. The Cardinal and the Jackrabbits will face off at 2:30 p.m. and the contest will be broadcast on ESPN3.

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