UCF will open with Auburn while Kennesaw State rounds the field as the 4-seed. UCF and Auburn will play on Friday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.
It is the eighth time UCF is in the NCAA Tournament but only the second time UCF has gone to Tallahassee. The Knights played in Tallahassee in 2015 regional where UCF got to the regional final before falling to No. 9 FSU.
The Knights are 39-17-1, which is the most wins for a Knights team since 2015. UCF has three wins over top-five teams, having taken down then-No. 5 Florida twice (March 24, 8-6 and April 14, 7-0) and No. 2 Arizona (March 8, 2-0).
Here are some thoughts on the Tallahassee Regional:
This Regional is Stacked!
WOW! This is a stacked regional. Think about this: We have four teams in the top 56, with FSU (8), Auburn (25), UCF (33) and Kennesaw State (56). They are all quality teams who all have wins over top-25 teams this season.
This Regional Has Four Star Head Coaches
No regional has four head coaches with the credentials that this one brings. We have three of the 23 active head coaches that have taken two different programs into the NCAA Tournament with Cindy Ball-Malone (Boise State, UCF), Lonni Alameda (UNLV, Florida State) and Mickey Dean (James Madison, Auburn, Radford). Dean is one of 3 active Head Coaches to take 3 Teams into NCAA Tournament.
We also have two Head Coaches that have won a national title with Alameda leading the Seminoles to 2018 national title, and Kennesaw State’s Trip McKay was on Oklahoma’s staff as an assistant coach during their 2013 national title.
This regional also has two of three current head coaches who have led a west coast program and east coast program into the NCAA Tournament, with Alameda and Ball-Malone (the other is Clemson’s John Rittman, who led Clemson and Stanford into the NCAA Tournament).
This regional has two head coaches in Ball-Malone and McKay who are on many people’s list of rising stars.
Alameda and Dean have both been recognized among the top head coaches in the sport, as Dean took James Madison within one win of the WCWS in 2016 and Alameda has a national title.
Florida State and UCF Have Many Things in Common
Florida State and UCF did not play this season. But that does not mean they do not know each other, as both teams have some things in common. First, both programs have history in the postseason from 2015 Tallahassee Regional when the Noles got past the Knights in the Regional Final.
Both teams oddly enough had a 0-0 tie in conference play this season, with UCF having a 0-0 tie vs. Wichita State on April 18 and Florida State having a 0-0 tie at Louisville one week later. Both were a result of a drop-dead time.
Ball-Malone and Alameda have many things in common. Alameda and Ball-Malone both were head coaches in the Mountain West, with Alameda at UNLV (2004-2008) and Ball-Malone at Boise State (2015-2018), Both left those programs to come to the Sunshine State to take over for legendary coaches at their respective schools, with Alameda coming to Tallahassee in 2009 taking over for Joanne Graff who is the all-time winngest coach in the state and has the Noles’ field named after her, while Ball-Malone came to UCF in 2018 after Renee Luers-Gillispie spent 17 seasons as head coach and built the program from scratch before leaving to become the new head coach at Iowa.
Alameda and Ball-Malone were both Assistant Coaches in the Pac-12 with Alameda being an assistant at Stanford under Jon Rittman (1996-2003) while Ball-Malone was an assistant at Washington under Heather Tarr (2011-2012).
UCF assistant coach Kendra Lynch was on Alameda’s staff in 2018 when Florida State won the national title. Also Florida State’s ace pitcher Kathryn Sandercock was coached by Ball-Malone on the U.S. Under-19 National Team in 2019 which won the gold medal.
This Regional Has Pitching Depth
This regional has three of top 45 pitching staffs in the country with Florida State (8th, 1.66 ERA), Auburn (22nd, 1.99) and UCF (45th, 2.45). Each of them have up to three pitchers they can throw out and get wins. UCF is one of two programs (UCLA) to have three pitchers on staff that have wins over Top-5 teams. Kennesaw State is led by Melanie Bennett, who won 19 games this season including wins over Auburn and UCF.
Auburn Has One of If Not Best Freshman Pitchers In Country and Talented Young Arms
The Tigers have one of the most talented arms in the circle in Shelby Lowe, who is 13-9, ranked second in the SEC with a 1.32 earned run average which is currently 2nd lowest by a Tiger pitcher in a single season history, and doing it in 158.2 innings pitched. Lowe is a top 15 finalist for the National Freshman of the Year award. Many who follow Auburn Softball believe Lowe has a chance to be one of greatest in Tiger history.
Auburn’s No. 2 pitcher, Maddie Penta, has been named SEC Freshman of the Week twice this season and has some big wins herself.
This is Not the Typical FSU Team As They Depend On Speed
The Noles have strong pitching per usual under Alameda who is one of the top pitching minds in the sport. But Florida State’s offense is different than past Noles teams. They do not have the big bats they had in 2015. This FSU team depends more on small ball and speed as Florida State only hit 39 homers in 50 games while stealing 104 bases (7th in NCAA).
Even on the pitching staff, the Noles have gone to more of a committee approach with only 10 complete games this season. They rely on depth, led by Kathryn Sandercock (22-2), Caylan Arnold (9-6, 1.66), and Danielle Watson (8-1, 2.39).
Kennesaw State is a Dangerous 4-seed.
Kennesaw State was a surprise team in the NCAA Tournament as they were one of the last four teams to get in. But the Owls, along with South Florida in Gainesville and Northwestern in Lexington, are a dangerous 4-seed that are capable of winning games. The Owls are familiar with all the teams in this regional as Kennesaw State played all three of them this season, losing twice to Florida State, losing two of three at UCF and splitting two games at Auburn.
Tripp McKay has some power bats, led by Taylor Cates who has 15 homers, which is the most by any player in this regional.
This should be one of the more exciting regionals of the entire NCAA Tournament, where you can make a case for three teams to win the regional and a 4-seed that can surprise some people. Overall, Knight fans should feel good to be back in the NCAA Tournament and the opportunity that is ahead.