GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG softball heads to South Carolina, the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament, this weekend for NCAA Regionals and will square off against the host school to start on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Liberty and Hofstra will play beforehand. The regional tournament is double-elimination format, with the winner of the region advancing to play the winner of the Arizona State Regional.
Live stats will be available at UNCGSpartans.com, and each game of the regional will be streamed on ESPN3. Brad Muller (play-by-play) and Dr. Megan Matthews Buning (color analyst) will have the call.
The Spartans won their first-ever Southern Conference Championship with a 4-1 win over No. 6 seed ETSU last Saturday to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UNCG didn’t drop a single game in the conference tournament, winning all three games on its home field. The NCAA Regional Appearance will be the second in program history, joining the 1997 team that won the Big South Tournament.
This season the Spartans have had one of the top offenses in the SoCon. They lead the league in slugging percentage (.459), on-base percentage (.384), runs scored (320), RBIs (298), home runs (83), doubles (84), walks (193), hit by pitches (67) and sacrifice flies (15). They also rank second in sacrifice bunts (55) and hits (414), third in batting average (.280) and tied for third in triples (four). In the nation UNCG places 26th in doubles per game (1.47), 30th in scoring, 29th in home runs per game (1.02), 45th in slugging percentage and 93rd in batting average.
Marisa Sholtes, All-SoCon First Team at first base, ranks among the top batters in the conference: slugging percentage (.751), on-base percentage (.490), home runs (16), RBIs (54), doubles (16) and walks (32). She is tied for first in runs with Jasmine Palmer (49), second in hits (63), third in batting average (.373) and tied for fourth in hit by pitches (eight). In the nation she places 25th in homers, 24th in total bases (127), 36th in slugging percentage, 56th in on-base percentage and 82nd in runs per game (0.8).
First team all-conference at second base, Palmer also ranks among the top hitters in the league: first in hit by pitches (18), tied for second in sac flies (three), fourth in hits (56) and on-base percentage (.444), tied for fourth in doubles (13), sixth in walks (22), tied for seventh in RBIs (33) and ninth in batting average (.324).
Just like their offense, the Spartans’ pitching ranks among the best in the conference in several categories: first in ERA (2.00), opposing batting average (.212) and least amount of sacrifice bunts (25) and sacrifice flies (five) allowed and second in strikeouts (333), saves (four), least hit batters (15) and strikeouts looking (66). Overall in the nation UNCG ranks 22nd in ERA. The Spartans also have the top fielding percentage (.971) in the league that’s 29th in Division I.
Alicia Bazonski (first team all-conference) and Stephanie Bryden (second team) have been the best one-two combo in the circle in the league. On a team-high 37 starts and 173.2 innings pitched, Bazonski ranks in the nation 74th in ERA (1.89) that’s the ninth-best in a single-season in school history. In the SoCon she placed second in wins (20), third in ERA, fourth in strikeouts (108), tied for fifth in saves (two), sixth in lowest opposing batting average (.232) and ninth in strikeouts looking (23). She also needs just one more start to become the all-time leader in school history for appearances at 148 and tied for first in starts at 120.
In 26 appearances, 11 starts and 121.2 innings pitched, Bryden leads the league in ERA (1.50) and opposing batting average (.153) and is second in strikeouts (159) and least amount of home runs given up (six), third in wins (16) and games in relief (14), fourth in games finished (12) and seventh in strikeouts looking (27). Per seven innings, she ranks in the nation 13th in hits (3.68) and 19th in strikeouts (9.1) and places 30th in ERA and 41st in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.3). Her ERA ranks tied for fourth-best in a single year as a Spartan.
South Carolina is ranked No. 10/11 in the nation after reaching the SEC Tournament Championship game last weekend. The Gamecocks own a 45-14 record and went 15-9 in league play. South Carolina features strong defense and pitching, ranking fifth in the nation in fielding percentage (0.98), 12th in double plays per game (.0.53) and 24th in ERA (2.07). At the plate the Gamecocks are 24th in home runs per game (1.03) and 28th in slugging percentage (0.47).
Hofstra is ranked No. 24 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Poll. The Pride (40-12) earned an automatic bid by defeating James Madison, 7-4, to claim the Colonial Athletic Association title on Friday, its 12th CAA Championship since joining the league in 2002. Hofstra is 26-32 all-time in NCAA Tournament play and will make its first regional appearance since 2015. The Pride have an explosive offense, ranking in Division I seventh in home runs per game (1.31) and slugging percentage (.521), ninth in scoring (6.23 runs per game), 16th in doubles per game (1.52), and 20th in on-base percentage (.400). Hofstra is also sixth in fielding percentage (.979) and 37th in ERA (2.29).
Liberty also claimed an automatic bid by going 3-0 in the Big South Tournament and is receiving votes in the NFCA Poll. The Lady Flames (47-12) bring a program-record 17-game winning streak into the postseason, the second longest active winning streak in the nation. Liberty also possess a high-powered offense, ranking fourth in doubles per game (1.71), 11th in triples per game (0.32), 28th in batting average (.305) and 44th in slugging percentage (0.46). The Lady Flames are right behind the Pride for seventh in fielding percentage (.978) and are also 26th in ERA (2.07).
UNCG has squared off versus the three schools in the regional a combined 54 times with a heavy majority of the games coming against Liberty. The Spartans own a 32-12 advantage over the Lady Flames, and the two schools were both in the Big South Conference from 1994-1997 before UNCG left for the SoCon. They played a doubleheader each year from 2005-14, and the Spartans went 3-1 against the Lady Flames under head coach Janelle Breneman. The Pride won the only meeting against UNCG 16-0 in five innings on Feb. 11, 2011 in the Seminole Kick Off Classic.
The Spartans’ only other regional appearance in 1997 was also at South Carolina, where they fell 5-0 to the Gamecocks and bowed out with a 2-0 loss in nine innings to USF. The lone win versus the Gamecocks was a 5-2 victory on April 29, 1995 in the Virginia Classic. UNCG has dropped the only two games against South Carolina (2016: 11-3, 2014: 13-0) under Breneman.
May 18-20 | Columbia, South Carolina
Friday, May 18
Game 1: Liberty (47-12) vs. Hofstra (40-12), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)
Game 2: (9) South Carolina (45-14) vs. UNCG (46-11), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Saturday, May 19
Game 3: Liberty-Hofstra winner vs. (9) South Carolina-UNCG winner, 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Game 4: Liberty-Hofstra loser vs. (9) South Carolina-UNCG loser, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 6 p.m. (ESPN3)
Sunday, May 20
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 4 p.m. (TBD)
Game 7: Repeat Game 6 (if necessary), 6:30 p.m. (TBD)
-- UNCG –