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WCWS Preview 2018: Teams, Format, & Scouting the Field

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Husky Softball embarks on their quest for 2nd national title. When they will play, who they might face, and some keys to success.

Washington pitcher Taran Alvelo (center) delivers a pitch while teammate Sis Bates (top) looks on during a game against Alabama on May 26, 2018. UW won, 6-0.
Edward Strong

The tournament begins Thursday, with all eight teams in action. All games are on either ESPN or ESPN2. Times listed are PDT.

Schedule

Thursday, 5/31:

  • G1: #1 Oregon (52-8, 21-3 Pac-12) vs #8 Arizona State (48-11, 16-8 Pac-12) — 9 a.m., ESPN
  • G2: #4 Oklahoma (55-3, 18-0 Big 12) vs #5 Washington (49-8, 15-8 Pac-12) — 11:30 a.m., ESPN
  • G3: #2 Florida (55-9, 20-4 SEC) vs #7 Georgia (48-11, 16-8 SEC) — 4 p.m., ESPN2
  • G4: #3 UCLA (56-5, 20-4 Pac-12) vs #6 Florida State (52-11, 21-3 ACC) — 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

Friday, 6/1:

  • G5: Winner G1 vs Winner G2 — 4 p.m., ESPN
  • G6: Winner G3 vs Winner G4 — 6:30 p.m., ESPN

Saturday, 6/2:

  • G7 (elimination): Loser G1 vs Loser G2 — 9 a.m., ESPN
  • G8 (elimination): Loser G3 vs Loser G4 — 11:30 a.m., ESPN
  • G9 (elimination): Winner G7 vs Loser G6 — 4 p.m., ESPN
  • G10 (elimination): Winner G8 vs Loser G5 — 6:30 p.m., ESPN

Sunday, 6/3:

  • G11 (potential elim): Winner G5 vs Winner G9 — 10 a.m., ESPN
  • G12 (potential elim): Winner G6 vs Winner G10 — 12:30 p.m., ESPN
  • G13 (elimination, if necessary): rematch of G11 — 4 p.m., ESPN2
  • G14 (elimination, if necessary): rematch of G12 — 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

Championship Series

  • Monday, 4 p.m., ESPN
  • Tuesday, 5 p.m., ESPN
  • Wednesday, 5 p.m. ESPN (if necessary)

Format

The bracket is double elimination. Two teams will go 0-2, be eliminated by Saturday afternoon, and tie for seventh. Two more will go 1-2, be eliminated by Saturday night, and tie for fifth. Two teams will enter Sunday 2-1 (winners of G9 and G10), while the final two teams enter Sunday 2-0 (winners of G5 and G6). In each case, the 2-1 teams would need to beat their Sunday opponent twice to move on to the championship series, a fairly rare occurrence.

You can see it by looking closely at the matchups above, but one key thing to note about the bracket is that there is crossover between the sides. The 2 teams that win their first game (on Thursday) but lose their second game (on Friday night) get flipped to the other side.

In fact, last year Washington ended up being in the opposite semi-final: UW won G3 (vs Oregon) to advance to G6, which they lost to Oklahoma. The Huskies ended up facing UCLA in G9, which they won to make it to the semi-finals (G11), but against Florida instead of Oklahoma, who they were originally on the same side as.

TL;DR: the WCWS bracket does not function as two entirely separate groups of four teams each. It is theoretically possible, albeit unlikely, that teams on the same side of the initial bracket could meet up in the final, even first-round opponents.

Looking Ahead

Given that OU is the 4 seed but at least co-favorites with Oregon, if not outright favorites: the left side of the bracket (which the Huskies are on) is clearly tougher. Obviously, going 2-0 and getting to skip Saturday’s elimination games is ideal, but it’s a very tough task. What’s interesting the potential difference between 1-1 with the win first and 1-1 with the loss first.

Starting with a loss is always rough, but the way the bracket sets up, it would be brutal. UW would have to beat the loser of Oregon/ASU on Saturday morning to stay alive, then win again against the 2nd-place team from the right side (probably Florida or UCLA). Even if Washington did manage to then make it to Sunday, they would be facing the 2-0 team that started on the left, needing to get back-to-back wins — likely against either Oregon or Oklahoma, the top 2 teams in the field.

If UW can beat OU, even if the Huskies then fall on Friday night, the path seems a lot cleaner. Washington would face the 3rd-place team from the right side, which would likely be one of the two lesser teams — Florida State or Georgia. Even more importantly, if the Huskies were to advance to Sunday after starting WLW instead of LWW, they would be on the right side, with no possibility of facing Oregon/Oklahoma until the championship series. UCLA and Florida are obviously still very good teams, but don’t appear to be quite on the level of Oregon and Oklahoma.

Pair of Aces: How UW could play matchups

An interesting note if this matchup does happen at some point, whether in an elimination game on Saturday, a semifinal on Sunday, or the championship series: I would absolutely love to see Gabbie Plain pitch against Florida. When the Huskies faced Florida in the semis last year, Taran Alvelo was the clear ace for the Huskies, but matchup-wise, she’s a really bad fit against a team like the Gators.

Florida’s offense essentially runs on two things: a massive number of walks due to elite plate discipline, and some extra-base hits. Being a hard-throwing riseball pitcher, Alvelo plays right into UF’s hands. Even when she’s throwing well, Alvelo throws a number of pitches out of the strike zone that would normally get hitters to chase, but Florida is very good at making pitchers throw strikes to get them out. Plus, rise ball pitchers are clearly throwing more pitches up in the zone, a good fit for a team that has a high percentage of their hits go for extra bases; once again, the Gators fit into that category.

Plain, on the other hand, seems like a perfect counter. She’s a pure groundball pitcher, throwing at the bottom of the zone and issuing very few walks. In her 16 innings pitched in the regional against Boise State, Texas, and Minnesota, Plain allowed one fly ball. Not one fly ball hit — one fly ball. That would bode extremely well against a team that, relative to other top teams, does not hit for average very well, relying on walks and power.

Where could Alvelo be a much better matchup than Plain? The bad matchups for Gabbie are teams that make consistent contact and can run. Ground balls are good because they’re less dangerous, but with short baselines, a number of players can beat some of them out. Oregon and Georgia are probably the two teams that most lend themselves to Alvelo starting: neither team has a huge amount of pop to take advantage of the higher pitches (Oregon’s DJ Sanders and Gwen Svekis, Georgia’s Alyssa DiCarlo), but both teams love to run and play small ball — a tall task when the pitcher throws hard and high regularly like Taran does.