Teams and players of note in upcoming AAC Softball tourney
Seven softball teams will compete at the American Athletic Conference Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Thursday, but only one will call themselves this year’s AAC champion. Below is a list of players and teams to watch out for this weekend:
The University of South Florida Bulls
The Bulls enter the tournament as the No.1 seed and get the benefit of a first-round bye. USF will play the winner of the University of Houston Cougars versus University of Memphis Tigers game. The Bulls are 5-1 against the two teams with their only loss coming against the Cougars.
USF went 12-0 against Memphis, the University of Connecticut, East Carolina University and the University of Tulsa.
Although they have the best conference record, the Bulls have struggled against the University of Central Florida Knights. The Knights won this year’s season series 2-1 and outscored the Bulls 15-7. The Knights also defeated USF in the second round in last year’s tournament. If the teams met in the tournament, it would not be until the championship game.
Player to watch: Junior outfielder Juli Weber — Weber was just announced as this year’s AAC Player of the Year and has been dominating for the Bulls all season. She is in the AAC top three in 10 offensive statistical categories and leads the conference in batting average, runs, hits, doubles and total bases.
The University of Central Florida Knights
The Knights were awarded the second seed after finishing 12-4 in conference play and will face UConn in the first round. They won the only meeting between the teams this season in close fashion, with the victory coming 1-0. The other two games were canceled due to inclement weather.
The Knights won the championship last season and return 15 players from that team, including last year’s AAC Player of the Year Jessica Ujvari.
The Knights only swept one team, but they were the only team to win the season series against all AAC opponents this year.
If the Knights beat UConn in the first round, they would play the winner of Tulsa versus ECU. UCF was 5-1 against both teams, combining to outscore both opponents 25-5.
Player to watch: Senior pitcher Shelby Turnier — Turnier was announced as a unanimous selection to the AAC’s All-Conference first team this year. Turnier ranks fifth in the AAC with a 2.33 ERA and leads the AAC in innings pitched, strikeouts and games started. She also has 19 wins on the season, which is good for second in the AAC.
The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Despite finishing with the same conference record as the Cougars, Tulsa gets the nod for the No.3 seed due to their winning record against UH. Tulsa will meet ECU in the first round, whom they swept in the regular season. The Golden Hurricane ended every game against ECU in five innings and outscored them by a total of 25 runs.
If Tulsa beats ECU, they will play UCF in the second round. Last season, Tulsa lost to UCF in the championship game.
Player to watch: Junior outfielder/catcher Maddie Withee — Withee was declared a unanimous decision for the AAC All-Conference first team this season. During conference play, Withee was second on her team in RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage and home runs.
The University of Houston Cougars
The Cougars finished the season 3-0 against Memphis, which bumped UH into the fourth seed in the tournament. After a five-day break, the Cougars will face the Tigers again in the first round.
In the regular season series between the teams, UH outscored Memphis 12-5 and held them to only a run in two games.
With a win against the Tigers, in the second round UH would face USF, whom they finished 1-2 against in the regular season. The Cougars’ win against the Bulls was the lone victory over a ranked opponent this season.
The only UH pitcher to earn a win against the Bulls was freshman Savannah Heebner, who was just awarded AAC All-Conference first team honors and AAC All-Rookie team honors.
Despite their .500 record in the AAC, the Cougars are one of three teams in the conference who have won at least one game against every AAC opponent.
Player to watch: Senior outfielder Katie St. Pierre — St. Pierre was awarded an AAC All-Conference team award for the second year in a row. She won first team honors this year. St. Pierre has been a leader on the team and is ranked in the AAC top ten in batting average, on-base percentage, runs, hits and stolen bases.