Photo Courtesy: UA Athletics (Gunnar Rathbun)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Univ. of Ark.) - After a record-breaking 2012 season, the University of Arkansas softball team has continued its success into 2013 and hopes to gain its first ranking in the NFCA/USA Today Top 25 in school history when the poll is released on Tuesday.
Arkansas (28-16) has six wins against ranked teams this season after reaching its first NCAA-Regional final in school history last year. The Hogs currently sit at 32 in the RPI and will look to gain its first ever entrance into the Top 25 after three outstanding weekends against quality teams.
The Razorbacks swept No. 22 Georgia for the first time in school history to start the success against ranked teams. This was the first time the Razorbacks had swept a ranked team since 2000. During the sweep the team received three excellent performances from senior pitcher Chelsea Cohen. She picked up two wins on the weekend and gave up four earned runs in 16 innings pitched. Georgia came into the weekend as the SEC's No. 1 ranked team in hitting.
The team followed the sweep with a game two win versus No. 13 LSU on April 6. In the win over the Tigers, the Hogs were led by another outstanding pitching performance. This time it was sophomore Kimmy Beasley that turned in the gem. She went seven innings and allowed one earned run in the game. She also recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in the win. Beasley followed her game two performance by striking out 11 LSU batters on Sunday, however, the Razorbacks lost game three, 5-4.
Last weekend, April 12-14, Arkansas took two games from No. 8 Missouri in Columbia, Mo. The Razorbacks won game two in 11 innings, 4-1, behind another outstanding performance from Beasley in the circle. She went 11 innings and gave up one run on four hits. The Foreman, Ark. native also struck out 12 batters in the game. Missouri had the least amount of strikeouts in the SEC entering Saturday's contest. Arkansas won its second extra-innings game in as many days as they took the series in an 11-10, eight inning, thriller on Sunday. This was the first time since April 2004 that the Hogs had won back-to-back games.
Leading the way for the Razorbacks this season has been sophomore Devon Wallace. She leads the country with 59 walks in 2013. The 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year is seven walks away from breaking the single-season SEC record. She is ninth in the conference with a .402 average and leads the SEC with a .631 on base percentage. Wallace captured the game two win over No. 22 Georgia with a walk-off grand slam. She is hitting .485 in wins this season and has been the key catalyst for success.
While Wallace has been excellent, the team has also benefited from numerous breakout performances. Juniors, Chloe Oprzedek and Clarisa Navarro have hit .322 and .328, respectively. Oprzedek had a key, go-ahead, double in the game-two win at Missouri and Navarro tied game three with a solo-homerun in the top of the seventh inning. Navarro reached base in all five plate appearances in game three.
Also having a breakout season is freshman Stephanie Canfield. The Illinois all-time hits leader in high school, she is second on the team in hits this season with 44. She is 11th in the SEC with a .396 average and has also played a superb outfield this season.
Following their breakout series against No. 8 Missouri, the team now turns its attention to No. 18 Kentucky for a weekend series. Game one is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. The Razorbacks are trying to qualify for their first SEC tournament since 2010.