How Californians have fueled Arkansas' historic softball season

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, May 14, 2018
Arkansas Hannah McEwen celebrates after scoring a run Friday, March 30, 2018, during the fourth inning against Mississippi State at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas Hannah McEwen celebrates after scoring a run Friday, March 30, 2018, during the fourth inning against Mississippi State at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas softball coach Courtney Deifel believes one of the more unique aspects of her team’s roster is that nine states are represented on it.

The Razorbacks feature five players apiece from Arkansas and California, four from Texas, three from Illinois, two from Tennessee and Florida, and one each from Missouri, Colorado and Kansas.

But this season - one in which Arkansas was chosen to host a regional for the first time in its 22-year history - its talent from California has been golden, led by SEC All-Freshman team and All-SEC second team selection Hannah McEwen, and 12-game winning pitcher Autumn Storms.

“They're huge for us,” said Deifel, a native Californian who was an All-American catcher on four Women's College World Series teams at Cal. “There's strength across the country. California is obviously still considered a hotbed, but we have some studs from all across the country. I think that's probably the coolest thing.”

McEwen, a two-time SEC Freshman of the Week honoree and Arkansas’ first outfield All-SEC selection since 2010, enters postseason play in possession of the single-season program record for runs batted in in a season (53). Sandra Smith previously held the record of 50 since 2010.

Deifel expected McEwen to have the season she’s had, adding she knew the freshman owned “special talent.”

“We saw it early in her. By the time she committed, she only got better,” Deifel said. “And she just is such a smart hitter. She's such a consistent player. So, yeah, we absolutely knew she had this in her.”

Freshman pitcher Mary Haff, who has won 26 games this season and holds a 1.48 ERA, says McEwen has every quality a team could want in a leader. Those traits are invaluable, especially for an underclassman.

“I didn’t really know her coming in, but I’ve seen her in the fall and her swing is awesome and amazing,” Haff said of McEwen, who also leads Arkansas with 11 home runs and .345 average. “I’m not surprised. I like how she’s playing and I’m not surprised that she’s been doing so well because she’s been an awesome and amazing player.”

Storms, a Temecula, Calif., native, is 12-9 with a 2.37 ERA in 34 appearances. Storms tossed a no-hitter March 3 in a 7-0 win over Central Connecticut State one night removed from Haff’s no-hitter against Northern Colorado.

Senior third baseman Autumn Buczek said Storms’ competitive nature in the circle is unmatched.

“You see her hair flip and the confidence she has,” she said. “Playing behind (Haff and Storms) is great, and it’s easy to have confidence in your team.”

Another Californian has caught Haff and Storms all season and done so efficiently and largely mistake free. Freshman Kayla Green has committed only four errors in 396 chances this season, placing her fielding percentage at .990 in 53 games played, and she has thrown out 61 percent of would-be base stealers.

On top of being Haff’s roommate and arguably her best friend on the team, she’s steady, Deifel said, and her personality works well with Arkansas’ pitching staff.

“She’s just done a really great job for us back behind the plate,” Deifel said. “It’s a tough role that you have as a catcher and it’s an even tougher role as a freshman to take on and the grind of the season. She’s just been really steady and I think that’s the biggest thing you need from a catcher, to be steady and be selfless.

“That’s exactly what Kayla is.”

Ashley Diaz, the elder of Arkansas’ California players, is putting together a solid junior season. Diaz holds a .311 average to go with six home runs, and her 28 RBI are good for second on the team. Aly Monzo, a sophomore, is hitting .273 in 28 games played — 15 starts — this season.

So what is it about the California players that makes them stand out?

“They brought a competitive edge,” Buczek said. “They come from these huge California teams that played against the big recruits. So them coming in with that competitive edge has helped our whole program.

“They brought confidence to our team.”

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