Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Grind of SEC prepares UA softball
Arkansas designated hitter Danielle Gibson bats during a game against Kentucky on Friday, March 29, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Before Danielle Gibson joined the University of Arkansas softball team this season as a transfer, she helped Arizona State reach the College World Series last year.
"I always thought the Pac-12 was up there, and there are some Pac-12 teams that are very good," said Gibson, a sophomore DH and first baseman from Murrieta, Calif. "But in the SEC, everybody's good.
At a glance
NCAA SOFTBALL STILLWATER (OKLA.) REGIONAL
WHEN Thursday through Saturday
WHERE Cowgirl Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
Arkansas (38-18) vs. Tulsa (35-18), 5 p.m. Central Thursday (ESPN3 streaming)
Oklahoma State (39-14) vs. BYU (29-24), 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS $60 for all-session and $15 for individual sessions. Tickets available online at okstate.com/tickets or by calling 877-255-4678.
• For the third consecutive year, all 13 SEC teams that have a softball team — Vanderbilt is the exception — have made the NCAA Tournament. Having 13 teams is an NCAA Tournament record. Here is a rundown of Power 5 conference softball teams in the NCAA Tournament:
Big Ten 6
Big 12 4
"It's legit. It's insane and amazing to be able to play in a conference like this."
For the third consecutive year, all 13 SEC softball teams made the NCAA Tournament.
The other four Power 5 conferences -- the Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten -- have a combined 20 teams in the NCAA Tournament's 64-team field. The Big Ten's six NCAA Tournament teams rank second behind the SEC.
"Every game we play in the SEC, you have to be at your best or you're going to get exposed," Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel said. "The other teams force us to elevate our game, and ultimately that's preparing us to be successful in the postseason."
Arkansas (38-18) will open against Tulsa (35-18) at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional.
"I'm excited to say that all 13 SEC teams made it to a regional," Razorbacks senior right fielder Katie Warrick said. "I think it gives us confidence going into the postseason because we've been thorough the grind all year."
Deifel, in her fourth at Arkansas, has experienced playing or coaching in all of the Power 5 conferences. She played in the Pac-12 as an All-American catcher at California, was a graduate assistant in the Big 12 at Oklahoma, an assistant coach in the ACC at Maryland, and then the Terrapins' head coach after they moved to the Big Ten.
"I'm really biased, obviously," Deifel said. "I love the SEC because I'm in it, but I just don't think another conference compares top to bottom when it comes to a competitive level, but also resources.
"The stadiums we play in, the [TV] exposure that we have. No one else has all that."
Arkansas went 12-12 in the SEC this season and beat seven of the eight conference teams it played at least once, including series victories over LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina and Auburn.
The only SEC team the Razorbacks played and didn't beat was Florida on the road.
"We've always had an underdog mentality," Arkansas sophomore left fielder Hannah McEwen said. "People tend to look past us and forget we're as talented as everyone else in the SEC."
The SEC set an NCAA Tournament record with 13 teams -- Vanderbilt is the only conference school that doesn't have a softball team -- in 2017 and keeps matching it.
This year, six SEC teams are among the 16 national seeds hosting regionals with No. 5 Florida, No. 8 Alabama, No. 10 LSU, No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 12 Tennessee and No. 14 Kentucky.
"Every weekend you play each other, it's like a super regional," Deifel said of the SEC regular-season series. "The level of competition in this conference is unmatched.
"No matter what happens, the other team makes you better and it elevates your game. It forces you to play your best game. It has prepared us for this weekend."
McEwen said she's not surprised the SEC keeps having all of its teams make the NCAA Tournament.
"I think our conference is incredible in comparison to others," she said. "We've faced the toughest competition all year long, so it's no different when you get to the postseason than it is in the regular season for us."
Sports on 05/15/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.