Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Key bat returns to lineup for Auburn series
Arkansas' Danielle Gibson is met at the plate after she hit a game-winning home run to defeat Ole Miss on Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Fayetteville.
The No. 11 Arkansas softball team hits the road this week to take on No. 25 Auburn, and the Razorbacks will have one of their top hitters back in the lineup.
First baseman Danielle Gibson, who missed the last four games in concussion protocol, will be back ready for action when the Razorbacks (28-3, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) begin a three-game SEC series today 5 p.m. at Jane B. More Field in Auburn, Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said.
Gibson leads the country with 14 doubles, despite missing the those games. She’s been part of a dynamic top of the order for the Razorbacks, who sits atop the SEC standings and are off to their best start in school history.
Arkansas, which matched its highest national ranking in school history this week, ranks second in the country in home runs with 61 led by fifth-year senior Braxton Burnside. She is second in the country with 17 and ranks fourth with 39 RBIs. Burnside and Gibson are tied for fourth in the country with 90 total bases.
Redshirt sophomore Sam Torres is another player who has taken full advantage of an opportunity. She was inserted into the starting lineup when third baseman Hannah Gammill was injured a little more than three weeks ago.
Torres hit at the bottom of the order and also at the top when outfielder Hannahh McEwen, a preseason All-SEC pick, was out.
But no matter the spot, she’s been ultra productive. She’s hitting .388 in 22 games (14 starts) with a .483 on-base. But the speedy outfielder from Temecula, Calif., has been even better in SEC play, with a .429 batting average and .529 on-base percentage.
“She has made the most of that opportunity,” Deifel said. “I’m incredibly proud of her because it’s just making the most of a situation and she hasn’t relinquished it and I’m not sure she will. She’s just been a huge spark for us, been incredibly steady.
“The chances she had gotten early were in a pinch-hitting role and she made the most of those. That’s hard to do. That’s one of the toughest spots to be in. We felt like what she continued to do offensively, we needed to get her in the lineup to take on some of that offense we lost.”
Auburn (19-8, 1-5) has lost seven of its last 10 game, but eight of those games are against ranked opponents.
The Razorbacks’ high-powered offense will face a hot pitcher in freshman Shelby Lowe. She’s the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week and D1 Softball National Freshman of the Week. Lowe shut out No. 20 Missouri on Sunday and allowed one run over 14.1 innings with 17 strikeouts and no walks over the weekend against the Tigers.
Lowe is 8-2 with a 0.74 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 75.2 innings.
The Razorbacks will counter with the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week in redshirt junior Mary Haff (17-2). The right-hander from Winter Haven, Fla., leads the country in wins and innings pitched (117). She had a hand in all Arkansas victories over the weekend with two wins and a save.
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