The Lineup: Puerto Vallarta, LA serve as centerstage for opening week

Courtesy of UCLA Athletics

Introducing the Lineup. We’ll fill out a lineup card each week with 10 of the most intriguing matchups and what we’d like to see. We’ll always have a strong leadoff hitter to get us going and the heart of the order that will meet our expectations to come through when we need them most. Let’s get the 2024 Division I softball season started.

Note: The first Lineup of the year is free to all, but in the future it’ll need a membership. 

1. No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Duke

Where: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Feb. 8, 2 p.m. ET
What’s it on: FloSoftball ($)

What do we want to see: It’s opening day, and we want to see the best of the best to lead us off. When these two squared off last season, Cassidy Curd did not pitch against Oklahoma’s lineup. Hopefully, we get to see the lefty versus the Sooners.

2. No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 16 Oregon

Where: Clearwater, Fla.
When: Feb. 10, 7:00 p.m. ET
What’s it on: MLB Network/GameChanger App

What do we want to see: This matchup could loom large in May. Clemson aims to be in the mix for a Top Eight seed, while Oregon should be in consideration to host a regional. It’s an early test for the Tigers. Valerie Cagle and McKenzie Clark have the ability to step up in big moments. Who will that be for the Ducks? Does Morgan Scott or Stevie Hansen have a gem in them for this contest? Oregon has plenty of talent, so it’s all about seeing how it rises to the occasion. 

3. No. 7 Texas at No. 10 UCLA

Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Feb. 9, 9:00 p.m. ET
What’s it on: ESPN

What do we want to see: The last time the Longhorns traveled to Westwood (2020), it was an extra-inning heavyweight battle. Texas’ Miranda Elish and UCLA’s Megan Faraimo headlined the thriller. Who will Texas throw this time around? How many different arms will Mike White use? The Longhorns can turn to their whole staff against the Bruins. UCLA’s lineup is mentally prepared to forget about last season. This should be a fun strength versus strength matchup. 

4. No. 2 Tennessee at No. 11 Baylor

Where: Waco, Texas
When: Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET, Feb. 10, 3:00 p.m. ET, Feb. 11, 1:30 p.m. ET
What’s it on: ESPN+ ($)

What do we want to see: We are treated with another early-ranked series. Baylor won both games between these two last season on the road in Knoxville. The series will be decided in the circle. The Lady Vols didn’t add an arm despite losing Ashley Rogers. They return a reliable arm in Payton Gotshall. The question mark is Karlyn Pickens. What is her confidence level? If the young righty is on, she’s scary good. Consistency will be key for Pickens as we didn’t see a lot of that toward the end of last season. Meanwhile, Baylor has Dariana Orme and Aliyah Binford coming off injuries. How much will they pitch? We’ll likely see a good amount of RyLee Crandall and Kaci West, who pitched most of the regional last season, as well as freshman Lexie Warncke. 

5. No. 15 Nebraska vs. No. 22 Washington

Where: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
When: Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET
What’s it on: FloSoftball ($)

What do we want to see: Jordy Bahl vs. Ruby Meylan. Of course, it’s a matchup of two of the best arms in the country, but these former travel ball teammates are two of the best to come out of Nebraska. A lot of us also want to see Bahl hit, and hit against top-tier pitching such as Meylan. The Husky offense lost nearly 60% of its run production to graduation and the transfer portal. Testing the offense early is a familiar strategy for head coach Heather Tarr.  

6. No. 14 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 UCLA

Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Feb. 11, 4:00 p.m. ET
What’s it on: ESPN

What do we want to see: The Bruins get a second spot in the batting order.  When softball gets multiple games on ESPN during opening weekend, you have to talk about each matchup. In this one, the OSU lineup and the UCLA pitching staff are relying on new faces and new roles for returners. Which group will step up? Who will shine on the national stage the first week of the season? Maya Brady and Lexi Kilfoyl are two players we’d bet on. 

7. No. 18 Virginia Tech at No. 20 Auburn

Where: Auburn, Ala.
When: Feb.9, 2:00 p.m. ET & Feb. 10, 2:00 p.m. ET
What’s it on: Friday: No Stream/Saturday: SEC Network+

What do we want to see: It’d be fun to see a pair of flamethrowers in Emma Lemley and Maddie Penta face off against one another. Lemley is looking to have a bounce-back year, and with the new pitching rules (depending on how they are enforced), should be closer to her freshman year. Penta was phenomenal a season ago, and will face an explosive Virginia Tech lineup that can hit the long ball. 

8. Charlotte at No. 3 Florida State 

Where: Tallahassee, Fla.
When: Feb. 8, 6:00 p.m. ET & Feb. 9, 6:00 p.m
What’s it on: ACC Network+ ($)

What do we want to see: Charlotte has made headlines for numerous upsets the past couple of years. Sam Gress became the team’s ace last season and will carry that role into 2024. Testing Grass early against an experienced Florida State lineup provides a good barometer for head coach Ashley Chastain. Will Florida State’s pitching staff have enough support while they are still figuring out their roles? As for the Noles, we are interested in getting a first look at the highly touted freshman class.

9. No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 25 San Diego State

Where: San Diego, Calif.
When: Feb. 8, 8 p.m. ET
What’s it on: Mountain West Network

What do we want to see: A little Pac-12 after dark to help flip the order. This is a great opening test for Stanford’s offense. Allie Light and Dee Hernandez are quite the duo for San Diego State and we should see both throw in numerous games. The Cardinal will have to work for its runs, but it’s the opening test might help us see the potential. 

10. Cal at No. 23 Louisiana

Where: Lafayette, La.
When: Feb. 9, 2:30 p.m. ET, & Feb. 11, 12:00 p.m.
What’s it on: ESPN+

What do we want to see: Both squads lost a good amount to graduation. After making it to a Super Regional, Louisiana lost over 58% of its innings in the circle. However, Sam Landry is joined by Denali Loecker and Lexie Delbrey. On the other side, Cal will be without two of its top hitters from a year ago, Makena Smith and Kacey Zobac. With two matchups, we’ll likely see new faces pop up for each side. 

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