UCA set to open regional

The University of Central Arkansas softball team's eight-year wait is over, and the Bears are set for NCAA regional play.

Second-seeded UCA (44-10) will face No. 3 seed Middle Tennessee (39-18) today at 3:30 p.m. Central to open the NCAA Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Regional, hosted by Alabama at Rhoades Stadium.

This is UCA's first regional appearance since 2015, when it lost to Oklahoma and Lehigh at the Norman (Okla.) Regional without scoring a run.

UCA and Middle Tennessee enter the regional as conference tournament champions, winning in similar fashion last week.

UCA fell to North Alabama on May 10 at the ASUN Tournament in Deland, Fla., before winning five games in three days, including two against North Alabama on Saturday, to clinch the school's first ASUN postseason crown.

Middle Tennessee entered the Conference USA Tournament at Ruston, La., as the No. 6 seed. The Blue Raiders lost their second game to No. 3 seed North Texas before winning four straight games, capped by a 12-inning win over North Texas, to claim the conference tournament title.

UCA went 2-1 against Conference USA teams this season, taking two games against Alabama-Birmingham in the Cowgirl Classic in February at Lake Charles, La., and losing to Louisiana Tech in the Michelle Short Classic in Conway on March 1.

The Bears enter regionals ranked third in the nation in team earned-run average. The duo of Jordan Johnson and Kayla Beaver have thrown all but one-third of an inning for the Bears this season, sporting a 1.36 team ERA that trails only Oklahoma (0.86) and Clemson (1.33).

Beaver and UCA left fielder Tremere Harris were named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Region team Thursday. Beaver was named to the second team while Harris made the third team. The duo is the first time UCA has had a player make the all-region team since current center fielder Jenna Wildeman was selected in 2021.

Middle Tennessee features a strong pitching duo as well. Kamryn Carcich (2.02 ERA) and Gretchen Mead (2.20) led the way for a team that enters with a 2.45 team ERA.

At the plate, Central Arkansas is led by Harris, Kylie Griffin and Madi Young. All three have 55 hits on the season. Griffin leads the Bears with a .340 batting average. Young and Harris aren't far behind with .333 and .331 averages, respectively. Morgan Nelson tied the program record for home runs during the ASUN Tournament with her 12th this season.

Middle Tennessee brings three hitters with averages over .300. Amaya Harris is hitting .388 this season which was the second-best mark in Conference USA. Laura Mealer was third with a .386 and Shelby Echols was 12th at .340 .. Mealer leads the Blue Raiders with 71 hits, 19 doubles, 10 home runs and 51 RBI. She also had a team-high 28 stolen bases.

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