The previous three seasons, Georgia’s softball team was powered by a potent lineup that ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, home runs per game and slugging percentage.
The Bulldogs team that earned a No. 10 national seed for this year’s NCAA tournament is putting up fewer runs, but is winning behind a pitcher, senior Erin Arevalo, that is mowing down opponents.
“Erin is one of the most dominating pitchers Georgia’s had in a really long time,” senior shortstop Brittney Hubbard said. “Alabama, the best team in the SEC that won the conference, she kept them to one run. Having a pitcher like that, we really just have to have good defense, which we’ve had and just need to come out and support her and put up as many runs together as we can collectively.”
Arevalo is 23-7 with a career-best 1.45 ERA heading into today’s 5 p.m. Athens Regional game against Coastal Carolina (43-18) at Jack Turner Stadium. North Carolina (41-13) and Georgia Southern (42-18) play at 2:30 p.m in the double-elimination bracket.
After going 20-7 with a 2.51 ERA as a sophomore, Arevalo was used primarily in relief last season when she had a 3.28 ERA.
“It’s my last year and I just wanted to go out and give everything I’ve got,” Arevalo said.
To do that, Arevalo “worked her butt off” to deal with not being the primary starter last year. She credits first-year assistant Tara Archibald in helping locate her pitches.
“She’s matured a lot,” Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said. “I think over the years, she’s showed she has talent. She spins the ball as well as anybody in the country. She’s really done a great job of bringing in her offspeed with her location as well. Her and coach Archibald have a good connection and I think they work well together.”
Arevalo’s improvement — Harris-Champer calls it a “a phenomenal year” — comes at an opportune time.
Georgia (41-14) is scoring 5.0 runs per game, down from 6.7 last year when the Bulldogs reached the Super Regionals and from the 6.3 and 6.7 runs per game they scored when they reached the Final Four of the Women’s College World Series in 2009 and 2010.
“I try not to think about it much,” said Arevalo, who has 240 strikeouts, the third most in a single season in program history. “I just really need to focus on getting my outs, working the defense. The runs will come. If I can do my job, then they’ll do theirs.”
Arevalo certainly did her job in going the distance in a 15-inning 1-0 win at LSU on April 27, a game in which she struck out 15.
“As soon as she came in we knew, this girl had some sick movement,” Hubbard said. “Her spins were like nobody else’s we had on our pitching staff. Over the years, it’s all been mental. It’s been mental drive and change that’s just clicked with her. That’s one of the funnest things to see a teammate like that grow and just be able to be behind them and support them.”
Arevalo hails from the Northern California town of Lathrop. Her father Carlos, a supervisor at Costco, always makes the trip for the NCAA regionals, so he’ll be in Athens this weekend.
She’s already had a strong postseason.
Arevalo gave up just two runs on seven hits with one walk in 11 2/3 innings at the SEC tournament, where the Bulldogs lost 1-0 to Alabama in the semifinals.
“The way she’s pitching right now is really going to help us,” said catcher Kristyn Sandberg, who has 18 of Georgia’s 57 home runs. “We’re going to have to win 1-0 ballgames, especially against great teams. It’s going to come down to who makes a mistake. The way that she’s pitching right now — helping us stay in ballgames and just letting us work offensively until we can get a run — has really been a help in these big games that we’ve played.”