May 6, 2013 11:46 AM by Sun Belt Sports
NEW ORLEANS - Western Kentucky University earned its first-ever Sun Belt Conference Softball Championship by winning the 2013 regular season and enters the SBC Championship as the tournament's top-seed, the league office announced Sunday.
WKU (38-14, 20-3 SBC) swept five conference opponents en route to setting the program's single-season record for most wins in a season. It enters the championship having won 13 consecutive league games, with eight of those coming on the road.
The Lady Toppers took two out of three from both 18th-ranked South Alabama and 21st-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette to ultimately claim the top position. WKU also picked up a marquee 1-0 win this season over No. 11 Missouri on April 24.
WKU will square off against eighth-seeded Louisiana-Monroe (19-33, 3-20 SBC) in the first round of the SBC Championship at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The Lady Toppers swept the three-game regular season meeting on April 13-14.
The Warhawks picked up a pair of SBC victories over Middle Tennessee and another against Troy this season. They are led by Alexis Cacioppo who posted team best marks of .383 batting average, .547 on-base percentage, .596 slugging percentage, 18 hits and nine RBI in conference play.
Defending SBC tournament champions and second-seeded South Alabama (41-7, 17-3 SBC) seeks its second consecutive tournament title as it opens with seventh-seeded Troy (20-30, 7-14 SBC) in the first round at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Jaguars are the highest ranked SBC squad in both national polls (18/18) and the NCAA RPI (15). They are led by reigning SBC Most Outstanding Player Hannah Campbell who ranks second in the nation with a 0.94 ERA. At the plate, Brittany Fowler led the league with a .518 batting average in league play.
USA enters the tournament on a 12-game winning streak, including 11 in conference games. Its biggest non-conference win this season came on March 27 when it tallied a 12-5 victory over No. 13 LSU.
The Jaguars and Trojans only met once in the regular season as USA came out on top, 9-0 on April 24. The remaining two games were washed out by rain.
Troy has already knocked off one ranked team this season as it upended No. 25 Florida State, 4-0 on April 10. Kacie McAllister leads the team with a .350 batting average against SBC opponents.
Red-hot Louisiana-Lafayette (40-11, 19-4 SBC) enters the tournament on a 22-game winning streak, including 18 in league action. The third-seeded Ragin' Cajuns will take on sixth-seeded FIU (27-26, 10-13 SBC) in the first round at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Cajuns have been on a tear at the plate as they rank top-10 in the nation in scoring (7.04 r/g), home runs (1.46 hr/g) and slugging percentage (.553). They carry a No. 21 ranking in both the USA Today/NFCA Division I poll and NCAA RPI.
Louisiana-Lafayette has won 11 of the 13 SBC Softball Championships, including four of the last five. The Cajuns hold a 42-4 (.913) all-time record in the tournament, the best in league history.
The Ragin' Cajuns swept FIU in a three-game series in the regular season on March 29-30. Jordan Wallace has been a workhorse for the Cajuns on the mound with a 15-2 record in conference play. She ranks third in the nation with 11.1 strikeouts per seven innings with 302 K's on the season.
Rachel Slowik will look to get the Panthers on track as she holds a team-leading .328 batting average and .475 slugging percentage in conference play. FIU's best stretch came between April 6-13 when it won five league games in a row over ULM and Troy.
In the opening game of the tournament, No. 4 North Texas (27-22, 12-9 SBC) will square off against No. 5 Florida Atlantic (27-27, 10-12 SBC) at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Both teams are coming off conference series victories.
The Mean Green have won five in a row, and six in SBC play. Two of those came via no-hitter from Ashley Kirk as she picked up wins in all three games against ULM on April 27-28. NT took two out of three from FAU in the regular season series on March 26-27.
FAU claimed the fifth-seed in the final weekend of the season as it passed FIU with a pair of victories. The Owls needed a victory in their last game of the season, and they came through with a 3-0 win on Senior Night.
Both NT and FAU notched victories over ranked opponents this season, as the Mean Green defeated No. 19 Baylor, 3-2 on April 20, while the Owls secured a 2-1 win over No. 12 South Florida on Feb. 10.
The 2013 Sun Belt Conference Softball Championship will be played at the Trojan Softball Complex in Troy, Ala., hosted by Troy University. The championship game will be played at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, and will be televised live on ESPN3.com and CSS/CST.
2013 SBC Championships First Round:
No. 4 North Texas vs. No. 5 Florida Atlantic 10:00 AM
No. 1 WKU vs. No. 8 Louisiana-Monroe 12:30 PM
No. 3 Louisiana-Lafayette vs. No. 6 FIU 3:00 PM
No. 2 South Alabama vs. No. 7 Troy 5:30 PM