The road through the Austin Regional

The U softball team is heading to Austin, Texas, to compete in the Austin Region in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Here’s a look at the four teams competing in the double-elimination clash taking place Friday through Sunday.

Utah Utes: 38-19

The Utes secured their position in the NCAA tournament last Saturday when they smacked back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning to overcome a 3-0 deficit to the Mountain West Conference top-seeded San Diego State Aztecs.

The Utes took a 4-3 lead in that inning and held on to win 5-4, winning their second MWC Championship in three years.

Much of Utah’s success can be attributed to a solid pitching staff. Karina Cannon (20-7, 2.09 ERA), Meghan Dyer (14-8, 2.65 ERA), Sheri Shrock (2-1, 3.23 ERA) and Lindsie Nielsen (2-3, 4.24 ERA) led the MWC with 357 strikeouts and held opponents to a conference-best .246 average.

The Utes were also buoyed by a tough offense. Jackie Wong led the MWC with a .448 batting average, while freshman Jessica Shiery ripped 12 homers and 51 RBI.

Indiana Hoosiers: 29-23-1

Indiana sneaked into the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid after going 1-1 in the Big Ten tournament, and the Hoosiers are one of six teams in their brawny conference that earned a spot in the NCAA tournament.

The Hoosiers were rewarded with an invite after facing seven teams ranked in the nation’s top 25, against whom they went 3-7-1.

Senior Mariangee Bogado led the Hoosier pitching staff, striking out 289 batters while holding them to a .160 batting average to finish 20-9 with a 1.57 ERA.

Indiana also had help from senior outfielder Lauren Hines who finished the year with 10 home runs and 28 RBI while batting .407 for the Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers will face the Utes on Friday at 4:00 p.m. (CDT).

UTSA Roadrunners: 37-12

By rolling through Nicholls State, McNeese State and the University of Texas-Arlington in the Southland Conference Tournament, the Roadrunners enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation.

The conference champs have won 21 of their last 22 contests, but they’ll be tested when they face Texas on Friday.

During the regular season UTSA faced Texas twice, where they were trounced 5-1 and 8-0. However, the Roadrunners also faced Utah during the regular season and pounded the Utes 8-0 in that meeting.

Sophomore Amanda Nikolenko’s pitching and Jessica Els and Amanda Horton’s offense lead the Roadrunners.

Nikolenko finished with a 23-5 record and a 2.20 ERA, while Els led the team with a .372 batting average. Horton supplied the power numbers for UTSA by hitting 18 home runs and driving in 49 runs.

Texas Longhorns: 49-7

The No. 3 Longhorns enter the tournament as one of the nation’s top teams, and they’ll get to play on their home field.

Despite cruising through the regular season, the Longhorns showed they can be beaten in crucial games.

They struggled against ranked teams during the regular season, and most recently they were exposed in the Big 12 Tournament, getting ousted by Oklahoma State 2-1 and Texas A&M 5-0.

The Longhorns have one of the best pitchers in all of Division-I, Cat Osterman.

The 2004 Gold Medalist and two-time Big 12 Player of the Year had a remarkable season that has made her a finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. She went 32-2 with a 0.42 ERA with 511 strikeouts and 23 shutouts, while holding batters to a .082 batting average.

Her success overshadows the Longhorns’ other pitching star, Meagan Denny. She finished the season 17-5 with a 1.57 ERA.

The Longhorns and Roadrunners will meet Friday at 6:30 (CDT).