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For now, Arkansas escapes Oklahoma

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Photographs by Andy Shupe

Arkansas senior Autumn Buczek watches as an RBI double sails to the outfield to score the winning run Mississippi State Friday, March 30, 2018, during the seventh inning at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- There isn't a rule requiring the Arkansas Razorbacks to play at Oklahoma whenever their softball team makes the NCAA Tournament.

It just seems that way.

NCAA Fayetteville Regional

WHO Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Wichita State and DePaul

WHEN Friday through Sunday

WHERE Bogle Park

TICKETS All-session general admission $25 adult and $15 youth. Single-day admission $10 adult, $6 youth, $5 students.

FRIDAY’S GAMES Oklahoma State-Wichita State 1:30 p.m.; Arkansas-DePaul 4 p.m.

In the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's previous seven NCAA Tournament appearances, the Razorbacks played at Oklahoma six times.

Arkansas' first four NCAA Tournament appearances -- in 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2009 -- were at Oklahoma.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee decided to give the Razorbacks a change of scenery in 2012 and sent them to the University of California-Berkeley.

Then it was back to Oklahoma for the Razorbacks in 2013 and last year.

Arkansas doesn't have to go to Oklahoma for the NCAA Tournament this year. The Razorbacks don't have to travel at all.

For the first time, Arkansas is hosting an NCAA regional.

The Razorbacks (39-15) are the NCAA Tournament's No. 13 overall seed and play Big East champion DePaul (35-15) at 4 p.m. Friday at Bogle Park. Oklahoma State (38-20) plays Wichita State (30-21) at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the regional opener.

"It's going to be huge," said Arkansas third baseman Autumn Buczek, a senior from Greenbrier. "Our record at home is awesome."

The Razorbacks, who never have won a regional title, are 24-2 at home with the losses to Missouri and Alabama.

The coaching staff and players were at Bogle Park on Sunday night to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show televised by ESPN2.

"It was just pure elation," Coach Courtney Deifel said of the reaction to Arkansas being announced as a host site. "I think they said on the TV, 'Can you hear the roar in Fayetteville?' And our team roared.

"Some of our players jumped for joy. It was just a really cool moment."

The Razorbacks were confident they were in the 64-team field, but not sure about hosting a regional.

"We didn't want to jinx it, so everyone was like, 'Don't talk about it, don't talk about it,' " Arkansas freshman pitcher Mary Haff said. "None of us really expected to be the 13 seed.

"The whole year everyone has been kind of underrating us, so having a 13 seed was like, 'Wow. We did that.' It was just amazing to see us that high on the list."

Deifel said she felt good about Arkansas' chances of hosting when the teams in Oklahoma's regional were announced and the Razorbacks weren't among them.

"It's just nice, it's comfortable," Deifel said of hosting. "You're playing in front of your fans, your family, your friends. You're in your own bed, and there's such a familiarity and confidence level associated with that."

Arkansas had average home attendance of 944 this season, including 1,197 for SEC games. An announced record crowd of 3,448 watched Arkansas beat Ole Miss 3-0 on April 28.

"Our support has been great throughout the year," Buczek said. "So I'm super excited to see what our support will be for our regional appearance.

"That feeling of having all these people around picking you up is huge for us in establishing momentum, and our fans help us keep that momentum throughout the game. So our confidence at home is very, very high."

Softball is the only Arkansas team playing at home this weekend with the baseball team at Georgia.

"Hopefully, we can pull some Omahog fans over," Deifel said. "Our fans have shown up big time for this team this year. We're hoping they come and fill Bogle and call the Hogs."

Despite hosting a regional for the first time, the Razorbacks still could end up in Oklahoma. The winner of the Fayetteville Regional plays the winner of Oklahoma's regional in a super regional.

Sports on 05/17/2018

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