OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 4: The UCLA Bruins celebrate after a home run by Aaliyah Jordan #23 against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Division I Women's Softball Championship held at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium-OGE Energy Field on June 4, 2019 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The abrupt cancellation of college softball put a premature end to what looked to be an epic season. To celebrate (and lament) those players and teams whose seasons were cut short, here’s a recap of the five biggest stories we weren’t ready to have end:

 

1. The farewell tours of two shortstop greats

The 2020 season was supposed to provide us one last look at two of the best dual threat shortstops in recent memory: Sis Bates and Jessie Harper (neither of whom have given any indication that they plan to pursue a fifth year next season).

Bates, my number one player to watch this year, was the rare player whose fielding abilities made her must-watch entertainment. The reigning two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and two-time first team All-American, Bates’ spectacular defensive plays made her both a Washington legend and a national treasure. I know I speak for countless fans across the country when I say that I already miss seeing her make the plays that only she could make:

The abrupt cancellation of college softball put a premature end to what looked to be an epic season. To celebrate (and lament) those players and teams whose seasons were cut short, here’s a recap of the five biggest stories we weren’t ready to have end: 1. The farewell tours of two shortstop greats

Harper, the number two player on my pre-season watch list, was another two-time All-American who led the NCAA in home runs last year. Even with the shortened season, she led the Pac-12 in home runs with 10. This means that every year of her college career, Harper was either first or second for home runs in the conference. Talk about leaving a legacy. Her 76 career home runs are just 19 shy of the NCAA record. Against Team USA, Harper lit up arguably one of the best pitchers in the world, hitting two home runs against Cat Osterman. Though the Wildcats lost, there’s no doubt Harper caught the eye of Team USA’s coaches. Could Tokyo 2021 be next on her agenda?

2. UCLA looked ready to repeat

The Bruins began and ended 2020 ranked No. 1, racking up a decisive 25-1 record along the way. Before conference play and just before the season was cut short, the Bruins were coming off a dominant double-header, with freshman Lexi Sosa pitching UCLA’s first perfect game since 2008, followed by a 4-0 shutout win over No. 18 Minnesota. Such performances made it seem almost certain, even this early in the season, that UCLA was bound for the WCWS. Would they have repeated as champs? I think they would have.

It’s also worth noting that Rachel Garcia, UCLA’s all-world dual threat pitcher and hitter (and the 2019 WCWS MVP) took this college season off to train with Team USA for the Olympics. Now that the Olympics are postponed, it seems unlikely that Garcia will return to UCLA next season as she will now need to train for Tokyo 2021.

 

3. Conference play was just around the corner

This may be the most depressing face of the shortened season: teams were only just beginning to enter conference play. While the early season tournaments were fun to watch, they are traditionally such a steep learning curve that it’s difficult to know how exactly a team will do just based on their opening slate of games. We saw a lot of early upsets this year, including more than a few ranked teams losing to unranked opponents (UNC took down then No. 2 Alabama and Loyola Marymount upset then No. 4 LSU, among others). While these were exciting to watch, they didn’t give us a clear picture of how the rest of the year would have gone. Odds are that both the Pac-12 and the SEC would have gone down to the wire, with No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Washington, and No. 4 Arizona fighting out west while No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Florida, and No. 10 Alabma duked it out down south. Fans of the sport will spend a long time lamenting the fact that we never got to see those conference tilts.

 

4. Miranda Elish was making things happen in the circle. 

The NCAA is losing a lot (and I mean, a lot) of great pitchers this season. One of the most notable is Miranda Elish, who transferred to Texas from Oregon in 2019 after going 37-2 during her time with the Ducks. At the time, Elish was touted as the missing piece that Texas needed in order to be competitive again. The last memorable pitcher to don the burnt orange was 4-time All-American and 2-time Olympic medalist Cat Osterman, who graduated in 2006. After taking a nasty accidental throw to the face from her own catcher in last year’s postseason, Elish made a complete recovery and was back this season with a vengeance. In 84 innings, she recorded 96 strikeouts, with 11 of those coming in a season high performance against Fresno State. Her most notable game, however, was a 7-0 win over New Mexico, when Elish tossed her third career no-hitter and second perfect game.

5. Speaking of Texas…

The Longhorns were having one of the best seasons in program history under new coach Mike White. White brought along four Oregon transfers with him when he moved south in 2019, including Elish. In the short 2020 season the team finished No. 3 in the country with a 24-3 record. And with Elish pitching as well as she was, the Longhorns appeared on track to not only win the Big 12, but potentially return to the WCWS for the first time since 2013. They were the only team to beat No. 1 UCLA this year, on the same weekend that they also took down No. 2 Washington. Those kinds of wins will have Longhorns fans wondering for years to come about what could have been in 2020.