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Seasons change for Razorbacks' Autumn

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Autumn flourishes this spring from Greenbrier to Fayetteville.

For Autumn Buczek, the senior third baseman from Greenbrier, weathered her team's 1-23 record in the Southeastern Conference softball season three years ago and another 1-23 record in 2016 under coach Courtney Deifel. She can now conclude her senior season with the Razorbacks repeating their 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance and eighth in school history.

But this time is the first time Arkansas (39-15, 12-12) is a regional host as the No. 13 seed in the country. Arkansas is 24-2 at home at Bogle Park this season.

The Razorbacks were 12-12 in a league in which all 13 teams were selected for the regional stage. The SEC broke its own record from 2017 with nine regional hosts in this year's field.

As the No. 13 host, the Razorbacks host the four-team, double-elimination Fayetteville Regional at Bogle Park. They will meet DePaul at 4 p.m. on Friday after Oklahoma State and Wichita State open the tournament at 1:30 p.m.

Buczek likely will never forget Sunday night's selection show when Arkansas was announced as a seeded host.

"Oh my gosh!" Buczek said. "It's one of the most exciting things I've ever been a part of. Seeing our name on that screen last night, just an incredible sense of pride in our team and our staff and what we've been able to accomplish.

"So excited that so many people have come out and supported us. Our support has been great throughout the year, so I'm super excited to see what our support will be for our regional appearance."

Is she expecting to see much of Greenbrier at Friday's game?

"Well, I hope a lot of Greenbrier is in Fayetteville," Buczek said. "My hometown has done a great job of showing up and supporting. It's really humbling just to see how much they care and the pride they take in our program. But Greenbrier also is going to be competing in state in softball, so my best wishes go out to them for that. I'm sad they can't be here, but I'm so excited they made it back. Best of luck to them in that game."

She's just thrilled seeing the program vault from Arkansas worst to first to host.

"It's awesome," Buczek said. "It's something I didn't imagine after the first year I had here. It's been kind of a rough journey. But with the new staff, even with that second year when we (again) just won conference game, we immediately had confidence what we were going to be able to do with the confidence change they brought to our team. We knew we could accomplish something great, but I guess you never really believe it until it happens."

Buczek said Deifel's recruiting incredibly improved Arkansas' overall talent, but she never lost faith in those she inherited. Freshman pitcher Mary Haff and freshman right fielder Hannah McEwen both were named All-SEC.

"The staff we had our freshman year, they were great people, but for whatever reason it didn't click," Buczek said. "We completely lacked that confidence my freshman year. We didn't know what we were capable of. But her (Deifel's) belief in us completely turned that around.

"She told us from Day One, 'You weren't my recruits. You were here before I got here. But I choose you guys every day.' She helped us believe in ourselves, and that's one of the biggest things to make us us a different team."

Buczek validated Deifel's belief in her. Moved from the outfield back to third base like she played for Greenbrier, Buczek hit .281 starting every game as a sophomore and hit a team-leading .349 for last year's 31-24, 7-17, NCAA qualifier.

As the leadoff hitter, Buczek hits .316, second on this team only to McEwen's .345, and leads the team with eight stolen bases.

Defensively, Deifel calls Buczek "fearless."

"I think you've got to have a fearless nature when you are at that hot corner," Deifel said. "She just does an incredible job for us there. She has such great range. She's done such a great job offensively of being steady for us. That's the biggest thing I'll say for Autumn. She's fearless and really, really steady."

And a steadying influence, freshman Haff recalled from the Razorbacks opening the SEC season swept, 8-0, 1-0, 5-4 at No. 8 Georgia (43-11).

"We had that sweep by Georgia, so we kind of had to regroup" Haff said. "Me being a freshman, I don't really know what to expect, and she's definitely like 'It's OK.' Her just having a little more experience than me really made me more comfortable pitching out there."

Deifel credits the ones she inherited, like Buczek, clear through her All-SEC freshman for meshing as one.

"They wanted it," Deifel said. "They were hungry and ready for that next step. They have absolutely lived it every single day."

Sports on 05/16/2018

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