Thursday, March 30, 2017

From Worst to First: Boise State Broncos Shattering Expectations

If any team has gotten off to a hotter - and more unexpected - start to the 2017 season than the Boise State Broncos, please have them step to the front of the room.

Picked last in the Mountain West’s preseason poll, and receiving only last-place votes on every applicable ballot to boot, the Broncos were not expected to improve very greatly on their fourteen-win 2016 campaign.

As the saying goes, though, “that’s why you play the game.” The Broncos went 1-2 on opening weekend, only to weld together a ten-game winning streak thereafter and have not looked back since.

Now 21-9 and 3-3 in conference play, the Broncos have not only looked impressive but have already far exceeded the expectations of many. Head coach Cindy Ball-Malone credits her team’s willingness to “put in the work” as a determining factor in the Broncos’ swift rise from the bottom of the conference.

“Sixteen of our players stayed through the summer last year to train,” said Ball-Malone. “We aren’t allowed to work with them in the summer, so it’s all voluntary. They wanted to put in the work to get better.”

The Broncos have excelled in nearly every area of the game as 2017 has progressed, including presently sporting a team batting average of .330 and a 3.30 team ERA. No pitcher with more than twenty innings of work in the circle has an ERA over 4.00.

One of Ball-Malone’s philosophies that she has expressed to her team is the mentality of “making things harder than the game is”. She explains, “Instead of running one mile that we know we’ll have to run later, we’d run three… we are changing the culture of our program, developing it more.”

Ball-Malone says she sees many improvements in her team just from last season, and even from the fall ‘season’. As conference play rolls into full-gear, Ball-Malone says she expects her team “to adjust quicker to changes and not make the same mistakes twice.”

All roads in the Mountain West continue to roll through Fresno, California, and even despite a series loss against the Bulldogs this weekend, the Broncos still have quite a few games to complete what has already become a Cinderella-story of a season.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Where Are They Now: Marisa Bast

Who is she? Marisa Bast, a former all-star third baseman for the Northwestern Wildcats.

Photo: Stephen J. Carrera
What is she known for? Bast spent all four seasons of her Wildcat career on the left side of the infield, including starting every game of her final three seasons at the hot corner. She was a four-time all-conference selection and an all-American in 2012; she finished one home run shy of the conference's Triple Crown award in her sophomore campaign. She was a top-nine finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award and was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and her school's Big Ten Medal of Honor winner in her senior year, as well.

Here's something interesting… Marisa is the great-niece of Ted Tanouye, a Japanese-American soldier who served in the US Army during World War II. Tanouye posthumously received the Medal of Honor, among other awards such as a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Marisa attended the medal ceremony in 2000 and met then-President Bill Clinton. "As I look back on those memories," Marisa says, "I am humbled by and in awe of the fact that this is a part of my family history."

Quotable quote: “The funny thing about softball is, one pitch can change an entire game. I’ll never forget the pitch that forever cemented this in my mind. We were playing a Big Ten game and the opposing team had the bases loaded in the last inning. I remember noting the score in my head and thinking “One more out.” The batter swung at the next pitch and the ball went sailing out of the park. In a couple of seconds, we went from being one out away from walking off that field with a win, to losing on a walk-off grand slam. Take the game one pitch at a time. Take every rep, swing, out, play, one pitch at a time and give your 100% effort to that present moment. The game will feel slower and you are able to control your effort, attitude, and focus in that one moment.”

What's she up to now? After graduating from Northwestern, Marisa began her career at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) in downtown Chicago; at present, she works as a senior analyst in Business Development at the company. In addition to her "day job", Marisa coaches the 10U Bash Bombers travel club and competes in Crossfit.

Connect: You can find Marissa on Twitter @mbast21.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Caitlin Sill Steps Into Justin’s World

Over the last several seasons, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane have seen their star rise significantly in the sport of softball. One of the biggest pieces of the program’s success over the past several seasons was pitcher Caitlin Sill.

Photo: Tulsa Athletics
The ace of the Golden Hurricane staff right as they began to peak in the American Conference, and one of the biggest catalysts to the program's 2016 AAC tournament championship and league title, Sill ended her career with her name in the top ten among eight categories of the program's all-time greats in the circle.

Continuing a tradition that saw her follow former ace Aimee Creger and precede and mentor current ace Emily Watson, Sill's 2016 campaign was undoubtedly her finest, as she saw a career-high in appearances lead to a 1.84 ERA and nineteen victories from the circle, also a career high.

Join us as Caitlin shares on several aspects of her career, including switching conferences in the middle of her career; not receiving recognition for her solid senior campaign; and her plans for the future, including whether or not she’ll be back in a uniform this summer.

Justin’s World of Softball: How did you get your start playing softball?
Caitlin Sill: My two older sisters played softball, so I grew up at the fields. My middle sister, who is eight years older than me, was taking pitching lessons and I begged my mom to let me pitch too, so after my sisters’ lessons were over, they would let me throw a couple of pitches.

JWOS: What led you to Tulsa as your place to play and go to school?
Sill: My two older sisters played college softball, so my family knew the importance of a good coaching staff. Coach J and Crissy told me that they believe in God, family, school, and then softball, which really spoke volumes about the program. The softball program at TU is also a top softball program with Regional-contending teams every year. TU is also a top 50 private school, so the education also played a huge roll in my decision.

JWOS: Walk me through the conference change in the midst of your career – new annual opponents, a whole new group of opponents and hitters to learn, and a lot of hitters that had not seen you, except on film. What was that like, going through that big switch?
Sill: It was really a good change because I didn’t face the same hitters for four years, although in my opinion, it was a tougher conference.

JWOS: Toughest opponent you’ve faced?
Sill: My senior year, we played OU, who later on went to win the National Championship that year, and we ended up losing to them in a close game, but I feel like they were my toughest opponent [from the] one through nine hole.

JWOS: You went out on a high note, earning all-conference and all-region honors, as well as Conference Championship MVP. Did you ever feel like you got shorted a bit on the national recognition stage?
Sill: I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year. National recognition would have been nice, but it doesn’t affect me as a player and most importantly, it doesn’t affect me as a person. The memories and friendships I have made through softball will be the things I cherish most, not the awards.

JWOS: What do you hope future Tulsa softballers think about when they hear your name in ten or fifteen years? What do you hope is the legacy that you’ve left on the program?
Sill: I just hope they remember me! But it’s nice to be remembered as a good leader and a hard worker. I had to work really hard in my four years at TU to get to where I was my senior year.

JWOS: Tell me what you’ve been up to since your career ended, including involved with softball and otherwise.
Sill: After my career ended in May [of 2016], I went to Holland to pitch to the Dutch National team to help them prepare for the World Cup in Canada. I’ll graduate from TU in May [of this year] with my degree in Energy Management.

JWOS: Was playing ball past college, either domestically or overseas, something you considered or gave some thought to?
Sill: I never considered playing ball past college until I was contacted last year about Holland. I was also called about playing professionally in the US, but had already committed overseas. I have been contacted about playing overseas this coming summer and am giving it some thought. I am open to playing overseas or domestically this summer, but right now, I am just considering my options. Also, as a female athlete, playing professionally really has to be something you do out of love for the game because we are not able to make it our full-time job (or fear starvation). I think when the women are finally paid (even a fraction of) what the men are paid, then you will see more college graduates play professionally instead of entering the workforce.

JWOS: What are your plans for the future?
Sill: I plan to go to graduate school in the fall to get my MBA. I have been accepted at TU, so I might stay a Hurricane a little longer. After that, it’s really just a toss-up!!

JWOS: Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but could take three things with you. Boats and phones are off-limits, but anything else tangible goes. What would you take?

Sill: A fire-starter, fishing pole, and an above-ground tent.

Walton Apologizes After Auburn Incident

After a post-game incident following the Florida/Auburn series finale last night, Florida coach Tim Walton issued an apology via Twitter today for his role in the skirmish.

Here’s how it went down:
In the postgame handshake/’good game’ line, Auburn infielder Haley Fagan did not raise her hand to give Walton ‘five’. Walton made contact with Fagan’s shoulder as he appeared to attempt to give her ‘five’ nevertheless. Fagan responded by giving Walton a small shove in his back, after which the Florida coach whirled around and the two exchanged words. Fagan ultimately had to be held back by teammates, while Walton disappeared into the dugout soon thereafter.

The incident was caught on television cameras, as the game was being broadcast by ESPN, and has made the rounds of national media, being featured on SportsCenter, Sports Illustrated, and MSN, among others. You can see video of the incident here.

Earlier today, Walton released a statement via the Gators' Twitter account: “I apologize to Haley. I just wanted to congratulate Auburn on the win - it was a good series. My intent was to give a high-five to each opposing player as we do after every game. Apparently, her hand wasn't up as I said 'good game' and I touched her shoulder. I should have paid closer attention and did not intend to upset her. I regret that this has taken attention away from the effort and sportsmanship both teams displayed all weekend.”

There has been no comment from Fagan or the Auburn program. Fagan, a frequent participant on Twitter, has a locked account.

Auburn won the final game of the series 1-0, but Florida won the three-game series 2-1.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Weekend Roundup: Candrea Makes History, Marshall Goes Streaking

  • Arizona head coach Mike Candrea earned his 1,500th career win.
  • Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly earned her 1,000th career win.
  • D2: UIndy head coach Melissa Frost earned her 500th career win.
  • D2: West Texas A&M head coach Kevin Blaskowski earned his 800th career win.
  • Notre Dame senior Karley Wester set the program's record for career hits.
  • Colorado State's Haley Hutton set a new program career record with the 167th run scored of her career.
  • Cal Poly ace Sierra Hyland set yet another record this weekend, this time the Big West Conference's all-time strikeout mark.
  • Boston College's Tatiana Cortez set the program's new all-time home run record.
  • Congratulations to those on this week's edition of the No-No Express:
    • Arizona Pilgrim, Charleston Southern
    • Haley Chambers-Book, SIU-Edwardsville
    • Breanna Wonderly, Illinois
    • Danielle O'Toole, Arizona
    • Tori Free, St. John's
    • Megan Betsa, Michigan
    • Jessica Burroughs, Florida State
    • Peyton Jordan, UNC-Wilmington

(The Arizona Wildcats' senior comes into this season 28 home runs away from the NCAA career record. We will track her progress weekly towards the all-time mark.)

With their victory over Western Kentucky on Sunday, the Marshall Thundering Herd marked their 15th straight victory, a streak that dates back to to a March 3 victory over South Carolina State that began the streak. The victory punctuated the third consecutive conference series sweep for the Herd. Over her team's past four games, senior Morgan Zerkle has hit .615. The fifteen-game winning streak is the longest in Thundering Herd program history.

Notable Performances of the Week
South Carolina Gamecocks --- Beverly Smith's Gamecocks headed to Tuscalooa to take on perennial powerhouse Alabama in a road series. Though they lost the series, it was the Gamecocks' performance in the weekend's game two that earned them a mention here. Senior ace in the circle Nickie Blue threw a two-hit shutout of the Tide offense, while her teammates put up fourteen runs on two Tide pitchers, including ten runs, five unearned, on sophomore Madi Moore. Eleven Gamecocks scored at least one run, while six accounted for at least one RBI a piece.

Molly Oretsky, Penn --- The Quaker junior picked about as much of a storybook setting as possible to hit her first career home run. In a game that went more than three hours and into extras as a bonafide pitcher's duel, Oretsky was called upon to pinch-hit to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. Her bomb over the wall gave the Quakers the win and was not just the first career roundtripper for the spot-starting underclassman, but was just her second extra-base hit of the entire season.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Carnegie Mellon to Add Softball for 2019

Division III school Carnegie Mellon University has announced that softball will be added to the school's roster of varsity sports, beginning in the 2019 season.

The Tartans will sponsor softball for the first time ever. With the program's start in '19, softball will become the 19th sport on the athletic program roster. It is the second women's sport added within the last four years, joining women's golf which was added in 2014.

Carnegie Mellon will begin looking for a softball coach this spring to lead the new program. Recruiting will begin in the 2017-18 academic year, with the goal of beginning competition in the spring of 2019.

In a statement, Tartan athletic director Josh Centor called the addition of softball "historic" for the university.

The Carnegie Mellon Tartans compete in the University Athletic Association.

Indiana State, Shane Bouman Part Ways

Shane Bouman
Indiana State relieved head coach Shane Bouman of his position earlier this week, according to a press release from the school.

Bouman had spent six seasons at the helm of the Sycamores program, amassing a 118-172 record up to the time of his firing. That record included a conference tournament championship and NCAA tournament bid in 2015.

Assistant coach Tori Magner has been named interim head coach for the Sycamores.

This is a developing story.