Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Where Are They Now: Mariah Gearhart

Who is she? Mariah Gearhart, a former all-conference and all-region third baseman and NCAA record holder for the Oklahoma State Cowgirls.

What is she known for? Gearhart was three times named an all-conference selection and earned all-region honors in each of the last three years of her career. She held the NCAA all-time career record for hit-by-pitches, a record that stood for years until it was broken earlier this season. 

Here's something interesting... Continuing her athletic career post-softball, Mariah has become an all-star National CoEd Flag Football star. A 3-time United States Flag & Touch Football League national champion (twice on a CoEd team and once as part of an all-women’s team), in just four years of playing, Mariah’s achievements have made her eligible for the association’s Hall of Fame. The only remaining qualification for admittance into the Hall has to do with longevity, so she says “I will be playing flag football for at least another six years!”.

Quotable quote: "Never be satisfied. This generation is starting to lose the true meaning of hard work and dedication with the opportunities that have been created. Young players have so many different outlets now to play and gain experience and the appreciation for it all gets lost. The numbers haven’t changed though; there are still only a certain amount of players that can make a Division 1 roster, only a certain number of girls that get to play college ball, and even less that are able to do it for 4 years and graduate. Your hard work and dedication to your skill starts when you decide to commit to this sport and that commitment doesn’t end until that diploma is in your hand."

What's she up to now? Since her graduation in 2011, 
Mariah has worked in the production department for ESPN and their variety of networks… whether it’s preparing graphics or something else related to an event’s broadcast, chances are you have seen Mariah’s work on-screen! She was promoted to the position of Associate Producer late last year and moved to Orlando from Charlotte, her former headquarters.
 Keep up: You can find Mariah on Twitter @riahGhart

Monday, May 23, 2016

2016 Regionals Roundup

Parity Returns
The selection of eight SEC teams to hosting opportunities for the regional round led to some extensive discussion about favoritism on the part of the selection committee, but that apparently didn't bother the teams out west. Of the eight PAC-12 teams that made the field of sixty-four, five remain standing, a 62.5% conference percentage. With six SEC teams alive and kicking, a 55% mark for the conference that has produced three of the last four national champions. The Super Regionals feature two SEC v. PAC matchups, as well a single in-conference matchup for each league.

Extra-Inning Affairs
If you like "free softball", the South was the place to be Saturday night. Two mid-major schools taking on two PAC-12 schools in two SEC parks. The stars were aligned and the full moon must've been taking effect. Both games went to the 14th inning before ending in walk-off fashion. In Auburn, improbable candidate Jacksonville State, they of the Ohio Valley Conference, upended Oregon State, thanks in no small part to ace pitcher Whitney Gillespie (more on her later). To make matters worse? The Gamecocks had to turn around and play another elimination game that very night - a game that they also won to catapult them into the regional championship after playing 21 innings of softball in a seven-hour period.

Down in the Red Stick, McNeese State and Arizona State battled it out in a late-night elimination game for the chance to face hosting LSU on Sunday. Near complete-game performances by Cowpoke seniors Emily Vincent and Jamie Allred were stellar, as they allowed just seven hits between them and only a single run a piece. On the Sun Devil side of the equation, starter Kelsey Kessler went nearly eight and was effective, striking out eight and limiting the Cowpoke offense to just two runs on ten hits. The performance of the night, though, may have come from ASU's Dale Ryndak, who came in in relief in the eighth inning and went the rest of the way. As the night wore on, Ryndak allowed just one hit and absolutely suffocated McNeese's hitters at nearly every turn, eventually earning the "W" for her efforts.

Tigers Make a Statement
In the midst of countless off-field distractions, including an athletic department investigation and a player protest in support of head coach Ehren Earleywine, the Missouri Tigers were definitely intent on proving a point with their play this weekend, and prove that point they did. Winning every game in run-rule fashion and without allowing a single run, while scoring twenty-six of their own, the Tigers followed the lead of ace Paige Lowary, who pitched every inning of the regional and allowed just seven hits all weekend long. The Tigers excelled in every area: Three players hit home runs; five different players stole a total of nine bases; and senior Emily Crane and sophomore Amanda Sanchez each registered five-RBI games.

As the controversial saga has drawn on, one thing has remained abundantly clear - whatever feelings the Tiger administration has for Earleywine, the fans and those that matter most, the players, are firmly in his corner.

O'Toole Stays Hot
In the midst of her team's eventually-successful upset bid in Knoxville, O'Toole was as sharp as ever. Through her team's first two games in the Regional, a victory over Ohio State and the first upset win over Tennessee, O'Toole pitched every one of her team's innings, holding both opponents scoreless while scattering three hits and ten strikeouts. Though she floundered a bit in the third and final game, she still earned the victory and is now primed for another run at an SEC squad in the Auburn-hosted Super regional this weekend.

Jax State's Gillespie Boosts Her Team with the Bat 
and in the Circle
The afore-mentioned redshirt sophomore hurler deserves more than footnote after her performance in the first two days of the regional round. On Friday, in a game that ultimately swayed to the Tigers on a walk-off, game-ending sacrifice fly, Gillespie still held the SEC champions to three hits and two runs in 6.2 innings pitched, striking out seven. Working out of the loser's bracket, she pitched all but an inning and 2/3 of the marathon game vs. Oregon State, striking out eleven and holding the Beavers scoreless in all but two innings. In the bottom of the 13th inning, with two outs, her team down a run, and down to her last strike, the stud sophomore knocked an RBI double to knot the game up and buoy her team for one more inning, which turned out to be all that the Gamecocks needed.

Given the start off for the second game of the evening, Gillespie came in and closed out the victory over USC-Upstate, getting two outs on six pitches to seal her team's spot in the regional final. Even in the eventual season-ender for her squad on Sunday, Gillespie held the Tigers to just four hits and one earned run in a single recorded inning of work before being replaced in the circle.

The Gamecocks should be very, very excited about their in-state native ace.

No More Streaking
Coming into the NCAA tournament, the Florida Atlantic Owls were riding a twenty-one game win streak. The Conference USA champs, riding the stellar arm of ace Kylee Hanson, had firmly entrenched themselves in the conversation as possible sleeper pick for the Super regionals round. Even after being placed in the regional with #1 overall seed Florida, the Owls gathered some consideration as a possible upset pick.

Cross-state in Tallahassee, Ken Eriksen's South Florida club had enjoyed a twenty-three game winning streak in the middle of the season and an American regular-season title, earning them some brief consideration as a potential host. 

Out West, Fresno State had their own twenty-three game winning streak snapped in the last game of the regular season, but behind senior ace Jill Compton, they hoped to earn a late-seed hosting bid or a "winnable" regional placement. Just missing out on hosting, the Bulldogs were placed in the Los Angeles regional with one of the PAC-12's best in UCLA.

All three teams had different paths throughout the season, but one thing is similar between all three - all will be sitting at home on Super Regional weekend after bowing out in less-than-graceful fashion. All three sported 1-2 records in tournament play and all were eliminated without ever facing their hosting, seeded team.

USF was twice shut out against SEC foe South Carolina, giving up eight runs over two games to the Gamecocks.

Fresno, facing an underrated Big West foe in Cal State Fullerton, failed to even make the elimination game competitive, bowing out after a 7-1 second defeat at the Titans' hands.

Joan Joyce's Owls headed back to Boca Raton after two hard-luck losses to in-state rival UCF. Both pitcher's duels, as expected, FAU's staff gave up just three runs and Owls ace Kylee Hanson ended her junior campaign with a 0.78 ERA.

Three teams with lengthy, impressive winning streaks during the season, but short, unimpressive and disappointing stays in the postseason.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Expert Pick 'em - Regionals

As the first Regionals get set to begin today, here are our eight-member expert panel's predictions for how things will go this weekend.

The Panel:

Justin McLeod, JWOS head writer
Lee Dobbins, JWOS staff writer/fmr. D1 head coach
Kristina Thorson, three-time all-American
Brittany Fowler, 2013 Sun Belt POTY
Eric Lopez, 'In the Circle' podcast host
Courtney Albritton, 4-time D2 all-American
WNY Softball, founder of MAAC Softball blog

The Picks:
Gainesville regional:
JM: Florida
LD: Florida
KT: Florida
BF: Florida
EL: *
CA: Florida
WNY: Florida

Ann Arbor regional: 
JM: Michigan
LD: Michigan
KT: Michigan
BF: Michigan
EL: Michigan
CA: Michigan
WNY: Michigan

Norman regional:
JM: Oklahoma
LD: Oklahoma
KT: Oklahoma
BF: Mississippi
EL: Oklahoma
CA: Oklahoma
WNY: Oklahoma

Auburn regional:
JM: Auburn
LD: Auburn
KT: Auburn
BF: Auburn
EL: Auburn
CA: Auburn
WNY: Auburn

Eugene regional:
JM: Oregon 
LD: Oregon
KT: Oregon
BF: Oregon
EL: Oregon
CA: Oregon
WNY: Oregon

Tuscaloosa regional:
JM: Alabama
LD: Alabama
KT: Alabama
BF: Alabama
EL: Alabama
CA: Alabama
WNY: Alabama

Harrisonburg regional:
JM: James Madison
LD: James Madison
KT: James Madison
BF: James Madison
EL: James Madison
CA: James Madison
WNY: James Madison

Tallahassee regional:
JM: South Florida
LD: Florida State
KT: Florida State
BF: Florida State
EL: Florida State
CA: Florida State
WNY: South Florida

Lexington regional:
JM: Kentucky
LD: Kentucky
KT: Kentucky
BF: Kentucky
EL: Kentucky
CA: Kentucky
WNY: Kentucky

Baton Rouge regional:

Seattle regional:
JM: Minnesota
LD: Washington
KT: Washington
BF: Washington
EL: Washington
CA: Washington
WNY: Washington

Los Angeles regional:
JM: Fresno State
LD: Fresno State
WNY: Fresno State

Knoxville regional:
JM: Arizona
LD: Arizona
KT: Arizona
BF: Tennessee
EL: Tennessee
CA: Tennessee
WNY: Tennessee

Lafayette regional:
JM: Texas A&M
LD: Texas A&M
KT: Louisiana-Lafayette
BF: Louisiana-Lafayette
EL: Louisiana-Lafayette
CA: Texas A&M
WNY: Louisiana-Lafayette

Columbia regional:
JM: Missouri
LD: Nebraska
KT: Louisville
BF: Missouri
EL: Missouri
CA: Missouri
WNY: Missouri

Athens regional:
JM: Georgia
LD: Georgia
KT: Georgia
BF: Georgia
EL: Georgia
CA: Georgia
WNY: Georgia

* - Eric Lopez will not predict the Gainesville due to a conflict with duties with the UCF Softball team, who will participate in that regional.

Virginia, Head Coach Blake Miller Part Ways

Virginia and head coach Blake Miller have parted ways. 

Miller leaves after a three-year stint at UVA during which he amassed a 42-116 record and was never able to grab a firm hold of the success that was expected when he came over from Oregon after helping lead the Ducks to three consecutive Super Regional appearances.

The Cavaliers had gotten better in conference play as Miller's tenure went on, winning seven ACC games in 2016 after winning a total of five the two years prior.

A former Team USA men's fastpitch player, Miller's head coaching resume has included stops at Oregon; Texas A&M-Kingsville; and Darton College in Georgia. He has also served as an assistant at East Tennessee State; Missouri Western State; and Mesa State.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Portland State Releases Head Coach Barb Sherwood

Justin's World of Softball has learned that Portland State has decided not to renew their contract with head softball coach Barb Sherwood, a move that is expected to be announced within the day.

Sherwood just completed her third season at the PSU helm, amassing a 38-106 overall record and an 18-41 mark in Big Sky conference play.

After doubling the team's win total from eight in her first season to sixteen a year ago, the Vikings took a step back this season, amassing just fourteen wins. They did earn a berth in the conference tournament as the sixth of eight teams in the conference, but were quickly dispensed with an 0-2 record in the double-elimination tournament.

Sherwood presided over fifteen all-conference selections during her tenure at Portland State, including 2015 first-team selection Brittany Hendrickson, who picked up the team's triple crown that season.

Prior to her arrival as Vikings head coach, Sherwood spent seven seasons at Virginia Tech. Her resume also includes stops at Florida State; Wisconsin; and Troy, her alma mater.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Five Matchups to Watch in Regionals

5. Kristen Brown & Kendra Lynch vs. Jailyn Ford & Megan Good – Harrisonburg Regional
    Brown led North Carolina with a .397 batting average and eighteen home runs, as well as an .808 slugging percentage. Her teammate Lynch, for her part, hit .323 on the year with twelve home runs of her own and added a sub-4.00 ERA and the lion's share of the team's innings of work in the circle. She had some stellar clutch performances later in the regular season and will undoubtedly be relied upon with both her bat and her arm. JMU's Ford and Good, easily one of the top three pitching staffs in the nation, have a combined ERA below 1.70 and average more than a strikeout an inning, while opponents are hitting a dismal .164 against them. Both, similar to Lynch, can get it done with the bat, as well.

4. Erika Piancastelli vs. LSU's pitching – Baton Rouge Regional
     The sophomore Italian continued the hot streak from her inaugural season, hitting .420 this season with twenty-one home runs and a .993 slugging percentage for the Cowgirls of McNeese. For the Tigers, their pitching staff is undoubtedly their bread and butter, led by a quartet of players all with ERAs under 2.40 and averaging nearly a strikeout an innings. As a team, opponents are hitting just .217 when the Tigers are in the circle. During the teams' regular-season single-game matchup, the Cowgirl hitters only faced Hoover. Piancastelli was held hitless in that game, reaching base only on a walk. It will be interesting to see if she can learn from that performance and make an adjustment before facing Hoover and the rest of the Tigers staff this weekend.
3. Danielle O’Toole vs. Meghan Gregg – Knoxville Regional
     Two of the finest somewhat-surprising upstart players of the season are likely to match up at least once over the course of the weekend. While any of the Lady Vols' lineup facing Arizona's dominant O'Toole should be interesting, I chose Gregg for this spot because of team-leading statistics and the fact that the burden to fill the void left by Rainey Gaffin will likely fall heavily on her shoulders. Gregg, who hit .391 this year with ten home runs, will have to up the ante even a bit more to account for the injury-induced absence of Gaffin, a .380 hitter in her own right. O'Toole, the redshirt transfer, posted a 2.14 ERA for the Wildcats and came through under pressure in several situations down the stretch. A strikeout machine, she averaged almost exactly one per game and opponents hit sub-.230 against her.
2. Casey Stangel vs. Sara Groenewegen – Seattle Regional
     The two hitting pitchers have both proven real catalysts for their teams this season, and as the two are likely to face off at least once over the weekend, it will be interesting to see how they approach pitching to and hitting off one another, considering their vast similarities. Groenewegen posted a sub-2.00 ERA on the season for the Gophers and has thus far averaged more than 1.44 strikeouts/inning. She's given up just fifteen home runs and opponents haven't even hit .200 off of her. Washington's Stangel will likely be a part of any rally the Huskies get going in their inevitable matchup against Groenewegen and they will have to rally well if they expect the Canadian Gopher to wind up in the loss column.

1. Shelby Turnier vs. Kylee Hanson – Gainesville Regional
     It's the battle of the aces as the Gainesville regional is packed with power pitching, and it's not likely we'll see much offense coming out of the swamp during this week's series of games. For Turnier and Hanson, the job is a tough one as they are tasked with staving off the lineup of the twice-defending champion Gators at some point, but first must meet one another in a matchup where somebody unfortunately has to take the loss. For Turnier, while her 2016 hasn't been as stellar as her all-American junior campaign of 2015, she is still an effective, overpowering pitcher who can get batters out with ease and is a strikeout machine. For Hanson's part, there is a very good reason she is a top ten finalist for National Player of the Year; she holds a 0.73 ERA with 286 strikeouts in 210 innings and opponents have hit just .135 against her. Known for stifling even great offenses, either of these pitchers could find themselves in a showdown with the Gators and either could make trouble for the defending champs and make some noise in the upset department before all is said and done.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Stephen F. Austin Parts Ways with Head Coach Gay McNutt

UPDATE 5/17/16 14:30: The move has been confirmed via a press release on the school's website today. They termed McNutt's departure a "resignation".

Stephen F. Austin has parted ways with head softball coach Gay McNutt, sources have said.

McNutt wrapped up her ninth year at the helm of the Ladyjacks with the 2016 season's close, during which time she led the club to a 213-259 overall record. In her first season in Nacogdoches, McNutt led the Ladyjacks to a 36-25 record and their first-ever NCAA tournament berth at the Division I level.

Since 2010, however, SFA failed to put together a winning record and reached the 20-win mark just twice. Since the turn of the decade, McNutt led her club to a 119-189 record, including barely sub-.500 mark in the 2016 season.

Formerly the head coach at Northwestern State and Southern Miss, McNutt also spent time on the staffs of Louisiana-Lafayette and Alvin Community College, as well as a support-staff role at Houston for four years. 

A four-year Texas A&M Aggie, McNutt was an all-American player in her senior season of 1985.

Her successor will inherit a roster that includes 2016 team batting champ Brittany Lewis (.368/11/53) and workhorse pitching tandem Callee Guffey and Makayla Sikes, who combined to hold opposing hitters to a .244 batting average and collected more than 240 innings of work this season.