Saturday, May 27, 2017

Controversy Surrounds NISC Final

The National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC), the first-year NIT-style tournament for college softball, ended with some controversy in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Lamar University of the Southland Conference took on hosting Liberty University of the Big South Conference as the final two teams left standing in the inaugural NISC tournament. The winner would take home bragging rights and the championship trophy.

The NISC, originally boasted as a forty-team tournament, failed to meet that threshold in its first year of existence, but did host twenty-six teams from across the country in a regional-style format, with six teams advancing to the championship series in Lynchburg from which Lamar and Liberty emerged as the teams that would battle for the championship.

Liberty held a 3-1 lead after five complete innings in the game. Through those five innings, Liberty pitcher Julia DiMartino had thrown a gem, allowing just three hits and one run with four strikeouts.

In the top of the sixth inning, though, the Cardinals broke through, plating four runs to go up by a score of 5-3. In the bottom half of the inning, the game was halted due to rain with two outs and two runners on base for Liberty.

A nineteen-minute rain delay followed, after which tournament officials declared the field unplayable and called the game. Citing NCAA rules, they determined that the game score would revert back to the last fully-completed inning. By virtue of that ruling, the game officially went on the books as a 3-1 Liberty win in five innings.

That's where things get tricky.

Though requests for clarification were not immediately returned, it can be assumed that tournament officials cited rule #6.16 of the NCAA softball rulebook, which dictates procedures relating to a "called game". The rule clearly states that, at the plate umpire's discretion, the game may be called at any time after at least five complete innings, and notes several potential causes for said stoppage.

Quoting in part, rule #6.16.1 reads as follows: "... The score shall be that of the last equal inning played..."

However, included in the same rule is the following note (emphasis ours): "If a game is delayed because of inclement weather, a facility problem, etc., a reasonable amount of time (not less than 30 minutes) must elapse before the game is called."

As previously noted, nineteen minutes elapsed between the stoppage of game play and the game being officially called. This would appear to be in clear contrast to the afore-mentioned note included as part of rule #6.16.

It is worth noting that rain delays were not a rare occurrence during the tournament's final round. In fact, the Lamar/Kennesaw State semifinal matchup, held one day before the controversial championship game, was delayed for four hours and thirty minutes due to rain before being started late, and was later suspended until the following morning, also due to weather conditions.

Tournament director Dave King, of Triple Crown Sports, in speaking to the Beaumont Enterprise, took the blame for the tournament's finish, also noting that Wednesday was the last day allotted for the tournament to include game play and that he wanted to settle a winner on the field.

Lamar head coach Holly Bruder was quoted in a school release as saying, in part, "I thought it was a bad idea to even start the final game. The field was in terrible condition because of all the rain. They told us that there was rain coming in, and that we wouldn't get seven innings in. I think that's a terrible way to decide a champion. If they weren't going to play a full seven innings, then we should have been co-champions. But they decided to play, and then stopped the game when we were one out away from finishing the sixth innings."

Here's how Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett reacted to the news:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five Things to Watch in Super Regionals

1. How will Baylor's pitching hold up against a solid Arizona offense?
The Bears' pitching staff has really stood out at times, but rose to new levels thanks to Gia Rodoni's back-to-back no-hitters in the Regional round in Waco. Glenn Moore's squad boasts what may be their most well-rounded pitching staff in recent memory, thanks also to Kelsee Selman's emergence in her senior season, and has performed well. They will face a large test against the powerful Arizona offense, however, that boasts Katiyana Mauga, Mandie Perez, Mo Mercado, and Jessie Harper, among others. Though Arizona is considered a favorite for the National Championship, if the Bears' pitchers can keep the Wildcats' bats under control, the tone of the series could change quickly in Tucson.

2. Can Bailey Landry break out of her slump to lead LSU?
LSU's Bailey Landry could get hot and provide a big
boost for her team. / Photo: LSU Athletics
The Bayou speedster, who has been a season-long sparkplug for the Tigers, hit a bit of a wall during the Regional round, reaching base via a hit just three times in her team’s five games of the weekend. A 2-4 performance against McNeese State was her best performance of the weekend, as she participated in the Tigers’ 10-1 blasting of the Cowgirls. She went hitless in her team’s opening game against Fairfield, recorded a single base knock in the winner’s bracket game that stretched over several hours and rain delays on Saturday, and went hitless in the final pair of games against Louisiana-Lafayette. Now hitting .412 on the year, and still one of her team’s most capable hitters, Landry needs to break out of her slide in a big way if the Tigers are to upset Florida State and head to the World Series. Facing Meghan King and Jessica Burroughs, that will be no easy task; if it can be done, though, Landry will be a big catalyst to the Tigers’ attempt at upset.

3. Will the Auburn/Oklahoma rematch be as competitive as the 2016 Championship Series?
The Auburn Tigers are a very different team than they were in Oklahoma City last June following their loss in the winner-take-all game #3 of the WCWS Championship Series. After losing three crucial seniors on offense, as well as several pieces of their pitching staff puzzle, the 2017 season took a turn downhill following several off-the-field incidents that cast a dark shadow over the plains of Tigertown for much of the season. For the Sooners, though their roster contains many of the same pieces that helped them to the national title last year, they no longer carry the air of blossoming underdogs that was a part of their 2016 run. Both teams need to catch their stride going into Oklahoma City if they intend to seriously challenge for the championship, and the renewal of a budding rivalry could do just that for either team. It's a fairly even playing field once-again, and it could be a very interesting series if the pieces fall correctly.

4. Will Ole Miss sustain the hot streak in Los Angeles?
Ask even a casual softball fan what the story of the softball postseason has been and you're likely to hear about the Ole Miss Rebels. Mike Smith's squad has put together a remarkable run, winning the SEC tournament and cruising their first-ever hosted regional to land a spot in Los Angeles for the Supers. As a jumpstart, late-blooming #12 seed, facing a history-filled, high-expectations UCLA program, it might seem like the Rebels are beat before they set foot on the field. Don't count them out. The Bruins have proven vulnerable at times, even at home - in 2014, they were bested by another SEC upstart team, Kentucky, in the Super Regional round in Los Angeles. Kaitlin Lee has to sustain her red-hot postseason dominance and the Rebels' offense has to keep clicking, but if there's one lesson to be learned from the postseason thus far, it's to never count the Rebels out.

5. Will Kelly Barnhill or Meghan Gregg solidify their case for Player of the Year?
Florida's Kelly Barnhill is one of three finalists for the National Player
of the Year trophy. / Photo: UAA Communications
The Florida pitcher and Tennessee infielder, respectively, were announced this week as two of the three finalists for the National Player of the Year award, joined by James Madison pitcher Megan Good in that category. Barnhill and Gregg, the SEC's Pitcher and Player of the Year, are the only two who can continue to boost their resume prior to the award's winner being announced. In the case of Barnhill, she will face an Alabama team that the Gators did not play in 2017, but against whom she allowed just three hits and two runs, earning the win, in her single outing against the Tide in 2016. For Gregg, she faces off against Texas A&M pitching off of whom she hit .400 in a three-game set earlier this season, including a home run, two runs, and five RBI.

Barnhill, Good, Gregg Finalists for National POTY

Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill, James Madison pitcher Megan Good, and Tennessee infielder Meghan Gregg have been named the three finalists for the National Player of the Year award that will be given out next week in Oklahoma City.

For the first time in history, all sixteen seeded teams have advanced to the Super Regional round. #13 LSU and #10 Oklahoma advanced to their respective Super Regionals after winner-take-all games on Monday following a rain-soaked weekend regional tournament.

Barnhill, who was named the SEC Player of the Year, leads the nation with a 0.35 ERA and 310 strikeouts. She ranks in the top ten in the nation in shutouts and strikeouts, while her twenty-three victories ranks third in the conference. The righty hurler earned first-team all-SEC honors and first-team all-region honors as just a sophomore.

Good, the Colonial Athletic Association's star and three-time conference Pitcher of the Year, recorded thirty-eight victories for the JMU Dukes this season, a number that led the nation. Good's season ERA of 0.63 ranks third in the nation, while her fourteen shutouts also lead the nation. She earned first-team all-conference honors for the third year in a row, as well as a first-team all-region nod.

Gregg enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2017, recording a .440 batting average, fourteen home runs, and seventy-seven RBI. Her batting average, as well as her .555 on-base percentage, are good enough to rank in the top ten in the nation. The SEC Player of the Year, Gregg leads the SEC in batting average, slugging percentage, RBI, and total bases, and was named all-conference and all-region.

The trio was whittled down from a list of ten finalists that also included Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Sara Groenewegen of Minnesota, Arizona's Katiyana Mauga and Danielle O'Toole, and ACC Player of the Year Jessica Warren, among others.

The 2017 National Player of the Year will be announced on May 30 in Oklahoma City, prior to the start of the Women's College World Series.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Opdenbrouw Out at Tennessee State

Tennessee State head coach Tom Opdenbrouw will not return as the Tigers' head coach in 2018, the school announced on Friday.

Opdenbrouw assembled a 33-119 record during his three-year tenure at TSU, including just nine victories in conference play. The Tigers posted a 9-64 mark in Ohio Valley Conference games during Opdenbrouw's time at the helm of the program.

In 2017, Tennessee State went 12-37 overall with a 2-19 mark in conference play.

Opdenbrouw was in his second tenure with TSU softball, following a two-year stint as an assistant coach from 2008-2010. From 2010-2014, he served as Director of Football Operations for the Tigers' squad on the gridiron.

An Army veteran, Opdenbrouw's resume also includes several years spent as head coach at Lindsey Wilson College of the NAIA, as well as assistant coaching stops at SUNY Utica/Rome and SUNY Oneonta.

Austin Peay Declines to Renew Showalter's Contract

Shane Showalter is out at Austin Peay, and the Governors will look for the third head coach in four years in 2018.

Showalter served as head coach from 2016-17, following a three-year stint as an assistant at the school. He amassed a 26-69 overall record in his two seasons, including a 10-37 conference record.

Prior to joining the staff at Austin Peay, Showalter served for a decade as head coach at Colorado State-Pueblo. His resume also includes multiple other stops at lower-level colleges, including Adams State, his alma mater.

Showalter also is in his first year as head coach of the Greek National team.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Division II Player of the Year Finalists Announced

The three finalists for Division II National Player of the Year have been announced. Kaitlyn Bannister of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH); Coley Ries of Minnesota State; and Lyndsay Butler of Wayne State have been named as finalists for the award.

Butler, who won the award in 2016, won her second straight Great Lake Valley Conference Player of the Year award this season after hitting .450 with seven home runs and thirty-nine RBI. Not just a hitter, Butler also boasts a 24-9 record in the circle for the Warriors and holds a Division II-leading 0.61 ERA and more than 200 strikeouts.

Bannister has two conference Player of the Year awards herself, coming out of the Gulf Court Conference, and leads all of Division II with seventy-one RBI on the year. Her .482 batting average set a new UAH program record, while she also amassed a .906 slugging percentage and twenty-one home runs.

Ries leads the NCAA with 403 strikeouts and averages twelve KOs per seven innings. She also boasts thirty-four wins on the season, as well as a 0.89 ERA. Opponents have hit just .143 against Ries, as she set program records for wins and strikeouts.

The award’s winner will be announced on May 24, Wednesday, at the Division 2 championship banquet. The award is in its third year of existence, after being created in 2015 to mimic the similar award at the Division 1 level.

Vecchione to Reach UCLA Hall of Fame

Cal Poly associate head coach Gina Vecchione will be inducted into her alma mater, UCLA’s, Hall of Fame later this year.

Vecchione, one of nine inductees in the class of 2017 for the Bruins, was part of the Bruins’ first-ever Women’s College World Series-winning squad, and was named to the all-WCWS tournament squad in 1982.

A three-time all-region winner, Vecchione was named an all-American in 1982. She earned an admission to the PAC-12’s all-Century team.

In 2007, the Bruins softball program retired her #2 jersey. Vecchione was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1997.

She is joined in induction into the Bruins Hall of Fame in 2017 by Toby Bailey (basketball); Robin Beauregard (water polo); Monique Henderson (track and field); Maurice Jones-Drew (football); Bob Larsen (coach); Kristen Maloney (gymnastics); Brandon Taliaferro (volleyball); and Bobby Field (extraordinary service).