Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Alabama Profile: Tide Must Reascend to Conference Elite

General Overview/2016 Recap: The Crimson Tide began their season with a shocking loss to Central Florida by an 8-1 score, but followed that up with four wins to close out the Orlando-hosted tournament.

The Tide stretched their winning streak to eighteen, a stretch that included their hosted 'Bama Bash' where they recorded two victories over Arizona, including one by run rule, as well as conference foe Tennessee.

Patrick Murphy and Co.'s second loss of the year did not come until early March, a tight 2-1 defeat at the hands of North Dakota State.

A series loss at LSU began conference play in similarly surprising fashion for the Tide faithful, as the Tigers took two of the series' three games.

A break from conference play followed, where the Tide lost to Oklahoma en route to a 4-1 weekend result at the Fullerton, CA-hosted tournament.

The Tide did not lost a conference series the rest of the year, taking home series wins over Missouri; Florida; Texas A&M; Kentucky; South Carolina; and Georgia, and sweeping Mississippi State.

At the SEC tournament, the Tide best host Mississippi State, but a loss to Auburn in the tournament's second round ended their championship hopes prematurely.

A dominant run through Regionals followed, as the Tide allowed just one run en route to a 3-0 record that included sending home PAC-12 foe Cal.

The Washington Huskies came to Tuscaloosa for the Super Regional round, and the Tide finished another Pac-12 foe off in two games, by scores of 2-1 (in eight innings) and 5-2.

In Oklahoma City, the Tide bus headed back for Tuscaloosa on Saturday, as the Tide went 0-2 and headed home for the earliest time since 2013, when they failed to make the World Series at all.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P – Alexis Osorio; Sydney Littlejohn; Madi Moore
C – Reagan Dykes
1B – (Leona LaFaele)
2B – Chandler Dare
3B – Peyton Grantham
SS – Sydney Booker
LF – (Kallie Case)
CF – (Haylie McCleney)
RF – (Andrea Hawkins)
DP – Marisa Runyon
Carrying the Clipboards: Head coach Patrick Murphy is one of the sport's most dynamic and popular personalities; the only head coach in Crimson Tide softball history and having spent nearly two decades at the program's helm, absent a few days with the infamous LSU-and-back move from several years ago, he was responsible for the Tide's championship run in 2012. 2016 was the program's eleventh Women's College World Series berth and eighteenth straight NCAA tournament berth.

Aly Habetz, Murphy's longtime assistant and nearly equally as responsible for the program's success, handles the team's offense. In 2017, Habetz' offense hit .313 as a whole, with four players who hit above .375. Haylie McCleney led the way for the Tide statistically, posting team-best batting average (.443) and slugging percentage (.695). Also the program's outfield coach, Habetz' primary trio of outfielders made just three field errors in the entirety of the 2016 season, a mark that included a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage by left fielder Kallie Case.

Pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro, herself a Crimson Tide alum, joined the Tide staff prior to their championship-winning season in 2012. In 2017, she has possibly her deepest pitching staff since she took over tutelage of the Tide's pitchers. Alexis Osorio has established herself as a bonafide SEC ace, while sophomore Madi Moore impressed in her frshman season in 2016. Sydney Littlejohn earned all-American honors a season ago and is a solid, if occasionally 'iffy' member of the rotation. Prothro's staff put together a team ERA of 2.45 in 2016, including 369 strikeouts and an opponent's batting average of .226.

Additions: The Tide's four-member freshman class includes in-state natives Claire Jenkins and Elissa Brown, as well as Louisiana native Bailey Hemphill and California native Gabby Callaway.
Subtractions: The Tide said 'sayonara' to a four-member senior class, including their entire starting outfield of Kallie Case; Haylie McCleney; and Andrea Hawkins, as well as slugging first baseman Leona LaFaele.

Scheduling: The Tide will kick off their season at the Coastal Carolina-hosted Kickin' Chicken Classic in Conway, South Carolina.

The Tide will play an early-season, three-game weekend set at Louisiana-Lafayette, and will host the Easton Bama Bash the following weekend where they'll host UCF and Texas Tech, among other teams.

At the Easton Crimson Classic in early March, the Tide will host Stanford; Jacksonville; and Drake at Rhoads Stadium and will kick off their conference schedule at home against Arkansas a week later.

The conference schedule will include visits to Mississippi State; Missouri; Tennessee; and Ole Miss, while the Tide will play host to South Carolina; LSU; and Auburn, as well as a two-game rematch of the 2016 Super Regionals against the PAC-12's Washington.

The SEC tournament will be held in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths – Returning one's entire pitching staff is always a positive for any team, and the Tide will do just that in 2017. Osorio; Moore; and Littlejohn will all retake the circle for the Tide and figure to play large roles in the ebb and flow of the Tide's success. Despite losing a senior class full of starters, the Tide do return several exciting players on offense who should be able to help fill some of the holes in the batting order and on defense.

Weaknesses – The Tide did lose four starters to graduation, including three of the top five hitters from a season ago. Haylie McCleney will be the most difficult to replace, as she is an extremely-rare style of player, but don't underestimate the loss of LaFaele, as well. The Tide also seem to have retreated a bit in the midst of a busy conference race and are no longer even the premier program in the state of Alabama, having relinquished that title to bitter rivals Auburn.

Outlook for 2017: Once again, returning one's entire pitching staff year-to-year is always a large strong point, and the Tide have that going for them in a big way in 2017. Again, as well, though, they seem to have become lost amongst the mid-pack of the SEC as the conference continues to rise to the top. They'll have to fix that if they want to not only get back to Oklahoma City, but challenge for another national title.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Michigan Profile: Lacking Romero, Wolverines Must Retool

General Overview/2016 Recap: In a highly-anticipated rematch of the 2015 Championship Series, the Wolverines took a stunning shutout, run-rule loss at the hands of the Florida Gators on the season's second day, by a score of 8-0 in five innings.

The Wolverines breezed through the ACC/Big Ten challenge with ease in Tallahassee, Florida, twice besting then-#13 Florida State and fellow ACC foe Virginia Tech.

Without Sierra Romero for the first time in years, the Wolverines'
middle infield will take on a new look.
(Photo: Michigan Athletic Communications)

At the Mary Nutter Classic, the Wolverines got back on the right track, besting eventual champion Oklahoma, followed by run-rule victories over Oklahoma State and North Carolina State. A loss to Washington was followed by a win over Long Beach State to the finish out the tournament.

At the Judi Garman Classic, a perfect 5-0 record awaited Carol Hutchins' squad, which included wins over Missouri; Long Beach State; Cal; North Carolina; and Oregon State.

Michigan began conference play in shocking fashion with a loss to Northwestern that saw the two teams score a combined twenty-five runs. The Wolverines would come back and win the series, following that with a sweep of Indiana and a series win over Nebraska.

The Wolverines swept four straight conference series' to close out the regular season, besting Ohio State; Maryland; Penn State; and Rutgers during that span.

At the B1G tournament, the Wolverines easily made their way through the first two games before taking the loss in an extra-inning affair against Minnesota for the conference title.

The Wolverines dominated a Regional field that included ranked Notre Dame and swept a hard-fought Super Regional against Missouri.

The Wolverines suffered from a bit of a scheduling snafu at the Women's College World Series, After a victory over LSU to open the series, the Wolverines lost a late game to Oklahoma on Saturday and had to turn around and play Florida State in an elimination game early the next morning. Nevertheless, the Wolverines offense went cold and were dominated by the opposing pitching, losing a 1-0 battle to the Noles to head home prematurely.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P – Megan Betsa; (Sara Driesenga)
C – Aidan Falk
1B – Tera Blanco
2B – (Sierra Romero)
3B – Lindsay Montemarano
SS – Abby Ramirez
LF – Kelly Christner
CF – (Sierra Lawrence)
RF – (Kelsey Susalla)
DP – Faith Canfield/Amanda Vargas
Carrying the Clipboards: Head coach Carol Hutchins remains one of the finest softball minds in the nation. The winningest coach in Division 1 history and a winner of some 1,400 career games, Hutchins is solely responsible for the Wolverines program's rise to a top national contender on an annual basis. Hutchins led her program to their third Women's College World Series berth in four years in 2016 and earned the Big Ten regular-season title for the ninth straight season.

Bonnie Tholl, Hutchins' longtime assistant and currently the Wolverines' Associate Head Coach, can be given the credit for the development of the Wolverines' 'outies'; she'll have her work cut out for her to replace two starters in Lawrence and Susalla who became stalwarts of both the team's batting order and defense as their careers rolled on. Lawrence twice earned all-American honors while under Tholl's tutelage, and Kelly Christner's meteoric rise can be attributed, at least in part, to Tholl's work, as well.

Jennifer Brundage remains one of the most underappreciated pitching coaches in the nation; the former UCLA hurler has spent nearly two decades in the maize and blue, presiding over nine conference Pitchers of the Year and seventeen All-Americans. The Wolverines pitching staff posted an ERA just above 2.00 at 2.04 in 2016 and reigning all-American and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Megan Betsa posted a sub-2.00 mark in more than two hundred innings of work.

Additions: The class of 2020 includes catcher Abby Skvarce; outfielder Thais Gonzalez; infielder Madison Uden; and outfielder Haley Hoogenraad.
Subtractions: Departing the program after last season was a large graduating-senior class that included Sierra Romero; Sierra Lawrence; Sara Driesenga; Kelsey Susalla; Mary Sbonek; Olivia Richvalsky; and Lauren Connell. Romero, Lawrence, and Susalla will all require replacing in the starting lineup, as will Driesenga as the #2 pitcher in the staff.

Scheduling: *This article will be updated when the team's regular-season schedule is released.

The Wolverines will again match up against the Gators of Florida at the South Florida-hosted season-opening tournament in an early-season rematch of the 2015 championship series.

Hutchins' squad will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; they will participate in the grouping that includes conference fellow Minnesota and ACC opponents Notre Dame and North Carolina State.

At the Mary Nutter Classic, the Wolverines will take on Florida State; Texas A&M; and Arizona State from the Power Five, as well as New Mexico State and Bethune Cookman.

In conference play, the Wolverines will travel to Ohio State and Rutgers and host Indiana, among others. Without a meeting on the conference schedule, they'll also play a home-and-home series against archrival Michigan State, the results of which will not count toward the conference standings.
Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths – Carol Hutchins also seems to find a way to win. Megan Betsa returns to the circle, as do several of the program's top offensive producers from a season ago. Kelly Christner, Aidan Falk, Tera Blanco, Abby Ramirez, and others should make a real impact and any could breakout to a national award-contender any time during the year.

Weaknesses – Of any program, Michigan seems to have the least difficulty in replacing graduated players; however, they'll have several gaping holes to fill going into this season. Betsa seemed to have some lingering back issues in the latter part of last season and it remains to be seen if those issues will be fully behind her when the regular season rolls around. Minnesota has come on strong in the least several seasons, providing the first real challenge in some time to Michigan's reign atop the conference, and the Wolverines may once-again have their hands full in retaining the "top spot".

Outlook for 2017: The Wolverines remain loaded on offense, despite losing the reigning Player of the Year, and have several young offensive stalwarts who are primed and ready to prove themselves as consistent stars at a high level. Pitching will be a question, as Betsa may not be able to carry such a large workload if her injury questions linger and the depth is more slight than in the earlier part of her career. Michigan remains one of the nation's premier programs and I expect them to have another stellar regular season, as per usual, but I predict they'll meet a match in the Super Regionals and will be watching the World Series from their couches this year.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Georgia Profile: Dawgs Must Replace Large, Heavy Senior Class

General Overview/2016 Recap: The Bulldogs began the 2016 season with eleven straight victories, including the first ten all by run-rule. In their ten games, the Bulldogs outscored their opponents by a combined score of 108-7.

Lu Harris-Champer's Dawgs took their first loss to future fellow Women's College World Series compatriots UCLA in a final result that saw the Bulldogs in another run-rule game, this time on the receiving end of the lopsided score.

After a 4-1 showing at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, including the loss to UCLA, the Athens-hosted Georgia Softball Classic saw the Dawgs post another identical 4-1 record over the weekend, this time with the loss coming to Minnesota.

Conference play began for the Bulldogs with a surprising series loss to South Carolina. A sweep of Texas A&M followed, a weekend that included a five-inning, run-rule victory over the Aggies.

The Dawgs won both games of a home-and-home series against rival Georgia Tech, shutting out the archrival Yellow Jackets in both matchups.

A series loss to LSU in Athens, followed by an eight-inning loss to North Carolina put the Dawgs into a serious "valley" near the midpoint of the season. A sweep of Missouri and series win over Ole Miss were the remaining bright spots on the Dawgs' schedule; series losses to Tennessee and Alabama and a sweep at the hands of Auburn were the low points of SEC play for the Bulldogs.

It was a quick one-and-done at the SEC tournament, with a 4-2 loss to Ole Miss sending the Bulldogs home early. Shortly thereafter, the Dawgs somewhat-inexplicably earned the #16 overall seed in the NCAA Tournamen and "got hot" at the right time.

A 3-1 Regional round put the Bulldogs in an all-SEC Super Regional matchup with then-twice-defending champion Florida. The Dawgs swept the Gators in convincing fashion, including a shutout of the Gators' prolific offense by a score of 3-0 in Game 1.

At the World Series, the Dawgs bested Florida State before losses to Auburn and LSU ended their season.

Chelsea Wilkinson's graduation leaves something of a
gaping hole in the Bulldogs' pitching circle.
(Photo: Don Martukovich)
Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P – (Chelsea Wilkinson); Brittany Gray; Kylie Bass
C – Maeve McGuire
1B – (Tina Iosefa)
2B – (Alex Hugo)
3B – Alyssa DiCarlo
SS – Lacey Sumerlin
LF – Cortni Emanuel
CF – Samantha LaZear
RF – Sydni Emanuel
DP – (Kaylee Puailoa)
Carrying the Clipboards: Head coach Lu Harris-Champer must be considered one of the nation's finest, and surely at the top of the conference, as her Bulldogs are contenders and regularly in the top twenty-five year-in and year-out. In her sixteen seasons at the helm of the program (2017 will be her seventeenth), the Bulldogs have reached the NCAA postseason in fifteen straight years, including three times the Women's College World Series. She'll likely reach the 800-win mark for her Bulldog career during the '17 campaign.

Former UGA volunteer assistant Tony Baldwin has been back in Athens as a full-time assistant since 2014. Historically a baseball coach, Baldwin can be credited with the continued progression of the Bulldog offense since his return to Athens. Now-graduated first baseman Tina Iosefa broke the SEC single-season RBI record with eighty-seven in her senior year, while Alyssa DiCarlo led the nation's freshmen with sixty-seven RBI on the year and eleven home runs, nine of them against conference opponents.

LSU great Rachele Fico must receive much of the praise for the development of the Dawgs' pitching staff during their World Series run in 2016. In her first season in Athens and just her second as a full-time assistant coach at any level, she oversaw her staff to a team ERA of 2.27 with an opponent's batting average of .221. Senior Chelsea Wilkinson and freshman Kylie Bass both posted individual Earned Run Averages under 2.00, while sophomore Brittany Gray enjoyed a still-respectable ERA just over 3.00. Fico's staff posted better than a 3/1 strikeout/walk ratio.

Alex Hugo is the Dawgs' greatest offensive subtraction; they'll not
only miss her bat, but her fiery, veteran leadership, as well.
Additions: The Dawgs will bring in an eleven-member freshman class, among them twins Kaylie and Karlie Harding, as well as fellow in-state natives Mary Wilson Avant and Alysen Febrey and California native Mahlena O'Neal, among others.
Subtractions: The Bulldogs said good-bye to possible their most talented senior class since the Class of 2011 that included Megan Wiggins, Taylor Schlopy, and Alisa Goler. Pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson; second baseman Alex Hugo; center fielder Samantha LaZear; first baseman Tina Iosefa; utility player Kaylee Puailoa; and catcher Katie Browne all finished their careers in the black and red.

Scheduling: *This article will be updated when the team's regular-season schedule is released.

The Dawgs will play at the Mary Nutter Classic's second weekend of games, where they will match up against UCLA; BYU; Notre Dame; Northwestern; and Cal State Fullerton.

In conference play, they'll match up against South Carolina and defending conference champ Auburn at home in Athens, while they'll travel to Florida and Texas A&M, among others. They'll avoid facing off against Tennessee and Alabama.

Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths – Alyssa DiCarlo enjoyed a tremendous breakout freshman campaign and will be heavily relied upon to be a powerful bat in the Dawgs' batting order. Fico, for reasons previously mentioned, enjoyed a breakout season herself as the program's pitching coach, and with Chelsea Wilkinson's departure, she will have some work to do to develop the remaining Bulldogs pitchers into top-level hurlers, and fast. She has proven she has the coaching "chops" to do just that. Kylie Bass and Brittany Gray, a sophomore and junior, respectively, showed productivity already a season ago and, when pressed to make up for Wilkinson's stead, should show the ability to come through.

Weaknesses – The Dawgs lost a lot of power and impact in the midst of their lineup, including Alex Hugo, Tina Iosefa, and Samantha LaZear. Nearly every member of their departed senior class was a starter at some point and making up for that kind of loss all at once is tough for even the best programs. In the same breath, Chelsea Wilkinson's absence will force Gray and Bass into elevated roles beyond what they have ever pitched in to this point, and while both possess the skill set, it remains to be seen if they will thrive or flounder under the pressure of such a situation. While the Dawgs' NCAA tournament run was impressive, including the upset of Florida in Supers, there was also an air of flukiness to the victories and it is up to Harris-Champer's squad to prove that was not the case.

Outlook for 2017: The Bulldogs surprised and impressed at the end of the postseason a season ago, but lost to graduation many of the pieces that made that run possible. The toughest immediate hill to overcome may be for the pitching staff to make up for Chelsea Wilkinson's work load in the circle. If Rachele Fico can facilitate such a breakout, the Dawgs may be dangerous in postseason play once again. If not, they could easily be lost admist a tight conference race.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Florida State Profile: Quietly Loaded, 'Noles Could Surprise

General Overview/2016 Recap: Lonni Alameda's Seminoles began the 2016 in unspectacular fashion, taking a loss to Illinois in the season-opening tournament and ending their chances at a perfect season. They won five of their first six, including a victory over defending Big East champs St. John's.

Slugging first baseman Alex Powers enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2016,
and looks to build on that success in her senior year. (Photo: FSU
Athletic Communications)
In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, back-to-back losses to Michigan were lightened a bit by competitive play by both teams, as well as a duo of victories over the Big Ten's perennial "second banana" Minnesota in another matchup of top-25 teams.

After the losses to Michigan, the 'Noles went on a twenty-two game winning streak, including into the start of conference play.

A victory over future Women's College World Series foe UCLA began a successful West Coast trip for the Seminoles, as did four consecutive run-rule victories on that same road trip, including a shutout over the defending Big West conference champs CSU-Northridge.

Three-game sweeps over Syracuse and North Carolina successfully began conference play for the Noles, followed by a one-and-one split at Notre Dame in another battle of ranked opponents.

The Noles lost just two conference games all season, and did not lose a single conference series through the course of the year, including a loss to Louisville in the season-ending conference series.

An in-state rivalry home-and-home series against the Gators from Gainesville did not turn out well for the Noles, as they dropped both games, including a rain-rescheduled eventual 1-0 loss in twelve registered innings in the first of the games. A double-header split against another SEC foe in the Auburn Tigers provided some style points for the Noles in a mid-season matchup.

The Noles made quick work of the opposition in the ACC tournament, disposing of Pittsburgh in a run-rule, shutout victory and besting North Carolina and Notre Dame thereafter en route to yet another conference title.

Hosting a regional as the #7 seed nationally, the Noles once again made quick work of the opposition, dispatching Florida A&M and South Carolina in consecutive shutout victories before disposing of the Gamecocks in a close 2-1 matchup to clinch the regional victory crown.

Once again hosting a Super Regional, Alameda's club kept their hot streak going, besting the PAC-12's Utah in two games in another matchup of ranked opponents; yet another shutout win clinched the Noles' appearance in Oklahoma City.

A close loss to Georgia opened the Noles' WCWS stand in disappointing fashion, putting the squad's backs against the wall quickly. A dominant victory over UCLA and a somewhat-surprising victory in a pitching duel over Michigan put the Noles in the World Series semifinals. Their season came to an end there, however, in an extra-innings tilt against Auburn.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P – Jessica Burroughs; Meghan King
C – Sydney Broderick
1B – Alex Powers
2B – Ellie Cooper
3B – Jessica Warren
SS – Cali Harrod
LF – (Alex Kossoff)
CF – Morgan Klaevemann
RF – Carsyn Gordon
DP – Zoe Casas
Jessica  Burroughs will lead the FSU pitching
staff in 2017, her senior season.
Carrying the Clipboards: Lonni Alameda, an Oklahoma grad, has more than made her mark in less than a decade leading the charge in Tallahassee. Going into her ninth season at the program's helm, Alameda is the conference's Coach of the Year four years running and has to be the perennial favorite for the award going into the 2017 season. She has led her squad to two Women's College World Series appearances in the past three seasons and has led her program to the NCAA tournament every season since she took the reins. A pitching coach prior to joining the head ranks, and still in charge of the pitching staff as the head honcho, Alameda has seen no shortage of talent come through her program in the circle, including Burroughs and King, who will spin the ball for the 'Noles in 2017.

Travis Wilson and Craig Snider (not to be confused with former Major League Baseball players Travis Snider and Craig Wilson) are the offensive brains behind the 'Noles' powerhouse batting order. It is to Wilson and Snider that a lot of the credit belongs for FSU's breakout offense over the last several seasons. Players like Courtney Senas blossomed under the duo's tutelage and Senas herself went on to play in the professional league. Powers put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers in the first couple of seasons of her career, as she recovered from multiple knee injuries and surgeries, but broke out in a mighty way a season ago with her all-American campaign that saw her hit .396 and sixteen home runs.The 2016 freshman class immediately thrived under Wilson and Snider's guidance, including Gordon; Casas; and Harrod, who hit an average of .286 between them with fourteen home runs and 106 RBI.

Additions: The Noles' freshman class includes a sextet of players, including native Floridian Cassidy Davis who chose FSU over Alabama and Stanford; Georgia's Dani Morgan, who also rejected offers from Alabama and Michigan. The remainder of the newcomers are: Anna Shelnutt; Sydney Bates; Elizabeth Mason; and Leslie Farris.
Subtractions: Outfielder Alex Kossoff was the only senior starter to say good-bye following last season, though the Noles also said sayonara to former ace first baseman and outfielder Victoria East and catcher Macey Cheatham also graduated. 2015 ACC All-Tournament Team member Victoria Daddis is also conspicuously absent from the 2017 roster, apparently telling the program good-bye with a season of eligibility remaining.

Scheduling: *This article will be updated when the team's regular-season schedule is released.

As part of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Tallahassee will play host to the B1G's Nebraska and Northwestern, as well as conference compatriot Pittsburgh, foir a group of games in mid-February.

The Seminoles will participate in the Mary Nutter Classic's second weekend of games and will face off against fellow 2016 World Series participants UCLA and Michigan, as well as Arizona; Texas A&M; Stanford; and San Diego State.

The conference slate will include visits to Virginia Tech; Louisville; and Virginia, as well as hosting series' versus Notre Dame; North Carolina; and Pittsburgh, the latter a full three-game set outside of the afore-mentioned early-season conference Challenge. 

The classic home-and-home series with the Gators from Gainesville will continue, with one game between the two teams hosted in Gainesville and the second in Tallahassee.

Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths – With the vast majority of their offensive playmakers from a year ago returning in '17, Alameda doesn't have to do much tinkering with her lineup and can rely on the same big playmakers to help keep her offense on a consistently-high plateau. In the circle, Alameda returns her top two pitchers from a season ago and can again rely on veteran experience to shut down opposing hitters.

Weaknesses – The Seminoles play in possibly the weakest Power Five conference, which will help the Noles' win-loss record, but may hurt them when it comes time to face the "big boys" in the postseason. Meghan King showed some serious bouts of being in-over-her-head in Oklahoma City, so she will need to buckle down and show she can compete against even the biggest competition on the biggest stage. The biggest issue facing the Noles is not to get too complacent; returning virtually the same lineup and the same primary pitching staff, it is easy to fall into the trap of just keeping on keeping on. Instead, the Noles need to make sure they are consistently getting even better if they are to, in fact, contend for the national title.

Outlook for 2017: The Noles return the bevy of their offensive stars from a season ago, including all-American Alex Powers. Quietly packed nearly from top to bottom in their bottom order, and with two quality hurlers in the circle in the fellow all-American Burroughs and King, Alameda's club has an opportunity to rocket to the top and challenge for a national title.