Thursday, January 19, 2017

Akron Racers' Perryman Earns BBWAA Award

Akron Racer and former UMSL pitcher Hannah Perryman was presented with an award at the 55th Annual Baseball Writers Association of America St. Louis Chapter Dinner.

Perryman was presented with the John E. Wray-Myron Holtzman Award, given for achievement in sport other than professional baseball.

In her final season at Division II Missouri-St. Louis in 2016, Perryman ended her career with four Division II career records, including strikeouts with 1,725 and perfect games (nine). She earned all-region honors in all four seasons of her career and was three times named the Great Lake Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year.

She was named a first-team all-American for the second year in a row and set the Division II single-season record for strikeouts with 567 in her senior campaign.

Perryman was the first-ever player from Division II drafted to the National Pro Fastpitch league, having been selected by the Akron Racers with the 37th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2016 draft.

Big 12 Conference Forecast

A member of the "Power Five" group of conferences, the Big 12 is actually made up of ten schools, which has been the case since the departure of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC in 2012. Seven of the ten teams sponsor softball, with Kansas State; TCU; and West Virginia the trio of holdouts.

The Big 12, which has not sponsored a championship tournament since 2010, will reinstate their conference postseason in 2017. The two-day tournament will take place at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four.

OK State's Vanessa Shippy is primed and ready
for a breakout campaign.
Photo: Cowgirl Athletics
Team that could improve and surprise: Oklahoma State Cowgirls
     (In Kenny Gajewski's first season at the program's helm, the Cowgirls advanced past a subpar conference record and advanced to the Athens, Georgia regional. The Cowgirls took victories over all three of their fellow participants, including the Big Ten's Northwestern and host Georgia, but losses to the Wildcats and Bulldogs bookened the regional slate and ended the Cowgirls' season prematurely. The Cowgirls lose home run leader Tiffany Mikkelson and and innings-eater and pitching leader Kacy Freeze, but return, among others, Vanessa Shippy and Taylor Lynch on offense. Shea Coats and Brandi Needham both should benefit from having another year under their belt, and freshman Logan Simunek should make a valuable addition to that staff. Expect the Cowgirls to improve swiftly in Gajewski's year #2 and make some noise in conference play and in the postseason.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Baylor Bears
     (The Bears fell just short of earning a national seed in the NCAA tournament last year, and inexplicably instead earned placement in the Eugene, Duck-hosted regional. The departed senior class included two players responsible for twenty-three of the Bears' fifty-eight home runs a season ago, including .400 hitter Sarah Smith, as well as workhorse hurler Heather Stearns and her 2.10 ERA. Smith and Stearns may be the biggest losses for the Bears, though Hays' impact should be underscored, as well. Though some pieces remain in place on offense and Kendall Potts performed well in just over 100 innings of work in the circle, the Bears should still make the postseason, but expect them to regress considerably.)

Player of the Year: Vanessa Shippy, Oklahoma State
Pitcher of the Year: Paige Parker, Oklahoma
Coach of the Year: Kenny Gajewski, Oklahoma State

Conference Champs: Oklahoma Sooners
Top WCWS Contender: Oklahoma Sooners

Players to Watch:
--> Shay Knighten, Oklahoma – If an uninformed person just stopped to watch Shay Knighten last season, he would have seen the style of play of a seasoned vet, not a player in her first year in college. Knighten was a huge catalyst in the Sooners' championship run, finishing the season with a .397 batting average, thirteen home runs, and a .670 slugging percentage. She led her team in four categories, including batting average, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage, none of them a minor feat. She came in clutch in the postseason, dropping clutch home runs including the walk-off shot that beat Alabama. It seems to me that Knighten was only getting started a season ago - I would not be surprised to see her even improve on her freshman season, put up a strong fight for Player of the Year, and earn all-American honors.

--> Taylor Lynch, Oklahoma State – As a rookie herself in 2016, Lynch earned all-conference second-team and all-freshman honors. Her .391 batting average was good enough for sixth overall in the Big 12 and was second on the Cowgirls squad. She makes a nice compliment to Shippy in the lineup and batting order, giving the Cowgirls two dangerous weapons that are very similar to one another, statistically-speaking. Expect her also to breakout in 2016; she has a good chance of challenging for the conference batting title and earning all-conference and all-region first-team honors in just her second campaign in Stillwater.

--> Tiarra Davis and Erica Wright, Texas – Despite suffering through injury for part of the year, Davis still paced the Longhorns in the circle, amassing a sub-2.00 ERA with 186 strikeouts in 213 innings of work. She pitched well and absorbed the lion's share of the work in the circle after Erica Wright fell ill to a rib injury and did not play all season. With Wright back, expect she and Davis to put together a solid 1-2 punch in the circle and perhaps help lead the Longhorns to postseason relevance once again.

Biggest Questions:
* Will Oklahoma repeat as National Champions?
* How difficult will the Sooners' challengers be in the conference race?
* How will Tripp MacKay's return to the Red River Rivalry impact the Big 12 as a whole?

Top Seniors:
P – Shea Coats, Oklahoma State; Brandi Needham, Oklahoma State; Tiarra Davis, Texas; Mattison Maisel, Texas Tech
IF – Celina Felix, Texas; Kelli Hanzel, Texas; Ari Hawkins, Baylor; Rachel Hartman, Iowa State; Susan Welborn, Texas Tech
OF – Cathlin Bingham, Iowa State
UT/DP – Lindsey Cargill, Baylor; Kierra Miles, Texas Tech

Conference Projection:
1. Oklahoma Sooners
2. Oklahoma State Cowgirls
3. Texas Longhorns
4. Kansas Jayhawks
5. Baylor Bears
6. Texas Tech Red Raiders
7. Iowa State Cyclones

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

C-USA Conference Forecast

One of the top mid-major conferences in the nation, traditionally, the C-USA is made up of teams stretching from the mid-East coast all the way through Texas, Florida, and the Southern states. Twelve of the conference's fourteen teams compete in softball, leaving Rice and Old Dominion as the lone holdouts.

Kylee Hanson is the elite of the nation, not just the CUSA.
Photo: Conference USA
The conference is split into two divisions of six teams each, the East and West. The top three teams from each division earn berths in the conference tournament, as well as two at-large teams who have the best winning percentages from either division for a field of eight. The first day of the conference tournament is single-elimination, with seeds three and four receiving a bye. The top two conference seeds earn a double-bye to the second day of play, when competition enters a double-elimination format. The eventual tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. The 2017 conference tournament will be hosted by Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Team that could improve and surprise: Marshall Thundering Herd
     (Shonda Stanton runs a family-style program with the Herd and the fruit of her labors usually leaves her perennially amid the pack of tight conference contenders. The speedy Kaelynn Greene had graduated, leaving the Herd with a hole at the top of their lineup, but infielder Morgan Zerkle is a superstar in green and white and has a solid supporting cast around her with some budding breakout players. Junior Elicia D'Orazio might sneak up on some people, while sophomore Briana Daiss was the only Herdster to put up double-digit home run totals a season ago. In the circle, Jordan Dixon is a classic workhorse and held opponents to a .235 batting average and recorded a 2.82 ERA in more than 268 innings in 2016. Despite Greene's absence, the Herd should enjoy success once again and be in the thick of contention for a title and an NCAA berth.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Florida Atlantic Owls
     (One of the game's classic and most respected coaches, Joan Joyce has brought the Owls to a position of both perennial relevancy and contention in the C-USA and on a national scale. Senior Kylee Hanson is a world-class hurler in the circle and can stack up against the very best of competition. Emily Lochten is a stellar player on offense and Madisyn Palmer is a star in the making if she can manage to "stick" at a starting position through the season. The Owls are in this spot because the one trait they seem to lack is an ability to "finish". They can contend during the regular season, even against quality opponents, but seem to kow-tow in the postseason when it counts. Hanson was bested and the Owls sent packing prior to even the Regional finals, and if that happens again in 2017, it would be a sad sendoff for one of the program's greatest ever. If they can manage to avoid a similar result, look out. The team is stacked.)

Player of the Year: Morgan Zerkle, Marshall
Pitcher of the Year: Kylee Hanson, Florida Atlantic
Coach of the Year: Shonda Stanton, Marshall

Conference Champion: Marshall Thundering Herd
Top WCWS Contender: Florida Atlantic Owls

Players to Watch:
--> Emily Lochten, Florida Atlantic Lochten has managed to sneak under many radars during her two years as an Owl, despite starting off with a bang in 2015 and largely improving a year later. Though her batting average slipped ever-so-slightly in her sophomore campaign, Lochten's power numbers went way up, more than quadrupling her home run total and improving her slugging percentage by nearly 160 points. Speedy on the base paths, powerful at the plate, and reliable in the field (Lochten also improved her fielding percentage from making twenty errors in her freshman campaign to just six in 2016), she is a force to be reckoned with, and conference opponents still have two years of reckoning to do with her!

--> Preslee Gallaway, Louisiana Tech - Gallaway largely flew unnoticed in her freshman campaign, though her 3.43 was a solid mark and she ranked in the top ten in the nation as a closer with five saves. A member of the Conference USA all-freshman team, do not be surprised if she fires on all cylinders this season. She impressed in the fall and will likely enjoy a bit of a heavier workload in 2017. I believe we'll see an all-conference nod in her near future.

--> Stephanie Texeira, Florida International - Frequently overshadowed by her fellow statesman at larger-market schools, Texeira has quietly paced the FIU lineup for years runing. After being named conference Freshman of the Year in 2014, she had led the program and the conference in numerous categories throughout her tenure, the least of which are not home runs; batting average; and slugging percentage. A three-time all-conference performer and an all-region selection in 2014, her freshman campaign, expect to see Texeira break out in her final season as a Panther.

Marshall's Morgan Zerkle is very, very good.
Photo: Marshall Athletic Communications
Biggest Questions:
* Will FAU's Hanson remain one of the most dominant pitchers in the nation?
* Can Western Kentucky return anywhere close to their previous top-level form?
* How great will Marshall's Morgan Zerkle be in her senior season?

Top Seniors:
P - Kylee Hanson, Florida Atlantic; Amanda Wilson, Florida Atlantic; Jordan Dixon, Marshall; Cara Goodwin, UAB; Jessica Elder, North Texas
IF - Shaelynn Braxton, Marshall; Stephanie Texeira, Florida International; Ashley Leon, Florida International; Tori Dew, Southern Miss; Lauren Holifield, Southern Miss; Pauline Tufi, Louisiana Tech; Kiki Pepi, UTEP; Kelli Schkade, North Texas
OF - Delaney Rickey, Florida Atlantic; Gabby Spallone, Florida International; Joanna Fallen, UAB; Danielle Gregory, North Texas
UT/DP - Morgan Zerkle, Marshall; Mary Warren, UAB; Randee Crawford, UTSA

Conference Projection:
East Division:
     1. Florida Atlantic Owls
     2. Marshall Thundering Herd
     3. Florida International Panthers
     4. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
     5. Charlotte 49ers
     6. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

West Division:
     1. Southern Miss Golden Eagles
     2. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
     3. UAB Blazers
     4. UTEP Miners
     5. UTSA Roadrunners
     6. North Texas Mean Green

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Colonial Athletic Conference Forecast

The Colonial consists of ten schools located up and down the East coast. Eight of the ten member schools sponsor softball, with the exceptions being Northeastern and William and Mary.

The top five seeds in the regular-season conference standings make the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a double-elimination format over the course of four days, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. The 2017 tournament will be hosted by James Madison in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Team that could surprise: James Madison Dukes
In her first year without Jailyn Ford's backup, expect Megan Good
to continue her dominance in the circle and at the plate.
Photo: JMU Athletic Communications
     (After an impressive run last season that continued into the postseason, the Dukes' World Series hopes fell a bit flat in a loss to LSU in the Supers. Between many adaptions of the "one year wonder" moniker and the graduation of dual-threat extraordinaire Jailyn Ford, some don't give the Dukes much credence this season as a contender. That is a mistake. Mickey Dean still has his ace in the hole in Megan Good and several role players are in position to be effective on an everyday basis. Jessica Mrozek and Taylor Newton are two on offense that could really break out this year. The Dukes may not be as dominant this year, but don't count them as contenders nevertheless.)

Team that could disappoint: College of Charleston Cougars
     (Linda Kalafatis has assembled yet another all-star coaching staff at C of C, adding former Virginia Tech assistant and Portland State head Barb Sherwood and former Florida Gator and Western Kentucky assistant Aja Paculba. The Cougars return several players of significance, including three of their top four hitters from a season ago, led by Taylor DuPree and her reigning .378 batting average. In the circle, Samantha Martin impressed with a sub-3.00 ERA and close to a 3/1 strikeout/walk ratio. The Cougars are selected here because I do not see a clear path for them to the top. The pieces are in place - some, including Martin, for the final time - but it remains to be seen if the squad can take advantage of those opportunities. They travel to Towson, as well as Harrisonburg to play James Madison; anything other than a top-four conference standing and at least one tournament win should be considered a disappointment.)

Player of the Year: Morgan Tolle, James Madison
Pitcher of the Year: Megan Good, James Madison
Coach of the Year: Mickey Dean, James Madison

Conference Champs: James Madison Dukes
Top WCWS Contender: James Madison Dukes

Players to Watch:
--> Anna Steinmetz, Delaware – The young Blue Hen enjoyed an impressive season at the dish in her first year, earning all-conference second-team honors and being named the CAA's Rookie of the Year. Steinmetz's fifteen home runs in her first season have already vaulted her to fourth all-time in the program's history, a list she is sure to climb as her career winds on. She posted a line of .314/15/44, with a .654 slugging percentage and .394 OBP. She collected fifty base hits, almost exactly 50% of them going for extra bases. She's a smooth hitter and a solid, young player worth keeping an eye on in Newark.

--> Brittany Alloca, Hofstra – Alloca moved from the starting first base position to starting catcher last season, but didn't seem to miss a beat in the field or on offense; she committed just two errors behind the dish and raised her batting average more than 100 points over her previous career high, while nearly doubling her career home run total. I expect something of a breakout campaign once-again for Alloca in 2017.

--> Jessica Mrozek, James Madison – It was Mrozek' s RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning that scored Morgan Tolle and gave the Dukes their first-ever Super Regional victory in Game 1 over LSU. Though the rest of the series did not go her team's way, Mrozek's hit was a crowning moment of the Dukes' magical season. A frequent, if not every-day, starter, Mrozek only appeared in thirty games in 2016, as the designated hitter. She ultimately led the program with her .375 batting average and she caught fire in the postseason, clubbing a pair of home runs in the regional before the walk-off hit to kick off the Super. If given the opportunity, she could enjoy something of a breakout campign in her own right.

Biggest Questions:
* Can James Madison maintain their level of conference dominance sans-Jailyn Ford?
* Will Hofstra return to their once-constant level of consistent contender?
* In a crowded mid-conference pack, can another team step up and become a legitimate NCAA tournament contender, as well?

Top Seniors:
P – Samantha Martin, College of Charleston; Jessica Peslak, Hofstra
IF – Madyson Moran, James Madison; Niki Prince, James Madison; Holiday Cahill, Towson; Lacey Clark, Hofstra; Michaela Transue, Hofstra
OF – Taylor Newton, James Madison; Alaina Hall, Elon

Conference Projection:
1. James Madison Dukes
2. Towson Tigers
3. Delaware Blue Hens
4. College of Charleston Cougars
5. Hofstra Pride
6. Elon Phoenix
7. Drexel Dragons
8. UNC-Wilmington Seahawks

Hofstra Trio to Have Jerseys Retired

Hofstra will retire a trio of softball jerseys previously worn by program greats at a ceremony and banquet in early February. 

Announced today, the jerseys retired will be #s 19, 1, and 2, worn by Ashley Lane; Kayleigh Lotti; and Olivia Galati, respectively. 

Lane, the senior statesman of the trio, graduated from Hofstra in 2007 after a career that saw her earn conference Rookie of the Year honors in 2004 and Player of the Year in 2006. She held and actively holds two program career records, including in the categories of home runs and RBIs, and the single-season record for RBIs. 

Lotti and Galati were the Pride’s staff aces in back-to-back classes, with Galati picking up right where Lotti left off after her own graduation in 2009. 

Lotti was three times named the conference’s Pitcher of the Year and helped lead the program to three conference championships and regional appearances. She four times earned all-region honors and her 979 career strikeouts were a program record and still sit at #2 in the program’s history. 

Galati helped the program to their first-ever Super Regional in 2012 and gained three conference championship rings and four all-region awards for her trophy case. She earned the conference’s Pitcher of the Year award in each of her four seasons, giving the Pride seven seasons in a row of having one of their pitchers awarded with that trophy. Galati, for her part, posted a program-best 129 career victories and more than 1,400 career strikeouts. Galati was the #2 overall pick in the 2013 NPF draft. 

The trio will have their jerseys retired at the first-annual First Pitch Dinner on February 4.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Former Softballer Barnes Named Arizona Interim Athletic Director

Former Arizona Wildcats first baseman and a part of the 2001 National Championship-winning club Erika Hanson Barnes has been named the interim athletic director for the Wildcats.

Barnes will assume the role on February 1, stepping into the position vacated by Greg Byrne, who will accept the same position at Alabama. Barnes had served as a senior athletic department official since 2013, including as the Senior Woman Administrator.

The length of Barnes' tenure in the position, nor whether or not she will be a candidate for the full-time position, was not immediately known.

Barnes received her bachelor's degree from UA in 2001 and began working for the athletic department in 2005, eventually moving up to her senior position in 2013.

Barnes has also served as a color analyst for Wildcats softball games on the radio.

Big West Conference Forecast

A non-football, nine-member conference, the conference operates mainly in the state of California, with one team in the state of Hawaii. The Big West was, until 1988, known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. Eight of the conference's nine full-member team participate in softball, with UC-Irvine the lone holdout.

The Big West does not host a conference tournament, so the regular-season conference champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four.

Team that could improve and surprise: Cal Poly Mustangs
     (The Mustangs' pitching is a solid core and, under the tutelage of first-year pitching coach Ally Carda last season, got better. Sierra Hyland is a world-class pitcher and took on a lower innings count, which left her with a career-low ERA, nearing 1.00 even. Junior Lindsey Chalmers lowered and improved her previous career best by nearly a full 1.00 in her own right in an increased workload. The Mustangs return their top three offensive players from 2016, including Hyland whose three home runs paced the squad. Stephanie Heyward, who posted a .390 batting average in nearly 160 plate appearances, also returns. The time could be now for the Mustangs to vault to the conference top.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Cal State Fullerton Titans
     (Traditionally one of the top annual contenders in the Big West race, and the conference champions a season ago, I foresee the Titans slipping a bit this season. Missy Taukeiaho, one of the finest players to wear a Titan uniform, has graduated, leaving Kelly Ford's club without a powerful piece of their lineup. Courtney Rodriguez also departs via graduation, while 2/3 of the pitching staff - including staff ace Desiree Ybarra - traded in their cleats for caps and gowns. Freshman Sydney Golden performed stellarly a season ago, but may flounder a bit without the added threat of Ybarra in front of or behind her in the rotation. )

Player of the Year: Taylor Glover, CSU-Northridge
Pitcher of the Year: Sierra Hyland, Cal Poly
Coach of the Year: Jenny Condon, Cal Poly

Conference Champs: CSU-Northridge Matadors
Top WCWS Contender: CSU-Northridge Matadors

Players to Watch:

--> Sierra Hyland, Cal Poly – I've already talked about Hyland a bit, and my classification of her as a world-class talent was no flattery. Hyland's career high in ERA is 2.31, posted in 2015 when she threw more than 257 innings from the circle. She averaged nearly a strikeout/inning in each of her first two seasons and came close to upping that number 1.25/inning in her junior campaign last season. Though being in the middle of a smaller conference on the West coast may have an impact on her national recognition, Hyland remains one of the top pitchers in the nation and earned all-region honors for the second season in a row following last season. Keep an eye on her, both in her final year as a Mustang and for playing opportunities after school, whether in the NPF or elsewhere.

--> Christina Clermont, Long Beach State – Second perhaps only to Hyland in the Big West, Clermont is an impressive hurler in her own right. A first-team all-conference and second-team all-region selection two years running, Clermont posted an impressive number of her own with a 2.37 ERA in more than 230 innings of work a season ago. Opponents hit just .222 against her, while she ranked in the nation's top thirty-five with 205 strikeouts. Clermont earned her program's only win in the postseason and, for the former Syracuse transfer, her own senior season should be particularly impressive as she goes out with a "bang".

--> Madeline Richard, UC-Riverside – Richard earned the conference's batting title with her .452 mark in 2016, adding a full slash line of .452/.508/.513 - her on-base percentage also paced the league. A sure-fire firecracker with a necessary penchant for getting on base, Richard is a spark plug for the Highlanders lineup. She may be a small bright spot in an otherwise melancholy season for the Highlanders, but how her team fares should not impact Richard's swan-song performance; I fully expect another all-conference and all-region trophy to come her way after the 2017 campaign is done.

Biggest Questions:
* How will UC-Riverside fare with new head coach Nikki Palmer?
* Will the Big West be able to place multiple teams in the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons?

Top Seniors:
P – Sierra Hyland, Cal Poly; Christina Clermont, Long Beach State; Daphne Pofek, CSU-Northridge
OF – Taylor Glover, CSU-Northridge; Delynn Rippy, Cal State Fullerton; Kristen Clark, UC-Santa Barbara
UT/DP – Alexis Gonzalez, Cal State Fullerton

Conference Projection:
1. CSU-Northridge Matadors
2. Long Beach State 49ers
3. Cal Poly Mustangs
4. Cal State Fullerton Titans
5. UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos
6. Hawaii Rainbow Wahine
7. UC-Davis Aggies
8. UC-Riverside Highlanders