Team that might surprise us all: Louisville
|Get used to seeing this in 2013.|
(Given that it is pretty much accepted year-in and year-out that Sandy Pearsall's squad will put themselves in any postseason discussion, you may wonder why I put the redbirds in this spot. Well, even though they're expected to rebound from their early elimination from the 2012 postseason tournament, I think everybody will be surprised by just how motivated and fired-up the 2013 Cardinals are. They've got a huge chip on their shoulder, and want to prove that they belong in the championship discussion. Led by Taner Fowler on offense & Caralisa Connell in the circle, don't be surprised to see another regional take place in Northern KY.)
Team that might disappoint us all: South Florida
(Ken Eriksen is one of the top coaches in softball, at any level, and he has built up an awesome, underrated program at South Florida. But I do not believe the Bulls will repeat their 2012 success and advance to the Super Regionals, much less the WCWS. Although she is a fantastic pitcher, Sara Nevins needs to cut down on her illegal pitches & keep her head in the game, whatever the situation. I think the Floridians will put out a solid squad this season; I just don't see them being able to recreate their success of this past season.)
Pitcher of the Year: Caralisa Connell, Louisville
Player of the Year: Amy Buntin, Notre Dame
Coach of the Year: Sandy Pearsall, Louisville
Conference Champs: Louisville Cardinals
(After a stunning walk-off loss to
them from advancing beyond the regional round of the postseason last year, the
Cardinals will have a major chip on their shoulder this season. Junior catcher Fowler is, for lack of a better word, a stupendous player & Connell is one of the best pitchers in the conference. Not only do I expect the Cardinals to win the conference title, I fully anticipate their presence in the Super Regional round, if not in OKC for the Women's College World Series!) Michigan
Players to Watch:
Lindsey Richardson, South Florida - Thanks to Eriksen's odd, but effective, coaching strategies, I was able to see Richardson in action quite a number of times during the last postseason. Coming in in relief of Sara Nevins on multiple occasions, Richardson was quite effective. Take a look at her career statistics if you don't believe me - in three seasons, she sports a 2.02 ERA (1.60 in-conference); a 31-16 win-loss record (13-8); and a 92/355 BB/SO ratio (35/137). If Nevins again struggles at times this year, Richardson provides a high-quality and very talented second option for Eriksen.
Amy Buntin, Notre Dame - I really don't have to provide any commentary here; just take a look at some of this supremely-talented young lady's statistics from last season: .360 BA; 62 hits; 45 runs scored; 8 doubles; 12 home runs; 60 RBI; AND she was named an All-American. Need I say more?
|Kirsten Verdun of DePaul at the plate|
Photo cred: Carolyn Newtoff Bonezek via Facebook
Kirsten Verdun, DePaul - I love dual-threat players, and Verdun is one of the best. The team's leading hitter (with a .363/11/41 stat line), as well as a .631 slugging percentage, Verdun also carried a sub-1.75 ERA and an opponent's batting average of .204 last season. Her walk/SO ratio is great, and she leaves her mark against each and every opponent. She's made the all-conference team two years running, and don't be surprised to see her name on the All-American list this summer.
Caralisa Connell, Louisville - Tori Collins is not going to be easy to replace in the Louisville rotation, but as I mentioned above, Connell is a STAR, and, even as only a junior, is definitely one of the best in the conference. Granted, she carried a smaller workload than most pitchers (131 innings instead of 272 for Verdun, 179 for Collins), but with Tori graduated, it's up to Connell to move into the slot of staff ace, and I think she can do so admirably.
2. South Florida
3. Notre Dame