Friday, February 1, 2013

2013 Big 10 Softball Forecast

Team that might surprise us all: Illinois
Jessica Davis
(After a down year last season, redshirt senior infielder Jessica Davis is going to come back with FIRE. I'll write more about her in the "Players to Watch" section below. The Fighting Illini finished 10th in the conference last year, a far cry from their third-place position at season's end in 2011. Pepper Gay, also a senior, had a great season last year; her ERA went down more than a full point from 2011, and that was with forty-seven more innings pitched. Opponents have never batted higher than .217 in any season against Gay, and as the leader of a large senior class, the Atlanta-area product doesn't plan to let that statistic change in her final season. Keep an eye on the Fighting Illini, because they will do just that - fight. I fully expect to see them back at the top of the conference, right up there with Michigan & Indiana.)
Team that might disappoint us all: Northwestern
(Let me preface whatever else I may say in this section with this: Marisa Bast is a great player, and she will have another superb season. That said, I don't feel the same way about the rest of the Wildcats team. A .500 team last year, with a 14-10 record in conference play, they lost one of their biggest run-producers in Adrienne Monka, and, despite the fact that Bast, Emily Allard, and Kristin Scharkey are all back this season, Monka's absence will hurt the Wildcats. No NU pitcher with more than a dozen appearances sported an ERA under 3.60. Despite the addition of Jenna Grim as assistant coach, I'd be surprised to see the Cats reach the .500 mark again this year.)

Pitcher of the Year: Haylie Wagner, Michigan
Player of the Year: Marisa Bast, Northwestern
Coach of the Year: Carol Hutchins, Michigan

Conference Champs: Michigan Wolverines

Players to Watch:
Sara Driesenga, Michigan Even though this is just #3 in this series, you've all probably figured out that I'm a huge fan of dual-threat players, those who can swing a solid bat & dominate in the pitching circle. Driesenga is one of my favorites. In her FRESHMAN season, she sported a batting average just .007 below that of two-time All-American Amanda Chidester. Her Her on-base percentage was the highest on the team, and her slugging percentage was second only to that of Chidester. In the pitching circle, despite her sub-.500 win-loss record, Driesenga limited opposing hitters to a .253 batting average. Being OCD, I also appreciated the fact that her ERA and opponent's batting-average-against were the same numbers, albeit with a change in the position of the decimal point. ;)
Kristin Scharkey, Northwestern – As popular for her off-the-field exploits & talents as she is for her play, Scharkey enjoyed her best collegiate season to date in 2012. She played in all but one of the Cats' fifty-eight games, starting fifty-five of them in center field. One look at her statistics from last season compared to her first two years in college softball shows that she greatly benefited from the increased playing time. Her average reached the sometimes-elusive .300 mark for the first time, and she had more hits in one season than she had previously had for her entire career. Quick and sure-handed, she was only caught trying to steal a base twice in seventeen tries, and made just two field errors while recording sixty-six putouts.
Jessica Davis, Illinois – As I mentioned above, Davis is an exceptional player who I expect to fully rebound (and them some) from a 2012 season that was, by her own set standards, poor. Practically every statistic saw significant drops, including her batting average; home runs; RBIs; total bases; slugging percentage; and on-base percentage. The only statistic that went up was her stolen bases (5-6 after never having swiped a bag in her career). She's still the same uber-talented JD that Illini fans know and love, and if she doesn't let last season's struggles affect her mentality going into this year, I can see her doing great things in 2013.
Blank. Make sure you follow her on Twitter @nutmegblank
Megan Blank, Iowa - You'd be hard-pressed to find many 2012 freshmen who had a better campaign than Iowa's Blank. She led the Hawkeyes in virtually every offensive category, and was in the top three in the rest. An astounding .390 average; 17 doubles; and a .604 slugging percentage were the standout-highlights of this young lady's amazing inaugural season. A first-team All-Big Ten selection after last season, she was also named to the preseason All-Big-10 first team this year. She's an awesome player, and is one of the best sophomores in the COUNTRY.

Conference Projection:
1. Michigan
2. Illinois
3. Indiana
4. Iowa
5. Nebraska
6. Purdue
7. Wisconsin
8. Minnesota

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