Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2013 Sun Belt Softball Forecast

Team that might surprise us all: Louisiana-Monroe
(Call me a homer if you feel you must, but I did not select ULM for this slot because I felt hometown loyalty towards them. In the preseason poll of conference coaches, the Warhawks were picked to finish eighth out of the nine teams, receiving only twenty-four points in the vote [projected conference champs, ULL, received eighty-one points]. I project them to finish several spots higher. An eight-man freshman class brings a lot of fresh faces to the team, and all-conference 2nd-team infielder Janel Salanoa is a solid defender and a great middle-of-the-order, consistent bat. The veteran presence of catcher Roxy Cassel will definitely be missed behind the plate, as the position will be filled by two freshmen. Sophomore pitcher Haylie Wilson impressed last year, as she quickly became the ace of the pitching staff, and looks to improve even more on that performance this season. )

Team that might disappoint us all: Louisiana-Lafayette
(I really wasn't sure what team would make this slot, but I eventually decided on the ladies from Lafayette. Yes, the same team that I picked to be conference champs & sweep the postseason player awards. I think they'll have a tremendous season; I simply don't believe they will host a regional series again this year. Even with the almost-irreplaceable Christi Orgeron gone to graduation, that Cajuns have a solid team and I fully anticipate them advancing in the postseason; I just don't see them doing it at home.)

Pitcher of the Year: Jordan Wallace, Louisiana-Lafayette
Player of the Year: Nerissa Myers, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coach of the Year: Becky Clark, South Alabama

Conference Champs: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Players to Watch:
Matte Haack, Louisiana-Lafayette - The former Arizona Wildcat tranferred to ULL prior to last season, and immediately had an impact for the Cajuns. Her .333/9/56 stat line would be star-quality on most teams, but she finished the season sixth on the team in batting average; fourth in home runs; and third in RBIs. A preseason all-conference selection, she is going to be an immensely-valuable offensive tool for Michael Lotief's team this year.
Haley Fagan, South Alabama- Even casual softball fans know the Fagan family. Family patriarch Kevin was a star defensive lineman in the NFL back in the late '80s/early '90s. He passed his athletic genes down to his children, as all three of his oldest daughters are members of Division I softball teams. While eldest sister Kasey and second-daughter Sami got a lot of buzz after their bizarre exit from "the Swamp", younger sister Haley is quietly getting ready for her freshman season at South Alabama. A 5'9" freshman infielder, Haley should be a season-long starter for the Jags and I can easily see her hitting .350+ 
Haylie Wilson, Louisiana-Monroe- Wilson lost her last three decisions of 2012, not the greatest end to an otherwise-impressive freshman campaign. As I mentioned above, she really became the ace of the pitching staff, over three upper-classmen. In close to 150 innings pitched, her walk/strikeout ratio was almost exactly 1:2. If she can bring her ERA down a bit, Wilson can lead the Warhawks deep into the Sun Belt conference tournament, and perhaps even to the NCAA bracket.
Taylor Smartt, Troy- A junior infielder that actually hails from Troy, Smartt's 2012 season saw some drop in her statistics from her freshman year. Quite a versatile player, Smartt spent her freshman season at second base and behind the plate, but moved to the hot corner for the majority of her sophomore campaign. After her batting average dropped almost .070 points between her first two seasons, she'll try to pick it back up again, and if she does, is certainly a player to watch on the Trojans squad.

Conference Projection:
1. Louisiana-Lafayette
2. South Alabama
3. North Texas
4. Troy
5. UL-Monroe
6. FIU
7. Western Kentucky
8. Florida Atlantic
9. Middle Tennessee

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