Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: In Review

Stupendous. Fantastic. Mahvelous (if you live in Brooklyn or the Bronx). Any of those words might describe the year 2014. The Mayans didn’t even believe we’d get here, but we made it and now 2015 can be seen on the horizon.

Today, we present the first part of a two-part reflection and expectation series that will look back at some of the highlights of the year past and what we’re looking forward to in the year to come.

2014: Headlines
  1. Florida takes home first-ever WCWS championship
          Tim Walton’s Florida Gators relied on their pitching depth and the arm of ace Hannah Rogers as they bested conference for Alabama in the WCWS championship series to take home the school’s first-ever softball national title.
  1. USSSA Pride, Akron Racers ride very different paths to NPF Championship Series
          The team full of perennial all-stars and former Olympians was an obvious odds-on preseason favorite to win the Cowles Cup, but the Racers, a roster stacked with just as many rookies and young players, didn’t make it a cakewalk for the eventual-champion Pride.
  1. Waldrop takes home POTY honors
          Florida State’s ace Lacey Waldrop bested fellow top-three finalists Sierra Romero of Michigan and Ally Carda of UCLA, en route to leading the ‘Noles to Oklahoma City.
  1. Bus accident claims lives of 4 NCTC softballers
          Four North Central Texas College softball players were killed when the bus they were traveling on was broadsided on a midwest highway. The tragedy led to an outpouring of support from the softball community, and the presence of a half-dozen softball a-listers at the school’s alumni game.
  1. International softball gains popularity, big names
          As pro softball in the US continues to stay mostly stagnant, professional leagues by the score across the pond acquired talented American players to grace their rosters and help build the game in the respective regions. Texas greats Mandy Ogle and Blaire Luna headed to New Zealand when the NPF season ended, while Italy, Australia, and more added Americans to some or all of their leagues and teams, as well.
  1. Mendoza retires from professional softball
          Longtime pro standout and Olympic great Jessica Mendoza announced her retirement from competitive softball prior to the 2014 NPF season. The announcement marked the official end to a legendary career. Two Olympic medals (a gold and a silver); an NPF championship ring; a league MVP award; and four first-team collegiate All-American honors headline Mendoza’s trophy case. In addition to continuing to serve as a softball ambassador, Mendoza works for ESPN as a sideline reporter for college football and a reporter and analyst for the network’s MLB coverage.

2014: Stars
  1. Trena Peel
          The former LSU outfielder left Hampton last offseason to take over a long-floundering Buffalo team. She promptly turned them into a division-winner and conference #2 seed.
  1. Ally Carda
          The National Player of the Year trophy may not sit on Carda’s mantle at this point in time, but she assembled quite the resume this season en route to becoming a top-three finalist for the award. Leading the Bruins with both her bat and her arm, she became a household name for softball fans.
  1. Natasha Watley
          A lifelong Olympic, collegiate, and professional shortstop, Watley moved to the outfield for the 2014 season to make room for first-round draft pick Madison Shipman. For a lesser player, the move could’ve meant a sub-par season that led to a hastened retirement. Not so with Watley. “All” she did was put up numbers and stats good enough to get her an all-pro nod and cement herself as a starter on a team with a bench bursting with talent.
  1. Angel Bunner
          The Auburn product in her third year in the NPF celebrated another excellent season. Though her overall win-loss record may not show it, watch a single game in which she pitched and you’d see a player with the hype of a scrub playing like a first-team all-star. She’s the veteran arm on the very-young Rebellion, and recently took a coaching job at Gardner-Webb that could keep her playing in the league for a while yet.
  1. Clint Myers
          Just when everybody thought Myers was set to lead Arizona State to national powerhouse status, he surprised pretty much everybody by accepting the head coaching job at Auburn to replace Tina Deese. He took a team that retained many players from Deese’s final season and turned them from perennial bottom-dwellers to a squad that came remarkably close to a Super Regional berth.
  1. Jennifer Rocha
          The tutor that taught Stacey Nelson and Stephanie Brombacher enjoyed possibly her most successful campaign yet in 2014. All three members of her staff of hurlers - senior Hannah Rogers, junior Lauren Haeger, and  freshman Delanie Gourley - enjoyed excellent statistical success and earned national, regional, and conference honors, respectively.

2014: Most Surprising: Baylor’s rally over Kentucky in WCWS
   Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Kentucky Wildcats were the headline. A Cinderella story that was never “supposed” to make it to the World Series, they enjoyed a seven-run lead over the mighty Baylor Bears offense, with just six outs to go in an elimination game. Behind the seemingly never-tiring arm of Kelsey Nunley, it seemed the Cats were headed to a date with the Gators. Apparently, somebody forgot to deliver that message to the folks from Waco. A really led mostly by single-base hits and classic small ball led to eight runs and a surprising “W” for the Bears.

2014: Most Disappointing:Mizzou’s postseason hopes fall flat
        Lexington, Kentucky & Columbia, Missouri

After a solid regular season that saw them take series wins over Georgia, Auburn, and Florida, the Tigers headed to Lexington as the #3 seed in the conference tournament. The ranking didn’t translate to victories, as they suffered a shutout loss to Ashley Czechner and LSU in the first round. Mizzou committed three errors in the game, only managed four hits, and just generally didn’t look like the team that had had success during the season. Despite that, they earned a #15 seed in the NCAA’s, as well as the opportunity to host a regional. Home field advantage  didn’t matter though, as they suffered back-to-back defeats on Sunday when just one victory would have sent them to the Supers in Tuscaloosa. Four off-season transfers ended the year on less than a high note.