Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Atlantic Sun Conference Forecast

Team that will surprise: Lipscomb
     Kristin Ryman's squad have put up progressively-better seasons as time has gone on. After making the regional finals in Knoxville last year, the next step up could be taking home a regional victory. Laura Dukes, a transfer from MTSU, will provide a bat with some pop, though the loss of staff ace Ashley Anderson will have to be made up for. I expect immense success in-conference (thus the prediction below), and perhaps an extended postseason run.

Team that will disappoint: USC-Upstate
     Interpret "disappoint" here as simply my expectation that the Spartans will not take home the conference title. The long-running perennial favorites in the ASun, I believe this will be the year they won't take home the title - at least not the regular-season one; we may see them take home the conference tournament trophy once again. Rick Pauly's departure as pitching coach will certainly have an effect on the staff, though whether or not that will have a major effect on budding ace Lexi Shubert remains to be seen.

Player of the Year: Shellie Robinson, USC-Upstate
Pitcher of the Year: Lexi Shubert, USC-Upstate
Coach of the Year: Kristin Ryman, Lipscomb

Conference Champs: Lipscomb
Top WCWS Contender: USC-Upstate
     (With the right regional placement, the Spartans could have seen a Super regional appearance in any of the last several seasons. They haven't as of yet, but, even with the departures & questions surrounding the squad, they're in the best position and best equipped to make a run at Oklahoma City.)

Players to Watch: 
- Shellie Robinson, USC-Upstate - I'll put it simply: Robinson is one of the best players in the country. Talented and skilled enough to be named with the Chamberlains and Cardas of today, she's without a doubt the best player in the conference and one of the best in the state and region.
- Laura Dukes, Lipscomb - Dukes' transfer from MTSU is the best thing that could happen for her future prospects. A fair middle-of-the-order bat and backstop as a Blue Raider, joining a championship-caliber club like Ryman's should only improve her statistics, as well as her potential for a player career after college.
- Tanner Sanders, Lipscomb - Ashley Anderson threw 200 innings last year, her final one. Sanders logged the 2nd-highest number, with just under 100 thrown. With Anderson's departure, Sanders is the likely candidate to absorb many of her innings. She's a solid hurler, and under the tutelage of Megan Rhodes-Smith and Ivy Renfroe, two of the Lady Vols' all-time best, she will only get better.
- Demi Meza, Stetson - Losing Meredith Owen, the program's first-ever All-American, is a huge loss for the Hatters. Meza will be a solid part of trying to make up for Owen's lost offense; she was the 2nd-leading home run hitter last season & ranked third on the squad in batting average. She'll have to contribute in a big way if the Hatters are to come close to repeating their 2014 success.
- Kelsey Carpenter, FGCU - Carpenter paced not just her team but the entire conference in batting average in 2014. Her ten home runs finished second on the team to the now-graduated Chelsea Zgrabik, and her fifty-one RBIs; .670 slugging percentage; seventy-six hits; ten doubles; and .505 OBP all led her team in each category. Without a doubt, she's the Eagles' best offensive player, and she has solid post-college potential.

Top Seniors:
IF - Paige Neely, Lipscomb; Dana Landers, USC-Upstate; Demi Meza, Stetson; Cheyenne Griffin, USC-Upstate; Kendall Settlemyre, USC-Upstate
OF - Shellie Robinson, USC-Upstate; Kelsey Carpenter, FGCU
UT - Laura Dukes, Lipscomb

Conference Projection (2014 finish in parentheses):
1. Lipscomb (2)
2. USC-Upstate (1)
3. FGCU (6)
4. Stetson (3)
5. Kennesaw State (5)
6. Jacksonville (8)
7. North Florida (7)
8. Northern Kentucky (10)

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