Thursday, May 14, 2015

The X-Factor

Who: Lauren Haeger, Florida
Regional: Gainesville, FL
Why: Haeger, the SEC Pitcher of the Year, has shown sheer brilliance both in the circle and at the plate this season. Undefeated during the regular season before earning her first loss in a hard-luck 2-1 loss to Tennessee in the SEC semifinals, she boasts a sub-1.50 ERA and a 5/1 strikeout/walk ratio. Opponents haven't even reached the Mendoza Line against her. At the plate, she is second on the team in home runs, holds the team lead in RBI, and is slugging .662.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Caryn Bailey, Hofstra

Who: Krista Menke, North Dakota State
Regional: Eugene, OR
Why: In a regional ripe with pitching, Menke and her Bison team stand the best chance of upsetting the Pac-12 champs in Eugene. A perennial postseason contender that reached the Super Regional round in 2009, the Summit League champs are led by Menke in the circle. It's safe to say as goes Menke, so go the Bison. With an ERA just barely creeping over 2 and nearly a 4/1 strikeout/walk ratio, she's shown capabilities of matching up toe-to-toe with the best in the land. Opponents are batting .165 against the senior this year.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Geri Ann Glasco, Oregon; Jill Compton, Fresno State

Who: Megan Betsa, Michigan
Regional: Ann Arbor, MI
Why: The sophomore took over the role of ace for the Wolverines this season and has flourished. With a sub-1.50 ERA in more than 170 innings, she put together a better than 3/1 SO/BB ratio and opponents are batting just .162 against her. Though Betsa and Haylie Wagner are likely to share duties in the circle, Betsa must be on her a-game and as effective as she has been at any point during the season to stave off a possible upset from the Pac12's Cal and streaking Pitt.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Savannah King, Pittsburgh

Who: Emily Carosone, Auburn
Regional: Auburn, AL
Why: In a lineup full of tremendous hitters from 1-9, Carosone is the spark plug, the table setter, the one that gets things going. Batting from the 2nd spot in the lineup, she has the power to knock the ball over the fence, but the presence of mind and softball smarts to plant a key base hit right where she needs to, when she needs to. She went 4-5 in the SEC championship game with an RBI and two runs scored, which gave her as many hits as all of the rest of the Tigers combined on Saturday night.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Farish Beard, South Alabama

Who: Sahvanna Jaquish, LSU
Regional: Baton Rouge, LA
Why: The power-hitting infielder & catcher is 3-21 stretching back to the Missouri regular-season series, with six walks in the same time frame of eight games. Though the Tigers have the luxury of a solid lineup themselves, Jaquish needs to snap out of her funk and bring the "0-fer" games to a halt if the Bayou Bengals are to prove themselves worthy of the #5 seed and advance past some tough competition to the Supers.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Steph Pasquale, Nebraska

Who: Shellie Robinson, USC-Upstate
Regional: Tuscaloosa, AL
Why: Despite the presence of Pac-12 foe Washington in Tuscaloosa, I believe the Upstate Spartans have at least an equally-good chance to pull the upset, and their fortunes depend largely on Robinson. As I've said at least once already in this article, as goes Robinson, so go the Spartans. An All-American and the holder of too many program records to name, the offense revolves around her. Though she's certainly not the only talented player on the roster, she needs to have a stellar weekend if the ASun champs are to pull the upset in Tuscaloosa.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Leslie Jury, Alabama

Who: Delaney Spaulding, UCLA
Regional: Los Angeles, CA
Why: The newly-minted first-team all-conference player earned her second all-conference nod in as many seasons as a Bruin after enjoying a stellar sophomore campaign. With Ally Carda and Allexis Bennett getting all the attention (and rightfully so), Spaulding needs to be able to take advantage and continue playing tremendous softball for the Bruins this weekend and help give them momentum driving potentially into Supers next week.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Katie Hooper, CSU-Northridge; Lorena Bauer, San Diego State

Who: Erin Gabriel, Tennessee
Regional: Knoxville, TN
Why: Gabriel is riding a hot streak, as she's been able to perform to a high level in pressure situations, specifically in the SEC tournament. With the Lady Vols pulling a top-eight seed and, thus, the chance to host both regionals and Supers if they advance, the Weeklys need to continue to ride the junior's hot arm. Pitching by committee has become the norm in the Knoxville this season, but when one hurler currently stands head-and-shoulders above her teammates, she should be given the chance to take the ball and let the big spots be hers to get out of. Here's the statistical proof for my "head and shoulders" analysis, as well: In 16.1 innings pitched in the conference tournament, Gabriel collected twenty-four strikeouts and six walks. In just three fewer innings, Tennessee's three other pitchers struck out just six and walked ten batters.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Kate Dickman, Utah

Who: Mackenzie Audas, UCF
Regional: Tallahassee, FL
Why: Although I toyed with putting the nation's ERA leader Shelby Turnier in this spot, I think the definition of "x-factor" fits Audas. Between her senior experience and leadership and equally-impressive pitching prowess, she will be invaluable to the Knights this weekend and if they are to pull the upset and advance. Against the talented lineups of the Seminoles and Gamecocks, they'll have to utilize the full pitching staff and Audas will be a key contributor. Also note that her present ERA of 0.95 is third in the nation, just 0.2 behind teammate Turnier.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Jessica Burroughs, Florida State; Nickie Blue, South Carolina

Who: Tori Finucane, Missouri
Regional: Columbia, MO
Why: As Finucane (and teammate Sanchez, mentioned below) battle lingering effects from injuries, Mizzou will have to keep an eye on the sophomore star. If she continues with performances like she had in the conference tournament against Mississippi State (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R), the Tigers will be fine. If not, however, they may be in some trouble; freshman Paige Lowary was unimpressive in the tournament loss to Auburn after a fine inaugural campaign, but the Tigers lack proven depth behind Finucane. It may be up to her to keep the upset-hungry Jayhawks and others at bay.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Amanda Sanchez, Missouri

Who: Paige Parker, Oklahoma
Regional: Norman, OK
Why: If you'll pardon the Miley Cyrus reference, Parker truly came in like a wrecking ball this season and teams didn't know what hit them. Four perfect games, twenty-four wins, and a 1.45 ERA earned the true freshman Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honors, as she shined on a team already chock-full of stars. She earned the title of staff ace, working nearly 180 full innings and coming just a single strikeout short of an even 200 for the year; opponents hit just a miniscule .170 against her. Her bat isn't to be discounted either - a .418 batting average, nine home runs, and a .680 slugging percentage leave her as a force to be reckoned with at the plate and in the circle. With her first postseason experience coming this weekend, she needs to continue to show the veteran-like poise she has exhibited already at times this year.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Cali Lanphear, Texas A&M

Who: Staci Rodriguez, New Mexico State
Regional: Tucson, AZ
Why: The Tucson regional has been pegged by many as prime upset territory, but it's not the highly-touted Golden Gophers of Minnesota that are getting all the attention; equaly sharing in the spotlight are Rodriguez's Aggies. The WAC champs are led by the two-time conference Player of the Year, and she is coming off her finest season to date (.408/.769/.535 - 15 HR/56 RBI). If the Aggies are to pull any kind of an upset, you can bet Rodriguez will be right in the thick of things.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Sara Groenewegen, Minnesota

Who: Shelby Friudenberg, Baylor
Regional: Lafayette, LA
Why: Following the trend of star freshmen, the hard-hitting first baseman leads her team in home runs, doubling the total of the player in second. She boasts a .768 slugging percentage and, proving she's not just a home run hitter, has a .373 batting average. As has been the trend when I've mentioned young players and freshmen earlier in this article, Friudenberg needs to show that she's able to continue the power and consistency she showed in the regular season into the postseason. If she can do that in front of the raucous fans at Lamson Park, the Bears will be in good shape and primed for an upset of the Ragin Cajuns.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Shellie Landry, Louisiana-Lafayette

Who: Miranda Kramer, Western Kentucky
Regional: Athens, GA
Why: The nation's leader in strikeouts per seven innings (13 even, if you were wondering) and overall strikeouts (410) leads the Hilltoppers down to Athens with an upset on their minds. If they will have any kind of a chance at doing that, it will ride solely on Kramer's shoulders. Though 'one individual doesn't make a team' rings true yet again, Kramer comes about as close to it as anyone in the nation (with apologies to Larissa Franklin, who put together a great season in her own right for WKU). One of the most dominant pitchers I recall having seen in recent memory, Kramer has put together an All-American-caliber season, and if she can get ahead in the count against the Emanuel sisters, Alex Hugo, Paige Wilson, and the rest of the Bulldogs, the Hilltoppers might just put themselves in position to make a surprise appearance next weekend.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Alex Hugo, Georgia; Laura Messina, Central Connecticut State

Who: Emily Weiman, North Carolina State
Regional: Harrisonburg, VA
Why: The Wolfpack's all-time wins leader and draft pick of the Pennsylvania Rebellion will pitch in what some call the "easiest regional in the country". With respect to the Dukes of James Madison, that's not entirely true, but Weiman and company are in a good position. Pitching will be key in this regional - look no further than the stellar Dukes staff of Good, Ford, and Kiefer to learn that - and Weiman will need to meet and even exceed the dominance of that trio to put her team in position to head to Supers. She has the talent, and the offense behind her is capable of producing runs should they get a hot streak going, but the flashes of stardom we've seen from Weiman this year need to become more consistent and even-keeled if the Wolfpack are to emerge victorious on Sunday.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Jailyn Ford, James Madison

Who: Erin Rethlake, Kentucky
Regional: South Bend, IN
Why: As I mentioned in my article yesterday, when Kelsey Nunley got into trouble in the SEC tournament, Rachel Lawson turned to the freshman Rethlake. If that makes her the de facto number two, then she'd better be ready for more action this weekend. We can debate Notre Dame's seeding qualifications all day long, but either way, they have a potent offense and neither the Cats of Northwestern nor the Cardinals of Ball State are particular slouches. Nunley is an excellent pitcher, but even the best get into jams and if Rethlake can calm the to-be-expected nerves and prove effective, it bodes quite well for the Wildcats' chances of advancement.
Another to Keep an Eye On: Karley Wester, Notre Dame

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