|Photo: Jordan McPherson / The Independent Florida Alligator|
The three finalists for the award are Lauren Haeger of Florida; Cheridan Hawkins of Oregon; and Sierra Romero of Michigan.
Only one of this trio would have been on my final three ballot, and it is she who would now
be my selection for the Player of the Year trophy.
Lauren Haeger posts a 1.24 ERA on the year, and had an undefeated record until the SEC tournament semifinals when she recorded her first loss of the season to Tennessee. In the NCAA tournament, she is 4-0 with twenty-nine innings pitched and has shut out her opponents in all four games.
Haeger has given up nearly 3x fewer home runs than her fellow finalist Hawkins, and has given up fewer runs and fewer earned runs than her counterpart from the Pac-12. Though Hawkins gains the advantage in the strikeout category, Haeger's control numbers are far better, with just 37 walks, 1 wild pitch, and four HBPs on the year, in comparison to Hawkins' 50, 8, and 23 in the same respective categories.
On the offensive side of the ball, Haeger is second on her team with sixteen home runs, slugging .653, and hitting .329 in 173 plate appearances on the year. Nearly 2/1 in her walk/strikeout ratio on the offensive side of the ball, she has started at designated player in the middle of the Gators' lineup on the days she isn't in the circle.
Outside of simply statistics, I look at the general impact a player has had on her team. While Romero and Hawkins are both important parts of their teams, I feel like Haeger is the glue that puts the Gator lineup together and without her, there's no telling where Tim Walton's team would be at this point in time.
She has grown incredibly since her freshman season, and when Hannah Rogers departed last season, Haeger stepped up to the challenge and has put together her finest season to date. She should be rewarded soon with All-American honors, and she has earned the title of National Player of the Year.