Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Five Matchups to Watch in Regionals

5. Kristen Brown & Kendra Lynch vs. Jailyn Ford & Megan Good – Harrisonburg Regional
    Brown led North Carolina with a .397 batting average and eighteen home runs, as well as an .808 slugging percentage. Her teammate Lynch, for her part, hit .323 on the year with twelve home runs of her own and added a sub-4.00 ERA and the lion's share of the team's innings of work in the circle. She had some stellar clutch performances later in the regular season and will undoubtedly be relied upon with both her bat and her arm. JMU's Ford and Good, easily one of the top three pitching staffs in the nation, have a combined ERA below 1.70 and average more than a strikeout an inning, while opponents are hitting a dismal .164 against them. Both, similar to Lynch, can get it done with the bat, as well.

4. Erika Piancastelli vs. LSU's pitching – Baton Rouge Regional
     The sophomore Italian continued the hot streak from her inaugural season, hitting .420 this season with twenty-one home runs and a .993 slugging percentage for the Cowgirls of McNeese. For the Tigers, their pitching staff is undoubtedly their bread and butter, led by a quartet of players all with ERAs under 2.40 and averaging nearly a strikeout an innings. As a team, opponents are hitting just .217 when the Tigers are in the circle. During the teams' regular-season single-game matchup, the Cowgirl hitters only faced Hoover. Piancastelli was held hitless in that game, reaching base only on a walk. It will be interesting to see if she can learn from that performance and make an adjustment before facing Hoover and the rest of the Tigers staff this weekend.
3. Danielle O’Toole vs. Meghan Gregg – Knoxville Regional
     Two of the finest somewhat-surprising upstart players of the season are likely to match up at least once over the course of the weekend. While any of the Lady Vols' lineup facing Arizona's dominant O'Toole should be interesting, I chose Gregg for this spot because of team-leading statistics and the fact that the burden to fill the void left by Rainey Gaffin will likely fall heavily on her shoulders. Gregg, who hit .391 this year with ten home runs, will have to up the ante even a bit more to account for the injury-induced absence of Gaffin, a .380 hitter in her own right. O'Toole, the redshirt transfer, posted a 2.14 ERA for the Wildcats and came through under pressure in several situations down the stretch. A strikeout machine, she averaged almost exactly one per game and opponents hit sub-.230 against her.
2. Casey Stangel vs. Sara Groenewegen – Seattle Regional
     The two hitting pitchers have both proven real catalysts for their teams this season, and as the two are likely to face off at least once over the weekend, it will be interesting to see how they approach pitching to and hitting off one another, considering their vast similarities. Groenewegen posted a sub-2.00 ERA on the season for the Gophers and has thus far averaged more than 1.44 strikeouts/inning. She's given up just fifteen home runs and opponents haven't even hit .200 off of her. Washington's Stangel will likely be a part of any rally the Huskies get going in their inevitable matchup against Groenewegen and they will have to rally well if they expect the Canadian Gopher to wind up in the loss column.

1. Shelby Turnier vs. Kylee Hanson – Gainesville Regional
     It's the battle of the aces as the Gainesville regional is packed with power pitching, and it's not likely we'll see much offense coming out of the swamp during this week's series of games. For Turnier and Hanson, the job is a tough one as they are tasked with staving off the lineup of the twice-defending champion Gators at some point, but first must meet one another in a matchup where somebody unfortunately has to take the loss. For Turnier, while her 2016 hasn't been as stellar as her all-American junior campaign of 2015, she is still an effective, overpowering pitcher who can get batters out with ease and is a strikeout machine. For Hanson's part, there is a very good reason she is a top ten finalist for National Player of the Year; she holds a 0.73 ERA with 286 strikeouts in 210 innings and opponents have hit just .135 against her. Known for stifling even great offenses, either of these pitchers could find themselves in a showdown with the Gators and either could make trouble for the defending champs and make some noise in the upset department before all is said and done.

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