Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Big South Conference Forecast

The Big South's teams stretch through a three-state span, from Virginia to South Carolina. The conference has ten full members, eight of whom sponsor softball. High Point and UNC-Asheville do not boast of a varsity softball team. Coastal Carolina left the Big South after last season to move to the Sun Belt Conference.

The top eight teams in the regular-season standings earn berths to the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a double-elimination format, with the tournament champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. The 2017 conference tournament will be held in Farmville, Virginia, hosted by Longwood.

Team that could improve and surprise: Campbell Fighting Camels
     (The Camels reached the Big South's championship game in 2016, surprising many on a treak that included an upset of Longwood in the quarterfinals and a 2-1 record against Radford throughout the tournament setup the championship contest that wound up weighing in the Lancers' favor. Amber Schisler was increasingly impressive as a junior a year ago, hitting .390 on the year with sixteen home runs and forty-six RBI. Then-freshman Rachel McCollum tied for the team lead in home runs and RBI, with Schisler, and hit .335 on the year. McCollum and Schisler make a deadly lineup combo, but aren't the only offensive standouts; the Camels could once-again find themselves making some noise in the postseason.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Longwood Lancers
     (Despite losing all-time slugging queen Megan Baltzell in 2015, the Lancers still won forty games a year ago and were the Big South's token representative in the NCAA tournament. Graduation in 2016, though, took three of their top four hitters, including their home run and RBI leader in Emily Murphy. Pitcher Sydney Gay has a tremendous freshman campaign, with a sub-2.00 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 178 innings of work, but I still expect the Lancers to slip a bit in 2017.)

Player of the Year: Amber Schisler, Campbell
Pitcher of the Year: Elizabeth McCarthy, Longwood
Coach of the Year: Dr. Dot Richardson, Liberty

Conference Champs: Longwood Lancers
Top WCWS Contender: Longwood Lancers

Players to Watch:
--> Rachel McCollum, Campbell – The freshman infielder put together a tremendous freshman campaign, hitting .335 with sixteen home runs; forty-six RBI; and a .695 slugging percentage. She posted a 33/26 BB/SO ratio, walking more than she struck out. She forms a deadly 1-2 punch throughout the Camels lineup with the afore-mentioned Schisler and should have another spectacular campaign in her sophomore season.

--> Elizabeth McCarthy, Longwood – The 2015 conference Pitcher of the Year and veteran counterpart to Sydney Gay's "young blood" in the circle, McCarthy returned near to her old form in 2016, putting together a 2.53 ERA with a nearly 2.5/1 strikeout/walk ratio. Opposing hitters batted just .220 against her, just five points behind her career best. In her senior season, expect her to form a powerful 1-2 punch with Gay; the Lancers pitching will be their strongest point this season.

--> Jaclyn Amader, Liberty – After an impressive freshman campaign in her own right, Amader earned all-conference second-team honors, as well as an all-state first-team nod. She led her program with her .315 batting average and her .475 slugging percentage, while her seventeen extra base hits also paced the club. If the Flames are going to make some noise and near the conference's helm, expect Amader to have a large role in that.

Biggest Questions:
* How badly will Longwood be impacted by the departure of their loaded senior class?
* Will Coastal Carolina's departure doom the conference to softball irrelevancy?
* Can any team seize the opportunity to vault ahead of postseason stalwart Longwood and earn the conference's automatic NCAA bid?

Top Seniors:
P – Elizabeth McCarthy, Longwood; Abby Morrow, Radford
IF – Amber Schisler, Campbell; Lexie Vanada, Charleston Southern

Conference Projection:
1. Longwood Lancers
2. Liberty Lady Flames
3. Campbell Fighting Camels
4. Radford Highlanders
5. Presbyterian Blue Hose
6. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
7. Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs
8. Winthrop Eagles

1 comment:

  1. I thought 2017 is first year that only the top 6 teams make the playoffs in the Big South (not 8 as in past years).