Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ten Players to Watch in Regionals

The Regional round is here, and here are ten players that you should keep an eye on during the inaugural round of the NCAA tournament. Each player will be a strong catalyst for their team's success.

Kendyl Lindaman, C, Minnesota (Tuscaloosa Regional)
     >>> Much has been said about Minnesota's not being seeded and instead placed in the Tuscaloosa regional, having to work far harder to ultimately reach Oklahoma City than one would normally expect for a team ranked #1 in the nation. If the Gophers are to be victorious out of the Tuscaloosa regional and challenge for a World Series berth, Lindaman must play at her highest level of the year. The Big Ten's Freshmn and Player of the Year, Lindaman has batted .438 to this point in the season, with twenty home runs and a .942 slugging percentage. Were it not for the FOTY distinction, it would be easy to forget that she is just in her first season of college softball. She has looked like a seasoned veteran on several occasions, and will be leaned on heavily to get the Gophers' offense going in Tuscaloosa and beyond.

Sarah Hudek, OF, Texas A&M (College Station Regional)
     >>> The hosting Aggies, one of eight SEC teams that will host in the regional round, have a core group of several playmakers that are sure to play a role in the Aggies' attempt to best some in-state competition and advance to the next round of play. I predict something of a breakout for Hudek, who was selected to the all-conference freshman team. The former collegiate baseball player, who spent a single season on the mound at a Louisiana community college before transferring to A&M, hit .285 on the year with four home runs and was perfect both on the basepaths and in fielding chances on defense. Thought she ranked fifth on her team in home runs and seventh in batting average, I expect to see her near the top of both charts during the regional round.

North Carolina's Kendra Lynch
Photo: Carolina Athletics
Kendra Lynch, P/UT, North Carolina (Oxford Regional)
     >>> The Tar Heel senior has seen herself take on more of an offensive role, with Brittany Pickett's emergence in the circle this season, and she has blossomed in said role. Formerly a pitcher/hitter hybrid, Lynch has enjoyed arguably her finest season of her career in 2017, leading her team with a .378 batting average and twenty-one home runs. Her slugging percentage of .820 leads her next-closest teammate by more than 200 points. The streaking Rebels will not easily be beaten in Oxford, but for the ACC runners-up, count on Lynch to lead any challenge towards an upset that the Tar Heels may pose.

Meghan King, P, Florida State (Tallahassee Regional)
     >>> King has had to take the back burner to #1 NPF draft pick Jessica Burroughs this season, but on almost any other team, she would be sure-fire ace material. Lonni Alameda has to be happy with King as her #1 going into next season. In the present tense, though, King boasts a 1.41 ERA and opponents are hitting just .207 against her. King matured greatly and got even better after a still-solid 2016 campaign, and makes up a nice part of a 1-2 punch with Burroughs in the circle. Expect her to take the opportunity, if it arises, to break out and show out in the regional round.

Jordan Dixon, P, Marshall (Lexington Regional)
     >>> The Thundering Herd have several playmakers on the roster who deserve some level of credit for the squad's at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, but one of the greatest loads belongs squarely on the shoulders of the Herd's ace in the circle. Invoking shades of former Herd great Andi Williamson - and, at times, usurping the former star - Dixon is owed a significant debt for helping lead her team to this point. Having pitched nearly 260 innings, Dixon's 1.73 ERA is all the more impressive, as is the fact that opponents are batting just .188 against her at this point in the year. She averages more than a strikeout per inning, and has given up just fifty-three extra base hits on the year.

McKenna Bull, P,  BYU (Salt Lake City Regional)
     >>> Bull could win the award for being the most awarded, least-heralded pitcher in the nation. Three times the West Coast Conference's Pitcher of the Year, now four times an all-conference selection, and three times an all-region pick (with a fourth that should come later this week), Bull's shoulders will bear much of the load if the Cougars are to be successful and advance in the postseason. A highly successful hurler already, Bull's looking to add postseason success to her resume. With her 1.23 ERA in just barely shy of 200 innings pitched, as well as her nearly 4/1 strikeout/walk ratio and opponent's batting average of .194, she may be in her best position yet to do just that.

Auburn's Kasey Cooper
Photo: Auburn Athletics
Kasey Cooper, 3B, Auburn (Auburn Regional)
     >>> Cooper has had something of a down year in what most expected to be her finest yet, but still ranks second on her team in home runs and and slugging percentage and leads the squad in on-base percentage. A most dangerous hitter, opposing pitchers will still have to be careful when pitching to her. Expect her to break out of her season-long shell in the postseason, wanting to go out on a high note.

Emily Watson, P, Tulsa (Norman Regional)
     >>> Watson's 0.96 ERA ranks her fifth in the nation, though she has more innings of work than three of the four pitchers who are slotted above her. Watson pitched the entirety of her team's championship victory over Houston in the AAC tournament, allowing just four hits and no runs, while striking out 11, against a streaking Houston team. Watson boasts 329 strikeouts on the year, an average of 1.5 KOs per inning and good enough for third in the nation. She could be the x-factor if the Golden Hurricane will make some noise in the regional round.

Kelsee Selman, P, Baylor (Waco Regional)
     >>> Selman, the former LSU transfer, came out of the gate like gangbusters for the Bears this year, developing swiftly and effectively into the ace-in-the-circle that Glenn Moore needed. In just shy of 200 innings of work, the righty is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, while she has allowed just thirty-three extra base hits this season and opposing hitters have accumulated just a .198 batting average against her. As the Bears look to defend their home turf against a bevy of teams, including a jumpstart James Madison squad, look to Selman as the rock in the circle that the Bears should depend on.

Mo Mercado, SS, Arizona (Tucson Regional)
     >>> While fellow classmates Katiyana Mauga's home run chase and Danielle O'Toole's incredible season in the circle have dominated many headlines this season, it may have been easy to miss the season that Mercado has put together - one that includes a team-leading .391 batting average and double-digit home runs for only the second time in her career and first time since her freshman season. Consistent as ever, expect her season-long big numbers to continue into the postseason.

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