Pitching Superstars of Tomorrow 2015

Hurlers Who Should Make Headlines in the Next Few Years

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD It's that time again!  Time to list the top NCAA pitching superstars of tomorrow!  Pitchers rule NCAA fastpitch, and it's no coincidence the top pitchers keep their teams in the hunt for the NCAA title every year.  You cannot win the NCAA championship without a top pitcher.  So by discovering the top young pitchers in the nation, we can get a good idea of what teams will make headlines in the next few years. So let's get started!

#1: Cheridian Hawkins - Oregon - Sophomore

2014 Stats: 1.66 ERA, 35-6 record, 330 strikeouts, 249 innings pitched, 1.33 strikeouts-per-inning ratio

The top pitcher on the list is Oregon's Cheridian Hawkins.  Hawkins has incredible numbers and has already accomplished more than most NCAA pitchers ever do.  In 2014 Hawkins led her team to the final four teams in the Women's College World Series and was only eliminated after a heartbreaking 2-0 loss to Alabama in the semifinal.  Hawkins ranked in the top four in strikeouts nationally as a sophomore.  Oregon has been a top Pac-12 team for several years now, so it should be able to attract some extra talent to put around in over the next two years.  Hawkins has a great situation.  If she can continue to improve, she can be one of the all-time greats statistically and lead Oregon to its first WCWS title.

#2: Chelsea Wilkinson - Georgia - Sophomore

2014 Stats: 2.10 ERA, 33-10 record, 300 strikeouts, 257 innings pitched, 1.17 strikeouts-per-inning ratio

Chelsea Wilkerson doesn't play for a traditional softball powerhouse school, but Georgia does play in the current #1 softball conference in the SEC with plenty of schools on the rise.  Wilkinson's skills have already paid dividends.  In 2014 she led the Bulldogs to the NCAA super regional as a sophomore.  If a solid strikeout pitcher like Wilkinson can continue to develop, there is no telling how far the Bulldogs can go.  With Florida ace pitcher Hannah Rogers and Alabama ace pitcher Jackie Traina graduating in 2014, the field is wide open for Wilkinson to take the crown as the top pitcher in the SEC.  Georgia is on the cusp of greatness--if Wilkinson can continue to improve and the squad can add a few key recruits, the Bulldogs can easily contend for a title.

#3: Kelsey Stevens - Oklahoma - Sophomore

2014 Stats: 2.44 ERA, 38-9 record, 285 strikeouts, 275 innings pitched, 1.04 strikeouts-per-inning ratio

Kelsey Stevens is the first bona fide ace pitcher to grace the mound at Oklahoma since super pitcher Keilani Ricketts graduated in 2013.  She has some big shoes to fill if she wants to accomplish even a fraction of what Keilani did, but she has proved at an early age that she has the skills to replicate Keilani's success.  Oklahoma had a bit of a "hangover" year in 2014 (by Oklahoma standards) in its first season without Keilani; the Sooners only advanced to the super regional and were bounced by Tennessee.  But the Sooners scored the top recruiting class of the 2015 season and have a burgeoning superstar pitcher in Kelsey Stevens.  If the group can continue to improve they will be hoisting some hardware in the near future.

#4: Kristen Wood - Northwestern - Sophomore

2014 Stats: 3.73 ERA, 19-11 record, 233 strikeouts, 184 innings pitched, 1.27 strikeouts-per-inning ratio

Kristen Wood is the only pitcher on the list from the Big Ten conference.  But having even one player with potential is great news to any Big Ten fan!  Northwestern has been a relevant team in recent years, but has not made many headlines.  Any news coming from the Big Ten has mainly emanated from Ann Arbor and the Michigan Wolverines.  But in Kristen Wood, Northwestern has a prospect who can take the team to the next level.  Northwestern made the NCAA regional in 2014, but went 2-2 and did not make it out of its region.  If Wood can get some more innings under her belt and continue to develop, Northwestern has the ability to overtake Michigan as the #1 story in the Big Ten Conference.

#5: Kelsey Nunley - Kentucky - Sophomore

2014 Stats: 1.88 ERA, 30-11 record, 219 strikeouts, 282 innings pitched, 0.78 strikeouts-per-inning ratio

Kelsey Nunley is the second Kelsey on our list, but her numbers show she is second to none.  Kentucky is another school that doesn't have a great softball tradition, but the up and coming SEC conference is fertile ground for future growth.  Nunley already has some success under her belt--she led the Wildcats to a berth in the WCWS in 2014 and led her team to an early WCWS victory against Louisiana Lafayette before losing two straight and ending Kentucky's season.  But there is every reason to think that Nunley will continue to grow and develop as she becomes an upperclassman and hopefully takes her team to the next level. Read more.