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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.

 

Gators Snap Up 2014 National Crown

Florida's Efficient Pitching & Big Swinging Offense Too Much for Alabama

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
 
OKLAHOMA CITY The Florida Gators are your 2014 NCAA national champion. The Gators capped off a highly successful 55-12 regular season with a historic 1st-ever national championship in softball.

The Gators are no stranger to Women's College World Series success: they earned NCAA runner-up honors in 2009 and 2011, but 2014 is the first time they will return to Gainsville with championship hardware.
 
This series featured two big-name teams from elite conferences with plenty of championship caliber players. The Florida Gators were led by senior pitcher Hannah Rogers. Rogers pitched the Gators to a national title appearance in 2011 but came up short to a talented Arizona State team.

The Alabama Crimson Tide was equally qualified to win it all.  For those of you out there with sharp memories, recall that the Tide won the NCAA title two years ago by defeating Keilani Ricketts and the Oklahoma Sooners. And Alabama still has their ace pitcher from the 2011 championship squad in Jaclyn Traina who excelled all season.
 
The stage was set for an epic clash, but Florida proved early that they were the superior team. This WCWS final was all Florida all the way. The Gators excelled both from the circle and from the plate and defeated a very good Alabama team.
 
It started with an electric performance from Florida ace Hannah Rogers in game #1. Rogers was not overpowering but she was devastatingly efficient.  In game #1 Rogers pitched all 7 innings, scattered only 4 hits, gave up 0 earned runs, 0 walks, and threw 3 strikeouts.

Rogers's shutout performance was emblematic of her starts all through the postseason. She threw very few strikeouts (while most elite softball pitchers throw dozens), but she prevented Alabama hitters from making solid contact and allowed her defense to generate outs.

The Florida offense also did its job well, led by sophomore outfielder Kirsti Merritt and senior 3rd baseman Stephanie Toft.  In game #1 Toft led the team with 2 RBI and Merritt contributed an RBI double. The Gators ended up with 5 runs and defeated Alabama 5-0.
 
Game #2 was not as easy on the Gators. Florida elected to start junior pitcher Lauren Haegar in the circle to give Rogers some much needed rest and have her fresh for an if-needed game 3.

Haeger started slow and was replaced in the 4th inning after throwing 3 innings and allowing 5 hits, 2 earned runs and just 1 strikeout. Despite her mediocre performance she did leave the game with her team in the lead 4-2.

Haegar was replaced by freshman Delaney Gourley who did a great job preventing Alabama from mounting a comeback. In 2 innings of work Gourley allowed 0 hits, 0 earned runs and struck out 2.

With the Gators up 5-2 in the 6th inning the ball was given back to Hannah Rogers who pitched the final 2 decisive innings to secure the championship for Florida.
 
The Florida offense was again led by Stephanie Toft and Kirsti Merritt. Toft hit a solo home run in the first inning to set the tone, and Merritt hit a 3-run home run in the 2nd inning to give Florida a lead it never gave up.
 
Florida's efficient and effective pitching and its big swinging offense were the main stories of this year's WCWS, but an equally compelling story was the unexpectedly poor performance of Alabama pitcher Jaclyn Traina.

Traina led her team to a WCWS title just 2 years ago, and she has been on a tear leading up to the WCWS finale. But she fell apart versus Florida.

In game #1 Traina pitched 6 innings and allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs.

But as bad as she was in game #1, she was worse in game #2; she was pulled after 1.1 innings after allowing 6 hits and 5 earned runs including the aforementioned home runs to Stephanie Toft and Kirsti Merritt.

I was expecting much more out of Traina, but for as much as Alabama relied on her to carry the team through to the WCWS, it seems likely she simply ran out of gas by the time the WCWS finale rolled around.
 
Congratulations to the 2014 national champion Florida Gators, a very classy team that worked hard to earn its first title and performed at its best when it counted the most. Good show! Read more.

 

California: Still a Talent-Producing Machine?

Golden State's Lead Slips, South Ready to Rise

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
 
LOMBARD Just how important is California in developing Olympic-level softball talent? Back in 2008, nearly all of the players (15 out of 18) on the Olympic softball squad were from California. California was the undisputed hotbed of Olympic softball talent in the country. 
 
I wanted to revisit this issue in 2013 and see if California is still as effective at producing elite softball talent as it was five years ago. I honestly thought I would see softball's talent epicenter moving away from California and spreading across the country, especially to the Midwest and South. 
 
California and the Pac-12 conference have been on the top of the college softball food chain for decades, but in recent years we have seen a major push by teams outside the Pac-12 (notably those in the Big 12 conference in the Midwest and SEC conference in the South) to challenge and even beat the Pac-12 in major games. For the last two years in a row a non-Pac-12 team has won the WCWS national championship. A Pac-12 team has not been shut out of a national title for two years in a row since 1987. 
 
Are California and the Pac-12 still the undisputed leader in production of elite softball talent, or has a new state taken its place? To test this hypothesis I looked at all 64 teams in the WCWS Regionals last year and recorded the hometown of their ace pitchers. Here is what I found: 
 
Arkansas Chelsea Cohen Sparks, NV
Fordham Michele Daubman North Massapequa, NY
Oklahoma Keilani Ricketts San Jose, CA
Marist Emily Osterhaus Suwanee, GA
Baylor Whitney Canion Aledo, TX
Arizona Shelby Babcock Broomfield, CO
Texas A&M Mel Dumezich Whiting, IN
Penn Alexis Borden Yorba Linda, CA
Louisiana Lafayette Jordan Wallace Weatherford, TX
Northwestern St Kylie Roos Celina, TX
LSU Rachele Fico Oxford, CN
Central Connecticut State Laura Messina Marlton, NJ
California Jolene Henderson Elk Grove, CA
Central Mich Kara Dornbos Mudsonville, MI
Michigan Sara Driesenga Hudsonville, MI
Valparaiso Taylor Weissenhofer Homer Glen, IL
Georgia Morgan Montemayor Phoenix, AZ
San Diego St Rebecca Arbino Clovis, CA
Arizona St Dallas Escobedo Glendale, AZ
San Jose St Amanda Pridmore Modesto, CA
Notre Dame Laura Winter San Diego, CA
Virginia Tech Jasmin Harrell Irvine, CA
Kentucky Kelsey Nunley Soddy Daisy, TN
Marshall Andi Williamson Harts, WV
Florida St Lacey Waldrop Chester, VA
Mississippi State Alison Owen Newnan, GA
South Alabama Hannah Campbell, Satsuma, AL
Mississippi Valley Alicia Lorenz Paradise CA
Houston Bailey Watts West Columbia, TX
South Carolina Julie Sarratt Gaffney, SC
Texas Blaire Luna Austin, TX
Army Morgan Lashley Davidson, NC
Wisconsin Cassandra Darrah Corydon, IA
North Carolina Lori Spingola Atlanta, GA
Oregon Jessica Moore Sutter, CA
BYU Hannah Howell Winnfield, LA
Stanford Teagan Gerhart Norco, CA
Tulsa Aimee Creger Yukon, OK
Nebraska Tatum Edwards Murrieta, CA
UNI Jamie Fisher Conrad, IA
Hawaii Kaia Parnaby New South Wales, Australia
Minnesota Sara Moulton - Eagan, MN
Washington Bryana Walker La Quinta, CA
Portland St Anna Bertrand McMinnville, OR
Hofstra Olivia Galata West Babylon, NY
Oregon St Marina Demore Vancouver, BC
Missouri Chelsea Thomas - Pleasantville, IA
Stony Brook Allison Kucrov Irvina, CA
North Carolina St Emily Weiman - Pasadena, MD
James Madison Jailyn Ford Hot Springs, VA
Tennessee Ellen Renfroe Jackson, TN
Longwood Libby Morris Dilwyn, VA
Western KY Emily Rosseau Greenwood, LA
SC Upstate Jamie Ujvari Niceville, FL
Alabama Jackie Traina Naples, FL
Jacksonville St Tiffany Harbin Hazel Green, AL
UCLA Ally Carda Elk Grove, CA
UAB Lannah Cambell Satsuma, AL
Louisville Caralisa Connell Murfreesboro, TN
IPFW Miranda Kramer Burlington, IA
South Fla Lindsey Richardson Estero, FL
Georgia Southern Sarah Purvis Warner Robins, GA
Florida Hannah Rogers Lake Wales, FL
Hampton Jailynn Jackson Virginia Beach, VA 
 
State Count:
CA: 14
TX: 5
FL: 4
GA: 4
IA: 4
VA: 4
AL: 3
TN: 3
AZ: 2
LA: 2
MI: 2
NY: 2 
 
California is still the undisputed leader among states in production of elite softball talent. One in four (or 25%) of all pitchers with teams in the WCWS Regional were originally from California INCLUDING the best pitcher in last year's WCWS: Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts. No other state even comes close. 
 
However, if we open up the discussion to talk about differences between regions, the South is now far more effective at producing top talent than the West. If we combine Texas, Florida and Georgia, there are 13 total pitchersonly one shy of California's total. There are 16 ace pitchers from West Coast and 25 from Southern states. 
 
No state can touch the state of California in production of elite softball talent, but there are signs that California's lead is slipping away. There are now far more elite pitchers coming from the South than from California and the West Coast, and softball players tend to stay close to home when picking where to play college ball, so the SEC may be starting to gain an advantage. 
 
The last two years a non-Pac 12 school has won the WCWS title, and there was no Pac-12 representative in the WCWS championship series the last two years. 
 
When it comes to softball, the South is ready to rise. Read more.

 

Does Offense Matter?

Having a Potent Offense May Not Mean Much in Today's Game

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
 
LOMBARD Ever wonder who has the best offense in NCAA softball?  Or if great offense translates to winning games?  Well look no further than the NCAA Softball website's stats section. When I looked at the numbers and tried to answer these questions my findings surprised me.  Offense doesn't matter much at all!
 
This year the most prolific offense is Auburn (an SEC school located in Alabama). Auburn has put up some pretty sensational offensive numbers so far this season.  The team has put up 349 runs in 44 games for an average of 7.93 runs per game. A softball team is averaging more than a touchdown every time they take the field!  Auburn is also 6th in the nation in home runs per game with 58 in 44 games for a 1.32 average. 
 
But has scoring a bunch of runs translated to wins for the Auburn Tigers? Not so much. In 2013 the Auburn Tigers are 32-12 on the season for a .722 win percentage, but they are only 6-9 against quality in conference opponents in the SEC. The team is in the bottom half of the SEC standings ranked 9th out of 13 teams. 
 
Want more proof? The 4th most potent offense in the NCAA this season is Arkansas (another SEC team). The Razorbacks have scored 324 runs in 45 games for a 7.02 runs per game average. Arkansas is also ranked #22 in the nation in home runs with 49 in 45 games for a 1.09 per game average. Yet the Razorbacks are ranked dead last in the SEC with a 25-20 record overall and 3-12 record in conference. The Razorbacks have more runs than all but four teams in the nation, but are barely over .500! 
 
Auburn and Alabama are ranked #1 and #4 in the SEC in runs scored, but rank #9 and last in the standings. The best pitchers in the game average less than a single run allowed per 7 innings, so the offense only needs to score one run on average to win those games. You don't need a potent offense to a great team. 
 
Does offense matter? No. Read more.

 

Big 12, SEC & Pac-12 Dominant in 2013

Grab 18 of Top 25 Spots in Final NCAA Coaches' Poll

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
 
LOUISVILLE The final NCAA softball coaches' poll (USA Today/NFCA) has been released.  Oklahoma was the unanimous pick for #1.
 
Final Poll
Team (Conference)
1. Oklahoma (Big 12)
2. Tennessee (SEC)
3. Texas (Big 12)
4. Washington (Pac-12)
5. Florida (SEC)
6. Michigan (Big 10)
7. Arizona State (Pac-12)
8. Nebraska (Big 10)
9. Oregon (Pac-12)
10. Alabama (SEC)
11. Missouri (Big 12)
12. Louisiana-Lafayette (Sunbelt)
13. Texas A&M (SEC)
14. Kentucky (SEC)
15. Florida State (ACC)
16. UAB (Conference USA)
17. South Alabama (Sun Belt)
18. LSU (SEC)
19. Louisville (Big East)
20. Baylor (Big 12)
21. UCLA (Pac-12)
22. Stanford (Pac-12)
23. California (Pac-12)
24. Hawaii (Mountain West)
25. Hofstra (Independent)
 
Here is the preseason poll released earlier this year:
 
Preseason Poll
Team (Conference)
1. Alabama (SEC)
2. Oklahoma (Big 12)
3. California (Pac-12)
4. Arizona State (Pac-12)
5. Tennessee (SEC)
6. Oregon (Pac-12)
7. Missouri (SEC)
8. Georgia (SEC)
9. Texas (Big 12)
10. South Florida
11. Louisiana-Lafayette
12. LSU (SEC)
13. Michigan (Big 10)
14. Arizona (Pac-12)
15. Florida (SEC)
16. Washington (Pac-12)
17. Texas A&M (SEC)
18. Louisville
19. UCLA (Pac-12)
20. Stanford (Pac-12)
21. North Carolina
T22. Baylor (Big 12)
T22. Hofstra
24. Florida State
25. Hawaii 
 
Several interesting things stand out: 
 
1. The power conferences of Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 dominated both the final and preseason rankings. These conferences ended up with 18 of the top 25 teams. They had the same number in the preseason poll. 
 
2. There are two Big 10 teams in the final top 10 in Michigan and Nebraska. That has got to be the best finish for the Big 10 in MANY years. 
 
3. The Pac-12 has to be a bit disappointed with its finish. The Pac-12 only ended up with 3 teams in the top 10 and 6 total teams in the top 25. Its highest finisher was Washington at #4, and half of its 6 finishers were in the basement of the top 25 with UCLA, Stanford and Cal finishing 21, 22, and 23 respectively. The Pac-12 looks like it is on its way down. 
 
4. The SEC has to be happy with its continued ascension in the world of NCAA softball. It had the same number of teams finish in the top 25 (6), but they all finished much higher than their Pac-12 counterparts. The SEC had 3 teams in the top 10 including a #2 finisher in Tennessee and #4 finisher in Texas. It also had a #10 finisher in Alabama. Their other teams in the top 25 all finished higher than the Pac-12 with Texas A&M at #13, Kentucky at #14, and LSU at 18. If these trends continue, the SEC might be the new Pac-12 in NCAA softball. 
 
5. Louisiana-Lafayette finished #12, an unbelievable finish for a team in the Sun Belt conference. There must be something in the water in Lafayette...or the coaches must be really really good. 
 
6. It's amazing how far Alabama fell. It was ranked #1 going into the season and ranked #10 at the end. Alabama had the same starting pitcher in Jackie Traina that it had last season when it won the NCAA title; I never would have guessed that it would drop 10 spots after the 2013 season. Read more.

 
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