Superstars of Tomorrow 2012

Five NCAA Pitchers are Poised for Greatness

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD It's time once again for my yearly prediction of future NCAA pitching stars.  College softball is a pitcher's game.  The teams with the best pitchers win the most games and a star pitcher is basically a prerequisite for an NCAA title.  The best pitchers are ones who toss a lot of strikeouts; they keep the batter in the batter's box and prevent baserunners.  By examining a pitcher's numbers from their freshman and sophomore year we can try to predict who the NCAA's future pitching stars will be.

#1: Jackie Traina - Alabama (Sophomore)
While watching Alabama's Jackie Traina in last year's Women's College World Series, I completely forgot that she was an underclassman.  Traina had to have not only great talent, but also a lot of guts to pitch as well as she did against a seasoned Oklahoma team and a dominating and intimidating pitcher like Keilani Ricketts.  In 2012 Traina put up 361 strikeouts, which was good enough to place her at #5 in the nation in that category.  Traina threw the strikeouts in only 292 innings, giving her a solid average of 1.26 strikeouts per inning.  Traina also earned a 1.87 ERA and contributed 42 wins to the Crimson Tide—plus she led the team to its first ever WCWS title.  If Jackie continues to improve she may well knock on the door of some of the NCAA's all-time pitching records.  Maybe after winning the 2012 title she will feel more relaxed and confident, and may get even better!  Scary!

#2: Sara Nevins - South Florida (Sophomore)
Nevins just finished her sophomore year at South Florida, and led the team to one of its best finishes in school history.  In 2012 South Florida made it to the big dance with its first berth in the Womens College World Series playoff.  Unfortunately the team went 0-2 in the tournament and was one of the first teams to exit, but in 2013 Nevins will look to improve and try to send her team deeper into the field.  In 2012 she threw 336 strikeouts which was good enough to place her #7 in the nation.  Nevins threw her K's in 256 innings, which gave her a dazzling 1.31 strikeouts-per-inning average.  Nevins also threw in a 1.21 ERA and 31 wins for good measure.  South Florida is not a traditional powerhouse in softball, but if Nevins continues to develop you can count on the Bulls going MUCH deeper into the WCWS playoffs.

#3: Lori Spignola - North Carolina (Sophomore)
Another underclassmen putting up big numbers is North Carolina pitcher Lori Spignola.  In 2012 North Carolina softball made some great strides for the program, but the team failed to make it out of the Georgia Regional.  In 2012 Spignola threw 333 strikeouts which placed her at #9 in the nation.  Spignola threw those strikeouts over 269 innings which gave her a 1.24 stikeout-per-inning ratio.  Spignola also had a 1.87 ERA and 33-12 record.  North Carolina is another school that is not known as a dominating force in NCAA softball, but with a player like Spignola they have an excellent chance to make waves over the next two seasons.

#4: Sara Moulton - Minnesota (Sophomore)
Sara Moulton is a homegrown Minnesota native who has revitalized the program since she took over the ace pitching role as a freshman.  Minnesota did not have a chance to represent the Big Ten in any post season play in 2012 because Northwestern and Michigan beat them out for that opportunity, but if Moulton continues to improve—and her fellow Gophers step up—Minnesota will not miss another postseason while she is in a Minnesota uniform.  In 2012 Moulton threw 302 strikeouts which was good enough to place her at #14 in the nation.  Her 302 strikeouts were thrown over 253 innings, giving her a 1.19 strikeout-per-inning ratio.  Moulton also pitched for a 1.52 ERA and a 25-14 record.  The Big Ten has not had a WCWS champion since Michigan accomplished that feat in 2005, and the conference needs players like Moulton to bring it back to respectability.  In 2012 Minnesota only had three players hit above .300; if the Gophers can develop their offense their win total will inch skyward and the team should have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs.

#5: Laura Winter - Notre Dame (Sophomore)
Notre Dame is a national athletic powerhouse in lots of different sports, and the school may need to add softball to their list in the very near future.  Notre Dame is not much of a softball school, but in 2012 the team came within one game of a berth in the WCWS playoff—until a heartbreaking loss to Arizona in the final game of the regional sent them back to South Bend.  Part of the reason for their newfound success is the pitching skills of sophomore pitcher Laura Winter.  In 2012 Winter threw 287 strikeouts, which is good enough for #16 in the nation.  Winter accomplished this feat in 263 innings which gave her a 1.09 strikeout-per-inning ratio.  Winter also threw for a 2.18 ERA and a 29-11 record.  Notre Dame will be moving to the ACC in 2013, which will give fans some exciting pitching matchups as Winter faces off against fellow ACC future pitching star Lori Spignola.  With pitching talent like Winter and Spignola, the ACC may give traditional power conferences like the Pac-12 and SEC some real competition.

It is going to be a very exciting couple of years watching all of these stars develop.  There is lots of exciting college softball on the way! Read more.


Crimson Tide Rolls to 2012 National Title

Alabama Wins First-Ever National Softball Champhionship

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

OKLAHOMA CITY  Oh how things can turn around in a three-game series.

Oklahoma handily defeated Alabama in Game #1 of the WCWS final and looked like a team of destiny. Sooner ace Keilani Ricketts dominated with a 7-inning 12-strikeout performance, allowing 5 hits and 1 earned run. On offense, Ricketts also added a hit and a run of her own for good measure.

Keilani Ricketts is SO good and that scowl she has while she pitches is terrifying!

Alabama’s ace Jackie Traina pitched well but not well enough to win a WCWS game. She threw 7 innings, 6 strikeouts, 11 hits, and 2 earned runs. Any time you give up 11 hits bad things are going to happen. I'm surprised she only gave up 2 earned runs.

After the game I really thought Oklahoma had the title locked down, but Traina is too good of a pitcher to let one setback affect her. She and the rest of the Crimson Tide bounced back big time, winning the 2nd and 3rd games in dramatic fashion to capture the 2012 WCWS national title.

In game #2 Ricketts had one of her worst games of the season. She only lasted 3.1 innings and gave up 2 earned runs on 5 hits. Her defense also did not help her by allowing two other unearned runs off of senseless errors while Keilani was pitching and allowing a total of 4 unearned runs throughout the game.

Oklahoma was down 8-1 after the 6th inning and mounted a small comeback in the 7th inning with 5 runs, but Jackie Traina struck out the final two Oklahoma batters and ended the inning and the game with an 8-6 win. Traina finished the match with 7 innings pitched, 5 hits, and 4 earned runs.

Game #3 was a very exciting match and a great way to end the Division I softball season. Ricketts performed much better than she did in Game #2 with 7 strike outs, 7 hits and 3 earned runs. But the difference in this game again came down to defensive errors. Oklahoma allowed in two unearned runs which ended up as the difference in the game.

Traina pitched 7 innings and allowed 5 earned runs on 6 hits with 6 strikeouts. So while Keilani did not pitch in the normal dominant fashion we are accustomed to, she allowed fewer earned runs and pitched well enough to win; however, her defense failed her.

Congrats to the Alabama Crimson Tide who played very well the entire season, peaked at the exact right moment, and defeated a real juggernaut in the Oklahoma Sooners. This is the first NCAA softball national title for Alabama. Read more.


Sweet 16! Cal Tops Field

California Remains Favorite to Win 2012 NCAA Title 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE

BERKELEY  The number of teams vying for the national collegiate softball title is down to 16, with #1-ranked Cal still the odds-on favorite to win it all.

That’s not to say Cal had an easy time of it this past weekend.  The heavily favored Bears lost 3-2 to Arkansas on Saturday in front of their home crowd, putting them in the losers’ bracket and one game away from elimination.

The loss to Arkansas had everyone’s head spinning. The Razorbacks had received an at-large bid to play in the NCAA tournament only six days earlier amid screams of excitement—no one dreamed they actually had a chance to defeat the nation’s #1 team.

On the brink of a complete postseason meltdown, California was looking to bounce back against America East softball champion Boston University—and it did so in spectacular fashion. Featuring the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year in Jolene Henderson, Cal pulled out an 8-0 win in six innings to keep its season alive.

But it was now faced with the daunting task of defeating the pumped up Razorbacks in back-to-back games on Sunday.

To the delight of its home crowd, Cal run-ruled the Razorbacks 10-2 in five innings in the first game, forcing the if-necessary game seven, and then annihilated the Razorbacks 7-0 for the Berkeley regional title.

Jolene Henderson pitched back-to-back wins, improving to 34-2 in the circle. Britt Vonk tallied her first homer of the year and Ashley Decker drove in two runs of her own.

Cal will host Washington at Levine-Fricke Field this weekend in the Berkeley Super Regional. Read more.


Elite Eight is Set

National College Championship Field Prepares for Quarterfinals 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD  The final eight is set for the Women’s College World Series!  The teams are:

1. California
2. Alabama
3. Arizona State
4. Oklahoma
5. Tennessee
6. Oregon
7. South Florida
8. LSU

California has gone with Jolene Henderson as their starting pitcher for the playoffs (rather than stud Valerie Arrioto) and the decision has paid off splendidly so far. Cal beat Washington in two games 5-0 and 2-0.  Henderson threw 11 strikeouts in game 1 and 9 in game 2. She only allowed 7 hits and completely shut out Washington.

My underdog favorite Louisiana-Lafayette was defeated by Arizona State after winning the first super regional game 6-0. It would have been an awesome storyline to have such a small school upset the defending champion, but it was not meant to be. After getting lit up in game 1 Arizona State ace Dallas Escobedo bounced back to pitch a 7-strikeout shutout to close out the series.

Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts looked unstoppable against Arizona. She and the Sooners defeated Arizona 6-0 and 7-1. Ricketts threw nine strikeouts in game 1 and 13 strikeouts in game 2.  She threw 24 strikeouts and scattered just 10 hits in 14 innings.

Tennessee is another cool story this season. Tennessee has a team of sisters that are both excelling in the circle. The elder is junior Ivy Renfroe. So far this season Ivy has pitched 206 innings and has a 25-8 record, a 1.73 ERA, and 194 strike outs. The younger is sophomore Ellen Renfroe. So far this season Ellen has pitched 225 innings and has a 27-4 record, 1.18 ERA and 276 strike outs.

Though Ellen edged out Ivy in innings and statistical performance during the regular season Tennessee seems to be giving Ivy the majority of the innings in the playoffs. Ivy pitched all of the innings in Tennessee's regional games and 2 of the 3 games in the super regional.  When Ellen did get the circle in game 2 of the super regional against Georgia she pitched a 3 hit shutout with 3 strikeouts and led the Volunteers to a 1-0 victory.

It must be hard for Ellen, who has significantly better stats, to watch her sister get playoff innings ahead of her. Ellen's performance during the regular season should have earned her a shot to be Tennessee's #1 pitcher during the 2012 playoffs.  Ivy appears to be getting innings solely because she is older.  I know I would resent that if I was Ellen.

Oregon upset Texas for a berth in the WCWS. Texas always seems to have a good squad, but they never live up to expectations. Texas won game 1 of the super regional series but could not seal the deal and lost to Oregon 5-4 in game 2 and 10-6 in game 3. I bet somewhere Cat is crying.

South Florida is the only team from a conference not called the Pac-12, SEC or Big 12. It took them three games to close out Hofstra, but they have a legitimate pitcher in Sara Nevins. Over 21 innings Nevins only let up 10 hits, 4 runs and struck out 19. Unfortunately they have to play red hot Oklahoma in the 1st round of the WCWS, so midnight may fast be approaching for this Cinderella story.

Only three teams dispatched their competition in two games: California, Oklahoma, and Alabama. Cal had the largest run differential with 7 to 0, Oklahoma had the next biggest differential with 13 to 1, and Alabama had the smallest with 8 to 4.  All three teams faced pretty stiff competition: Cal faced Pac-12 rival Washington, Oklahoma faced off against Arizona, and Alabama defeated Michigan.  We may well see two of these three teams in the WCWS final.

I cannot believe Florida did not make it to the WCWS. Heck, Florida didn't even make it out of the regional despite a #1 seed. Florida made it to the WCWS final in 2011, and this year it had a lot of returning starters.  One of the most important was sophomore ace pitcher Hannah Rogers. In 2012 Rogers had a great season with a 28-8 record, 228 innings pitched, 1.23 ERA, and 202 strikeouts.

Rogers performed really well in the regional games too. The early exit cannot be blamed on her.  In the regionals Florida opened up with a loss to Florida Gulf Coast 2-1, then defeated UCF 7-1, beat Florida Gulf Coast 6-2, and then lost to South Florida 1-0. Rogers only gave up 6 runs in 4 games, but the offense fell silent when the Gators needed it most. Especially in that last 1-0 loss. That was a big setback for Florida, but Rogers is only going to get better as she becomes an upperclassmen, and the Gators will develop their current talent and probably bring in some new ringers for next year I'm sure.

At least Hannah Rogers and Michelle Moultrie were named All Americans. Maybe that will take away some of the sting (though I doubt it).

The next round of games in the WCWS start on Thursday 5/31/12. It's going to be a crazy ride! Read more.


Showdown at the Berkeley Corral

Cal & Arizona State Collide for Pac-12 Title 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

BERKELEY  There are currently two teams atop the standings for the Pac-12: The University of California, Berkeley (California or Cal) and Arizona State. These two teams are set to play each other in an epic conference showdown at Berkeley this weekend, May 10th-12th.

Cal is currently sitting on top of the standings with a 19-2 conference record, but Arizona State is right behind at 17-2. As this is the final conference series for both ball clubs, the Pac-12 title is squarely on the line.

Cal will use every ounce of its home-field advantage, but Arizona State has history on its side. Last year ASU captured the conference title in convincing fashion, winning 13 of its final 14 games en route to the national championship. That came on the heels of its winning the national title only three years earlier. Cal has also won an NCAA championship, but it was ten years ago.

This year, though, Cal may have the upper hand. Last week marked the sixth consecutive week Cal ranked #1 in both polls and the 11th time this season that the Golden Bears have been the top choice in at least one poll. Cal received all 20 first-place votes in the Softball poll and 29 of 30 first-place votes in the USA Today/NFCA poll.

The remaining first-place vote went Arizona State, which moved up to second after taking all three games from then 11th-ranked Washington.

Down the stretch, the Sun Devils have received a huge shot in the arm from shortstop Katelyn Boyd. The senior went 6-for-11 (.545) against the Huskies, including a grand slam that made her ASU’s all-time leader in career RBI’s (232). For her efforts, Boyd was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the fourth time this season.

But Cal has been building its own momentum. Last weekend the Bears swept #23 Oregon State three games to none, capped by a 4-1 win yesterday afternoon. It was Cal’s fifth Pac-12 series sweep and its seventh overall conference series victory.

ASU also swept its series this past weekend, but against much less intense competition in conference newcomer Utah (1-20 in Pac-12 play). The series finale saw the Sun Devils smashing the Utes 13-5 in six innings. Boyd again took center stage offensively, becoming ASU’s all-time leader in career doubles (55).

Cal and Arizona State are the clear front-runners in the Pac-12 this year. Their .905 and .895 conference winning percentages, respectively, are light years ahead of the 3rd place team's (Oregon) with .579. The three-game set between these two teams for the Pac-12 title is going to be insane! Read more.

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