Florida, Alabama & Tennessee Lead SEC

Three Dynamite Teams Vie for Supremacy in Southeast 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD  There are three standout teams emerging in softball’s #2 power conference behind the Pac-12, the Southeastern Conference. Florida is currently sitting on top of the SEC East with a combined record of 43-8 overall and 20-5 in conference. Alabama is currently #1 in the SEC West with a 45-5 overall record and 21-4 on conference. Tennessee is not far behind Florida in the SEC East with 44-9 overall record and 22-6 in conference.

In head-to-head play, Florida won two games in a three-game series against Tennessee in early March, but two of the games were decided by a 1-0 score. Alabama and Tennessee split a two-game series on March 26th.

The Tennessee Lady Vols have an offensive machine in leadoff hitter Raven Chavanne. The junior All-American from Thousand Oaks, California currently leads the SEC with a .439 batting average, and has reached base safely in 33 straight games dating back to March 11th. Yesterday Chavanne was named SEC Player of the Week following a 10-for-12 (.833) hitting performance with six runs scored and five stolen bases.

Florida will play Alabama on May 4th, 5th, and 6th, and those games are going to be intense! The conference is still up for grabs. Read more.


Cajuns are Ragin'

This Could Be Louisiana-Lafayette's Big Year 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE

LAFAYETTE  The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is suffering from something of an identity crisis. Despite having one of the most successful softball programs in the nation—one legitimately referred to by some as a dynasty—it does not have the immediate name recognition of an Arizona or a UCLA among the general public.

Part of the problem is its somewhat lengthy name. To be proper, you can call it Louisiana, or you can call it Louisiana-Lafayette, but please don’t ever call it Lafayette. That is the name of a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

The truth is that UL Lafayette is a major university of 16,673 students with an amazing softball history. The Ragin’ Cajuns have appeared five times in the Women’s College World Series (1993, 1995, 1996, 2003 and 2008) and have won ten Regular Season Sun Belt Championships. Since 1990, they have missed the NCAA post-season “Field of 64” only once (1998).

Last season the Cajuns finished the regular season with a 49-9 record (.845). Their performance earned  a #16 ranking in the final National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, marking the 18th time since 1990 they have finished in the Top 25.

Last year also marked the 11th time in 12 years that Louisiana has won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. The Cajuns swept through the tournament, run-ruling Florida Atlantic 8-0 in five innings. Louisiana holds the all-time tournament best record of 39-3 (.929).

Much of the team’s success can be attributed to its head coaches—yes, there are two of them. And if that weren’t unique enough, they are married to each other: Stefni Lotief was named head coach in 2001 and husband Michael was named co-head coach two years later.

Known for his tireless work ethic, Michael Lotief is usually the first to arrive at the ball park and the last to leave. He is widely regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game of college softball. His passion for teaching and analyzing batting mechanics through video and has helped catapult the Cajuns into one of the best hitting teams in the country.

Lotief expects the same dedication from his players that he does from himself. Most are from the area, like the Lotiefs themselves—and the two head coaches prefer it that way. Their preference for homegrown talent means many of the players were overlooked by the “big schools” in the recruiting process. That underdog mentality has fueled an intense competitive drive, best summed up by Lotief in his blog article “Champions are Developed by Desire and Discipline”:

Our kids remind me of Samurai warriors. Although we are many miles from perfection and we have plenty of work ahead of us to get our skills to a higher level (physical and mental), there can be no question that they are devoted and they do have incredible discipline.

The Cajuns have a first-class home in Ragin’ Cajuns Softball Park with its seating capacity of 2,790. By comparison, the seating capacity of the Arizona Wildcats Hillenbrand Stadium—one of America’s most revered collegiate softball facilities—is 2,956.

The Cajuns are virtually unbeatable at home, winning all 21 games so far this season. Last year they lost only a single game out of 31 (.968).

Spearheading this year’s offensive charge are Katie Smith, Natalie Fernandez and Christi Orgeron. Smith leads the Cajuns with a .422 batting average, and Fernandez isn’t far behind at .418. Orgeron—a USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Finalist and member of Team USA—was last year’s most valuable offensive player and leads this year’s squad in home runs with 15.

In the circle, Louisiana has a dream duo in freshman Jordan Wallace and senior Ashley Brignac.

Wallace is undefeated in 20 games so far this season and leads the team with 118 strikeouts. Brignac—last year’s Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year—has her sights set squarely on a national title in this, her final season. Yesterday she was named Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week for tossing four complete games, including two shutouts, improving her record to 15-2 on the year.

The Cajuns are currently ranked #7 and #8 in the national polls and are setting a blistering pace with an overall record of 35-4 (.950).

So will this finally be the year the Cajuns win the Women’s College World Series?  Although their name might not be a household one (yet), I wouldn’t bet against them. Read more.


Collegiate Home Run Explosion

NCAA Sluggers Keep Smashing More Homers 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD has a really excellent archive of all Division I statistics divided by year and extending from the current year back to 2001. The site allows me to look up a single stat and display the top 50 ladies in all of Division I softball in that stat category for a particular year.

I have often used to pull stats for the current year (like to find the total number of strikeouts for the best pitchers leading up to the WCWS), but I have never used it to track stats over a multiple-year span to analyze any patterns or trends.

Today that all changed.

I have a hypothesis that the total number of home runs in the NCAA has increased over the past decade.

To test this I looked at the number of home runs hit by the top ten home run hitters and the number of home runs hit by the home run champ in the NCAA for each year dating back to 2001.

The data I uncovered really surprised me. Here it is by year split between the total number of home runs hit by the top ten home run hitters in Division I softball and the total number of home runs hit by the year's Division I home run champ.

2001: 212, 24
2002: 244, 30
2003: 209, 31
2004: 215, 27
2005: 214, 24
2006: 213, 25
2007: 222, 30
2008: 191, 26
2009: 187, 24
2010: 199, 25
2011: 177, 21

From 2001-2011 the number of home runs hit by the top home run hitters in Division I softball has increased 17%. The increase from 2001 to 2010, when the NCAA had a home run explosion of 244, is 27%.

I really wish the data went back before 2001 because I think the power numbers would have fallen off even more and made the numbers more dramatic.

There are a few other interesting elements of this data. In 2001 the top home run hitter barely cracked 20 home runs in the season. Since then three home run champs have hit over 30, and two of them have performed that feat in the past three years.

There was also a huge aberration in the data with the home run explosion in 2010. There were 22 more home runs hit in 2010 than in its next closest year (2005). And in 2010 all of the top ten home run hitters hit at least 20 home runs.

I have a few theories on the steady increase of home runs from 2001-2011:

(1) Better coaching for hitters. Fastpitch pitchers have been receiving small class or one-on-one specialized training for many years, maybe more hitters are starting to participate in the same type of training.

(2) Better bat technology. The technology of bats has certainly increased over the past decade and maybe bats are responsible for adding the extra distance to turn a few extra hits into home runs each year.

(3) Better training. Perhaps more female athletes are embracing weight training and the added bulk is helping to send more balls over the fence.

(4) Deteriorating caliber of pitchers. We are several years removed from any super-elite pitchers like Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman, and Monica Abbott. Perhaps the lack of any uber-dominant pitchers like the aforementioned Big Three has had an affect on home run totals.

For whatever reason, the number of homers continues to climb. At some point, of course, rule changes might spoil things—but for now, enjoy! Read more.


NCAA Approves $2000 Athletic Stipend

College Sports Move Toward "Pay-for-Play" Policy 


LOMBARD  Collegiate athletics in America has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, pouring profits into educational institutions and television networks. But there remains one group who doesn’t benefit financially: the athletes themselves.

Regrettably, the very individuals responsible for putting fans in the seats don’t reap any of the monetary rewards—especially when you realize over 98 percent of them won’t go on to play professionally.

Currently the NCAA—the governing organization for college athletes—has resisted getting rid of its cap on athletic scholarships because (or so they say) it would risk turning college sports into professional sports. Right now scholarships are limited to tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies.

Until now.

Last Thursday the NCAA took a baby step toward rectifying this inequality by granting conferences the authority to pay full-scholarship athletes an additional $2,000 in grant money, which amounts to a stipend for student-athletes.

Because of Title IX, all women's sports will have to be given the same $2,000 per student-athlete as the men's sports.

It’s too little, but it’s a start. Read more.


Superstars of Tomorrow 2011

A New Crop of NCAA Pitchers to Keep Your Eye On 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD  The stats are all in and it is finally time to reveal the NCAA pitching superstars of tomorrow. These NCAA freshmen pitchers were selected based on their statistical performance from the 2011 season. So without further adieu, here are the 2011 NCAA future superstar pitchers:

Dallas Escobedo: Freshman - Arizona State
2011 Stats: 37-3, 1.51 ERA, 255 innings pitched, 326 strikeouts, 1.27 average strikeouts-per-inning
Dallas Escobeo was one of the most highly recruited pitchers in the country in 2010. Escobedo graduated from St. Mary's High School in Phoenix, Arizona in 2010 after leading her team to a 2010 state title. Though Escobedo could have had a free ride to any school she wanted, she ultimately chose Arizona State, and by golly is Arizona State pleased! Escobedo pitched spectacularly all season and led the Sun Devils to the 2011 NCAA national title. Escobedo was the first freshman to lead her team to an NCAA title in well over a decade. There have been many freshmen & sophomore pitchers to lead their teams deep in the the Womens' College World Series, but they always seem to wilt under the pressure of the big stage. It was really special to watch Escobedo elevate her game during the WCWS just like a veteran. Escobedo is a superstar of tomorrow, but she is also a superstar of today!

Sara Moulton: Freshman - University of Minnesota
2011 Stats: 28-16, 2.06 ERA, 278 innings pitched, 330 strikeouts, 1.19 average strikeouts-per-inning
Moulton was another 2010 uber-prospect who ultimately chose a university close to her home town of Eagan, Minnesota. Moulton attended Eagan High School and in her senior season was named Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year. She finished her prep career with an 83-13 record, 1,142 strikeouts, a 0.35 ERA, 58 shutouts, 13 no-hitters and 3 perfect games. In her first season at Minnesota Moulton finished with the superb stats you see above, and she ranked #14 in the nation in total strikeouts. The University of Michigan has been the dominant team in the Big Ten Conference for the past several years, but with Jordan Taylor graduating and the emergence of Moulton the Golden Gophers will be the team to beat for the next three years at least. Moulton performed so well in her freshman season that she was featured on a local news broadcast. You can watch it here.

Ellen Renfroe: Freshman - University of Tennessee
2011 Stats: 26-7, 1.50 ERA, 201 innings pitched, 259 strikeouts, 1.29 average strikeouts-per-inning
Ellen Renfroe was easily one of the most highly decorated high school athletes the state of Tennessee had ever seen. Renfroe attended high school at Trinity Christian Academy in Jackson, Tennessee and led the team to four state titles. Renfro put up eye-popping numbers at the prep level with a career 115-19 record, 0.31 ERA, 1,355 strikeouts, and 20 no-hitters. Her efforts earned her the honor of being named the 2010 Tennessee Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Renfroe joined with her sister Ivy (a 2011 sophomore who was mentioned in the Superstars of Tomorrow thread from 2010) at Tennesse in 2011, and the sisters led the Volunteers to a 49-12 record and a finish in the WCWS Regionals. The Renfroe sisters are only going to get better, and with their collective talent level I would be willing to bet you will see Tennessee deep in the WCWS in 2012.

Lori Spignola: Freshman - University of North Carolina
2011 Stats: 27-16, 1.73 ERA, 267 innings pitched, 285 strikeouts, 1.07 average strikeouts-per-inning
In her freshman season Lori Spignola tied the UNC softball record for wins with 27 and broke the total innings pitched record with 267. Spignola also tossed a perfect game February 27, 2011 against Penn State and recorded a no-hitter against Boston College on May 13, 2011. Spignola's spectacular success would come as no surprise to those who knew her in high school, where she led Atlanta's Marist High School to two consecutive state titles in 2009 and 2010.

Kayla Cox: Freshman - North Carolina State University
2011 Stats: 14-14, 2.83 ERA, 183 innings pitched, 232 strikeouts, 1.27 average strikeouts-per-inning
Cox adjusted very well to the college game after an excellent high school career. As a student-athlete at East Bay High School in East Bay, Florida, Cox went 18-1 with a 0.19 ERA and led the Indians to the 2010 state title. Cox decided to travel north to play her college ball, and in her freshman season she ranked #44 in the nation for total strikeouts. The ACC is not a huge softball powerhouse conference, so a pitcher with Cox's talent level should be able to shine for years to come. Read more.

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