Arizona State Wins National Title!

Sun Devils Sweep Florida to Win 2nd National Title in 4 Years 


OKLAHOMA CITY  The Arizona State Sun Devils battled their way into the history books yesterday, beating Florida 7-2 to become only the fourth team in history to win the Women’s College World Series more than once.

The other teams in this elite group are UCLA, Arizona and Texas A&M. UCLA leads the pack with 12 titles, followed by Arizona with 8. ASU’s previous NCAA title came four years ago.

The Sun Devils’ dominating World Series performance capped off an incredible year that saw them win 23 of their last 24 games and finish 10-0 in the NCAA tournament.

The team’s formula for success combined strong pitching, clutch hitting and a defense that remained error-free throughout the championship tournament. The pitching was led by Dallas Escobedo (37-3), the first freshman pitcher to win the championship game since UCLA’s Heather Compton in 1990. Escobedo pitched a four-hitter in the finale to rack up her 19th straight victory.

The offense was paced by Alix Johnson (also a freshman) and Katelyn Boyd who drove in three runs apiece, along with Annie Lockwood who hit a solo home run.

Arizona State’s victory continued a run of six consecutive softball championships for the Pac-10. The conference virtually owns the sport, winning 23 of the 29 titles all-time. Read more.


WCWS 'Sweet 16' Prepare for Battle

Super Regionals Start Tomorrow; Michigan Out 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD – The Super Regional field of 16 teams is now set and ready to begin play on the 26th, 27th, and 28th of May. The Regional round featured two major upsets. The most surprising to me is 10th ranked Michigan losing to Kentucky in the Ann Arbor regional group.

Michigan lost 7-6 and 2-1 to Kentucky and was eliminated from the tournament. Kentucky has no ace pitcher, and instead splits innings between two pitchers: junior Chanda Bell and junior Rachel Riley. During the 2011 season Bell pitched 143 innings and went 15-6 with a 2.10 ERA and 196 strikeouts. Riley fared slightly worse with 100 innings, 12-5 record, a 2.57 ERA and 64 strikeouts.

Neither pitcher is overwhelming, but both pitched a game against Michigan and both picked up victories. Bell pitched 6 innings and had 6 earned runs and 5 strikeouts. Riley pitched the elimination game against Michigan and was very efficient. She pitched 7 innings, struck out 2 and only allowed one hit.

Kentucky will play Cal in the Super Regional and will likely get smoked. But the upset sure is exciting! Read more.


Superstars of Tomorrow 2012

Three College Freshman Pitchers Have What It Takes 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD – Upperclassman pitchers usually get all the glory, but each year a select few freshman pitchers step on the mound and make an immediate impact for their college team. Seeking out these freshmen pitchers gives us a glimpse of the superstars of the future. The most important statistic in college softball is the strikeout. All WCWS winning pitchers over the last several years have ranked among the top pitchers in strikeouts. So by focusing on strikeouts in our freshman pitcher statistics, we come as close as we can to finding the championship winning pitchers of tomorrow.

This year's crop of freshmen is the best in recent memory. We had one in the WCWS Final, one in the top five in strikeouts, and one who set single-season records for her school.

Kenzie Fowler, Freshman, Arizona
The conversation must begin with Kenzie Fowler, a freshman phenom who came within a hair's breadth of a national title. Fowler, a player whose high school diploma is only 14 months old, pitched like a woman possessed during the postseason and led Arizona to the WCWS championship game. And Kenzie's postseason was no fluke; she put up incredible statistics throughout the entire season. She had a 38-9 record, pitched 284.3 innings and put up 371 strikeouts. Fowler ranked 7th in the nation in strikeouts and had an unreal 1.3 strikeouts per inning. She also delivered from the plate: Fowler had a .364 batting average and belted 2 home runs. What a player! Kenzie Fowler's presence alone will make Arizona the favorite for next year's NCAA title.

Blaire Luna, Freshman, Texas
Another player who absolutely deserves mention is Blaire Luna from Texas. Luna finished the season with a 30-10 record, 242.2 innings pitched, 1.39 ERA and 404 strikeouts. Luna ranked 5th in the nation in strikeouts as a freshman! If Luna continues to improve she could easily challenge Monica Abbott's career records; it's scary how good she can be. Luna is also as durable as she is skilled. She threw 28 complete games this season—well over half the number of her appearances. Luna's talent was also recognized by Team USA. She was invited to play as a member of Team USA Futures and, in 6 innings pitched, allowed only one run in a 2-1 victory over Japan. Luna has a very bright (burnt orange) future ahead of her and has the best chance since Cat Osterman to lead the Longhorns to their first-ever NCAA softball championship.

Jenny Esparza, Freshman, Butler
The final frosh player that deserves mention is Jenny Esparza from Butler. Esparza ended the season with an 18-11 record, 189.3 innings pitched, a 1.22 ERA and 307 strikeouts. Despite her tender age, Esparza ranked in the top 20 nationally in strikeouts. She also set the all-time single-season record for victories at Butler. The only problem for Esparza, as her record suggests, is that playing for Butler might hold her back. Butler is a relatively small school in Indianapolis, Indiana (you may remember them from the NCAA men's basketball title game), and the team might not be able to assemble the talent around Esparza to really make use of her pitching talent. Esparza proved this year that she has the ability and, if she can keep improving, she can still lead her team deep into the postseason despite any lack of players around her.

There you have it! Make sure you keep these three freshman dandies in your sights as we move into the 2011 NCAA softball season. These are the names that will make headlines in the years to come! Read more.


Women's College World Series 2011 Preview

Four Contenders & Four Pretenders in This Year's WCWS 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD – The field of 64 teams for the WCWS regional was just announced yesterday. The 5 top-seeded teams are Arizona State, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Missouri.

It's time to take a quick peek at the top teams and determine which are contenders and which are pretenders.

Any serious student of the WCWS will note that each year seems to follow a similar story. The WCWS has always been dominated by great pitchers, and each year one pitcher rises above the rest and shuts down the rest of the field and leads her team to victory. Let me run some history by you and see if you can sense a pattern:

2010: Megan Lagenfeld - Senior - 114 innings pitched, 76 strike outs, .66 strikeouts/inning
2009: Danielle Lawrie - Junior - 302 innings pitched, 495 strike outs, 1.64 strikeouts/inning
2008: Katie Burkhart - Senior - 315 innings pitched, 513 strike outs, 1.62 strikeouts/inning
2007: Taryne Mowatt - Junior - 370 innings pitched, 522 strike outs, 1.41 strikeouts/inning

The above-mentioned ladies are the ace pitchers of the last four WCWS championship teams. Two patters scream out to me: first all the pitchers are upper classemen and secondly all the pitchers except for one were excellent at striking out batters. The 2007-2009 winners all struck out an average of about 1.5 batters per inning. These pitchers accounted for almost half of their team's outs for an entire season! UCLA's Megan Langenfeld is the lone exception to the strike out centered pitcher mold, but though Megan's season stats were not very Earth shattering don't forget that she turned it ON in the WCWS and struck out batters at an incredible clip (she also hit like a champ and knocked in most of the runs she needed to win games).

The above stats reveal the basic formula to create a WCWS champion: a pitcher that is an upper classmen pitcher with a strikeout per inning ratio somewhere north of about 1.25.

With our formula in tow let's see which of the following top ranked teams are contenders and which are pretenders.

#1: Arizona State - Pretender
Ace Pitcher: Dallas Escobido, Freshman, 27-3, 1.40 ERA, 189.1 innings pitched, 250 strike outs

Arizona is the #1 overall ranked team in this year's playoff, and they have a real gem on their hands with freshman superstar Dallas Escobido. Dallas has legendary stuff and is a true superstar in the making. Dallas has a 1.32 strike out per inning ratio this season that proves she is certainly capable of pitching like a champion. But in recent years underclassmen have not had the mental fortitude to take their team to the title. In the last four years all the champion pitchers were upper classmen. Though Dallas is easily the best young pitcher in the NCAA her lack of WCWS experience puts her team at a disadvantage and makes Arizona State nothing more than a pretender. Arizona State's ace pitcher does not fit the correct mold, so Arizona State is only a pretender.

#2: Alabama - Contender
Ace Pitcher: Kelsi Dune, Senior, 24-3, 1.17 ERA, 186 innings pitched, 272 strike outs

Kelsi Dunne is a battle tested and extremely talented pitcher. Her 1.46 strike out per inning ratio puts her in the same company statistically as Danielle Lawrie and Taryne Mowatt and that is VERY good company to be in. With her impressive season stats she has proven to have what it takes to shut down opposing teams in the WCWS and lead her team to victory. The only worry I have is that Alabama from the SEC—a conference that has never won the WCWS. In fact, a non-Pac 10 team hasn't won the title since Michigan in 2005, but with Dunne in the circle Alabama has as good of a chance as any SEC team ever had. Dunne fits the mold. Alabama is a contender.

#3: Texas - Pretender
Ace Pitcher: Blaire Luna, Sophomore, 27-6, 1.27 ERA, 242.1 innings pitched, 298 strike outs

Blaire Luna is great young pitcher in the same mold as Dallas Escobido. Luna is the best pitcher for the Longhorns since Cat Osterman, and her 1.23 strike out per inning ratio is proof enough that she has the skills to take her team to the title. Unfortunately, like Dallas Escobido, Luna is an underclassmen and therefore does not meet the formula for a WCWS champion pitcher. Luna has the physical part of becoming a champion down pat, but the leadership and experience proven necessary by former champions is not mature in Lune quite yet. It will be though!

#4: Florida - Pretender
Ace Pitcher: Hannah Rogers, Freshman, 30-5, 1.60 ERA, 214 innings pitched, 214 strike outs

Florida had a certified ace pitcher for 2011 ready to go in senior Stephanie Brombacher. Brombacher was an all-American in 2010 and pitched 46 innings in the 2010 WCWS with a 1.81 ERA and 42 strike outs. Unfortunately, from what I can glean from Florida Gator message boards and from 2011 statistics, it looks like Brombacher injured her throwing arm during the season and it still has not quite healed. The pitcher with the majority of Florida's innings this year was freshman pitcher Hannah Rogers. Rogers did exceedingly well filling in Brombacher's shoes, though after crunching the numbers Rogers only had a 1.0 strike out per inning ratio, which is just under elite status. Unfortunately for Florida, if Rogers is expected to be Florida's ace pitcher in the 2011 WCWS she won't fit the championship mold with either her strike ratio or her year in school. Florida always has the option of pitching Brombacher if she is healthy, but I worry that if Brombacher is thrown back into the circle she won't have pitched enough innings this year to be sharp and peaking at this time of year. As it stands now Florida is naught but a pretender.

#5: Missouri - Contender
Ace Pitcher: Chelsea Thomas, Junior, 13-3, 1.09 ERA, 115 innings pitched, 166 strike outs

Chelsea Thomas had another spectacular season for the Mizzou Tigers. She only pitched about half of the innings of other pitchers on this list but on her time on the mound she put up an elite level 1.44 strike outs per inning ratio. Based on the stats and Chelsea's upper classmen status Mizzou fits the championship mold and makes Mizzou a bona fide contender. Mizzou has the unfortunate distinction of not being in the Pac 10, but with a grizzled flame thrower arm like Chelsea's slinging pitches in the WCWS they have a legitimate chance at the title.

Teams outside the top 5 that have serious potential:

#10: Michigan - Contender
Ace Pitcher: Jordan Taylor, Senior, 29-3, 1.29 ERA, 216 innings pitched, 301 strike outs

Michigan has an excellent team this year and I am surprised they only secured the #10 seed in the WCWS. They are led by senior Jordan Taylor, who pitched her way to a 1.39 strike out per inning ratio this season. Taylor has the optimal combination of pitching skill and experience to make Michigan a serious contender for the WCWS title.

Unranked: Indiana - Contender
Ace Pitcher: Morgan Melloh, Senior, 32-15, 1.67 ERA, 307 innings pitched, 477 strike outs

Melloh has been a superstar since she first stepped onto a mound with Fresno State in 2008. Melloh transferred to Indiana for her senior season, and has continued to punch out batters at a record setting pace. Melloh posted a 1.55 strike out per inning ratio in 2011—a number better than Danielle Lawrie, Katie Burkhart and Taryne Mowatt in their championship years. With Melloh's ability to take over games by fanning over 1.5 batters per inning she makes Indiana a contender. Unfortunately for her Indiana has not given her much run support. It is frustrating to lose 15 games when you only have a 1.67 ERA and have struck out 477 batters. Those numbers mean that, on average, Indiana's offense struggled to put up more than 2 runs 15 times. If Indiana's offense can be merely average during the WCWS Indiana can win a lot of games.

There you have it! Four contenders and four pretenders identified! I can't wait to see how it all shakes out. Get ready for the first games on May 19! Read more.



Bruins Break Multiple Records En Route to Title


OKLAHOMA CITY – If there was any doubt which is the best collegiate softball team in the nation, it was completely obliterated tonight as UCLA won 15-8 over Arizona, sweeping the finals and picking up its 11th NCAA softball championship. It was the 24th appearance in the finals for the team, and the first national championship for head coach Inouye-Perez.

UCLA’s 15 runs represented a new championship series record. The team drew inspiration from the late John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach who passed away four days earlier. According to coach Inouye-Perez, “He was with us.”

Bruin ace Megan Langenfeld was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. In addition to her two home runs last night—including the game-winner—Langenfeld belted a 2-run exclamation point over the left field fence in the first inning tonight.

Teammate Andrea Harrison followed with a grand slam in the second—the first-ever grand slam in the WCWS finals—which broke the game wide.

There was talk that the incredible offensive production by both offenses in this year’s Women’s College World Series—and by collegiate softball players in general—is due to the use of composite bats. This debate will undoubtedly continue into the off-season, with possible sanctions against their use for 2011.

For Arizona there was solace in the fact that its ace, Kenzie Fowler, is only a freshman. And the Cats will lose only two of its starters next year. The team played the Bruins tough and came ever-so-close to winning in game #1, so they have a lot to build on for next year. Read more.

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