Softball Notebook

The Softball Channel’s Fastpitch Blog

06 2010

Twice is Nice

The Washington Huskies Should Repeat as 2010 NCAA Champs

By SpartanIlliniCub
TSC Analyst/Contributor

This year’s Super Regional was one of the most exciting in NCAA history.  From the #1 and #2 seeds both being upset to the Pac-10 only going .500 and the defending champion Huskies facing elimination after the first game.  But the best is yet to come!

With the crop of WCWS teams set it is now time to see if we can separate the contenders from the pretenders.  Nostradamus died in 1566, and since then no one has been able to predict the future, but there are a few themes from the past few WCWS winners that we can use to try and separate out who has a chance at the trophy.  This much we do know: NCAA softball is a pitcher’s game, and winning pitchers in the WCWS usually fit a particular script: one upperclassman pitcher pitches catches fire, pitches every inning for her team, and leads her team to the title. 

All pitchers from recent memory fit this script; UCLA’s Keira Goerl in 2004, Michigan’s Jennie Ritter in 2005, Arizona’s Alicia Hollowell in 2006, Taryne Mowatt in 2007, Arizona State’s Katie Burkhart in 2008, and Washington’s Danielle Lawrie to name a few.  What really separates these pitchers from the rest is their ability to consistently throw strikeouts.  Throwing strikeouts greatly assists your team because the more strikeouts a pitcher throws the fewer runners on the base paths and the fewer potential for errors in the field.  Being an upperclassman is equally beneficial because it helps to deal with the mental pressures of NCAA softball’s biggest stage.  The equation to succeed in the WCWS can be distilled as follows: to win the WCWS your ace pitcher needs to be an upperclassman who has a regular season strikeout per inning ratio greater than 1.0

UCLA - Contender
UCLA seemed to fly a bit under the radar this year thanks to the press focus on Danielle Lawrie and the Washington Huskies.  But UCLA quietly put up excellent stats all season.  UCLA has 5 players with double digit home runs, and a bonafide ace in junior pitcher Donna Kerr.  This season Kerr put up 147.2 innings pitched and struck out 181.  Kerr’s strikeout ratio of 1.23 is well above the 1.0 threshold, and Kerr is an upperclassman.  This alone should be enough to make UCLA a contender for the title.  However, UCLA seemed to suffer from an embarrassment of riches this year—the team spread innings amongst a stable of 5 pitchers rather than giving the vast majority of the innings to one pitcher as Washington does to Lawrie.  Additionally, UCLA only allowed Kerr to pitch 2.1 innings in UCLA’s 2 games of the Super Regional.  I can’t understand why UCLA used their ace so sparingly; either they are saving her or she is injured.  In any event UCLA’s strategy worked; they swept Louisiana Lafayette in dramatic fashion with 10-1 and 10-2 wins.  I will be very curious to see who starts game 1 of the WCWS for UCLA.  Hopefully they let Kerr pitch from here on out—no team in recent memory has won using 2 or more pitchers to pitch in the WCWS.  But UCLA is ultimately a contender because it has a pitcher who throws enough strike-outs and is an upperclassman.

Florida - Pretender
Florida has a super-ace in the making with junior Stephanie Brombacher. This rising star had a 34-6 record, 1.89 ERA, 211 innings pitched and 228 strikeouts this season. Her overall strikeout per inning ratio is 1.08, which is above the WCWS threshold. However, although Brombacher’s numbers are excellent, I’m not sure she has the support she needs to bring home the championship.

Missouri - Pretender
Missouri does not keep season statistics for its softball team.  I have never seen a team that doesn’t keep stats.  Get with the the program!  But from the box scores of the Super Regional I see that sophomore Kristin Nottleman is the team’s ace.  I was able to see from her player bio and from her performance during the Super Regional that she is not a strikeout pitcher, and as such is not likely to take her team to the title.  On Nottleman’s 2009 player bio on the Missouri website the writer commends her for every pitching stat except strikeouts; a glaring omission that means the number probably isn’t that impressive.  During the Super Regional Nottleman pitched 14 innings and only struck out 7.  Because Nottleman is an underclassman and likely does not meet the 1.0 strikeout per inning threshold, she is not the type of pitcher who normally leads her team to the title.  As such, Missouri is merely a pretender.

Hawaii - Contender
Hawaii is the underdog team with a fairy tale entry into the WCWS that everyone is rooting for.  But can Hawaii go all the way?  Hawaii’s ace pitcher is Stephanie Ricketts, a sophomore who pitched 226 innings, had a 2.54 ERA, and 153 strikeouts this season.  Rickett’s strikeouts per inning ratio is 0.68, which is below the 1.0 threshold.  Unfortunately, the Rainbow Wahine have an underclassmen pitcher that does not throw enough strikeouts to win the WCWS. 

However, if ever there was one team who might be able to bust the mold it is this team.  Hawaii’s lineup is so dangerous that it has the ability to win any game.  Only 1 player in the lineup doesn’t have double digit home runs this season, and home run leader Kelly Majam as 30!  More importantly, Hawaii has kept up its power against superior pitching in the Super Regional—the team hit 5 in 2 games.  Because Hawaii’s offense is so deep and so powerful I cannot say this team is a pretender.

Arizona - Pretender
Arizona suffers from a similar problem as Florida.  Arizona has a super-ace in the making with Kenzie Fowler, a freshmen who earned a 31-6 record, 1.25 ERA, 218.1 innings pitched, and 286 strikeouts this season.  Fowler’s 1.31 strikeout per inning is the second best of all the teams currently in the WCWS, but Fowler’s underclassmen status likely puts the title out of reach.  The champion pitchers of the past several years have all been strike-out artists AND upperclassmen.  Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Fowler only meets one of those criteria.  With an underclassmen ace Arizona is only a pretender.

Tennessee - Pretender
Tennessee’s rounds out the 3 team brat-pack in this years WCWS with another freshman phenom pitcher.  Ivy Renfroe, a Tennessee native, blew away coaches this year with a 29-4 record, 2.22 ERA, 211.2 innings pitched, and 208 strikeouts.  Unfortunately Renfroe’s 0.98 strikeout per inning ratio is slightly below the 1.0 threshold, and her underclassmen status makes a double-whammy of obstacles to Tennessee winning the title.  It will be very interesting to see how Florida’s Brombacher, Arizona’s Fowler, and Tennessee’s Renfroe develop over their college careers, and I’m sure we’ll see these 3 teams in the WCWS for the next several years, but for now they are all only pretenders.

Georgia - Pretender
Georgia dominated California during the Super Regionals, but does the team have championship potential?  Georgia’s ace pitcher is sophomore Erin Arevalo, a pitcher who earned an 18-6 record, 2.49 ERA, 157.2 innings pitched, and 158 strike-outs this season.  Arevalo has the stuff to lead her team to a WCWS championship with her 1.0 strikeout per inning ratio, but she is an underclassmen and therefore does not fit the championship mold.  Oddly enough, Georgia seems to have changed horses for the post season.  The Bulldogs gave the ball exclusively to junior Sara McCloud in the Super Regionals.  McCloud compiled a 13-1 record, 2.47 ERA, 110.1 innings pitched, and 80 strike-outs this season, but McCloud’s 0.73 strike-outs per inning ratio is well below the 1.0 threshold.  Georgia has two pitchers that meet one of the criteria, but because neither one meets both criteria Georgia is merely a pretender.

Washington - Super-Contender
Washington is the ultimate contender because Washington has the ultimate pitcher.  Danielle Lawrie picked up right where she left off last year with a 35-2 record, 247.1 innings pitched, 407 strikeouts, and a 0.99 ERA this season.  Lawrie either leads the NCAA or is near the top in every major pitching category, and her 1.65 strikeout per inning ratio is well above the 1.0 threshold.  Lawrie is also an upperclassmen, so she fully meets the test to fit the WCWS champion mold.  Furthermore, the loss to Oklahoma in the opening game of the Super Regionals seems to have lit a fire under her.  Lawrie threw 27 strike-outs in 14 straight shut out innings in the two games following that loss.  In those 2 games Lawrie’s strikeout per inning ratio was almost 2.0!  Not only is Lawrie on fire right now, she also doesn’t have to face a pitcher as skilled as her as she did last year with Florida’s Stacey Nelson.  Lawrie plays on a different level than the other pitchers in this years WCWS.  With Lawrie on the mound, the title is Washington’s to lose.

UCLA vs Washington in the final.  Washington will win the final.

One Response to “Twice is Nice”

  1. Well…Washington is eliminated. The defending champs will not go back-to-back, and my prediction has proved been proved wrong…kind of.

    Washington’s exit was not Danielle Lawrie’s fault. Lawrie did not perform very well in the first WCWS game against Georgia—she only struck out 5 and let in 6 earned runs. But in game 2 Lawrie struck out 12 and only allowed one earned run.

    Unfortunately the Huskies had three costly errors that allowed 3 unearned runs, allowing Arizona to slip by 4-3. Lawrie was on her game, but the rest of her team let her down.

    Too bad for Washington, but Lawrie will still go down as one of the best pitchers of all time. Top 25 at least—maybe even top 20.

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