2006 Big Ten Softball Tournament Preview
May 10, 2006
With a 3-0 victory over Illinois on Saturday, Northwestern captured the regular season league championship and will serve as the host of the 2006 Big Ten Softball Tournament. The Wildcats will welcome Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State and Illinois to the 2006 event, which will be held Thursday-Saturday, May 11-13 at Sharon J. Drysdale Field in Evanston, Ill.
No. 1 Northwestern
A pair of juniors and one freshman have slugged their way through the season to make the Wildcats' offense to one of the most powerful in the league. First base Garland Cooper became the Wildcats' second-ever first-team All-America selection last season, and followed up the honor with another stellar season. A three-time Player of the Week honoree this season, Cooper leads the team, batting .386 and scoring 36 runs. Outfielder Katie Logan is second-best on the squad with a .378 average and a conference-best 64 hits. She has not missed a start in her entire collegiate career. In her first season, infielder Tammy Williams proved she will have plenty to offer the Northwestern lineup for the next three years. The rookie batted .375 on the season and led the league with 55 runs, a total that ranks among the top five players in the nation.
On the mound, the Wildcats are equally dominant, turning in one the league's lowest ERAs this season of 1.31. Junior Eileen Canney and senior Courtnay Foster have each garnered 20-win season this year. A four-time winner of Pitcher of the Week honors, Canney has notched 14 shut-out victories this season and pitched 22 complete games. While holding batters to an average of .149 at the plate, the two-time recipient of national weekly laurels has also kept her ERA to a marginal 1.00. Foster also hurled 18 complete contests this season.
The Wildcats kick off the 2006 edition of the Big Ten Tournament in a rematch of the regular season-ending series against Illinois. In the teams' regular season meetings, the Wildcats posted back-to-back shutout wins and allowed a total of seven Illini hits in two games.
Postseason experience will be the biggest key for the Wolverines' title run. Senior third base Grace Leutele has been a team catalyst at the Big Ten Tournament, batting .400 in seven tournament games with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. Outfielder Stephanie Bercaw is a career .300-hitter in the tournament, while second base Tiffany Haas has crossed home plate eight times and owns a .286 average at the event. Leading the way offensively, senior Becky Markx has slammed 11 home runs, which ranks third in the conference. The catcher also owns a .336 average and leads the squad with 41 RBI. Sophomores centerfielder Alessandra Giampoalo and first base Samantha Findlay are close behind her, batting .318 and .314 respectively. Findlay picked up Player of the Week honors after closing out the regular season, batting .833 at Michigan State, with two doubles, five RBI and a grand slam.
Dominating from the field has also been crucial to Michigan's success, which holds a team ERA of 0.97 and the league's second-best fielding percentage (.977). The Wolverines reap the most success when star pitcher Jennie Ritter (24-6) takes the mound. The senior's 0.70 ERA leads the league and ranks fourth-lowest in the nation. Reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Ritter struck out a conference-best 350 batters, counting for nearly half the at-bats she faced and hurled 23 complete games. Ritter picked up both regular season wins against the squad's first-round opponent Michigan State, pitching 10.0 innings, giving up just three hits and striking out 15. Michigan is 64-24 all-time against Michigan State, going 2-2 against the Spartans at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hawkeyes' biggest scoring threat is catcher Emily Nichols, who leads the team with 34 RBI and is batting .400 with runners in scoring position. She also has a .667 average with a runner on third and less than two outs. The sophomore Nichols blasted her fifth home run of the season against Illinois on April 1. Nichols, who has 21 career home runs, needs nine more to break Iowa's career mark of 29 set by Alicia Gerlach. Nichols is only a fraction of the Hawkeyes' long-ball power. Iowa is a combined 22-0 when either infielder Stacy May, outfielder Kylie Murray, Nichols or infielder Erin Riemersma hits a home run. The squad's record is 6-0 when either May or Murray goes deep and 5-0 when Nichols or Riemersma clears the fence.
Another offensive force for the Hawkeyes, Summer Downs, is riding a 10-game hitting streak heading into the tournament. The sophomore infielder has collected 14 hits in her last 10 games, including a perfect 3-3 performance against South Dakota State. Also coming on strong to close out the season is Murray, who recorded a .394 batting average and belted three of her six home runs in the last 12 games. She also tallied three doubles and three RBI.
Freshman pitcher Brittany Weil is already making her mark in the Iowa softball record books. Her 246 strikeouts this season ranks fifth for single-season strikeouts and eighth in career strikeouts at Iowa. Weil has thrown 31 complete games this season, which also ranks second in school history. In overall games, Weil leads the Big Ten in wins (27), innings pitched (271.1) and games started (34). In league contests alone, she leads the conference in innings pitched (119.2), games started (17) and batters struck out looking (30). The rookie hurler is also tied for first in wins (12) and appearances (19).
With 11 returning letterwinners for 600-game winning head coach Linda Kalafatis, the Buckeyes ranked among the nation's top 13 in six categories, including eighth in scoring with 5.8 runs per game a year ago. This year's Buckeyes turned it up a notch and enter the tournament with the Big Ten's best offense, hitting .288 overall and .307 in league games. A 12-game winning streak winning streak in April, including a 19-5 overall and.333 batting average for the month, propelled Ohio State to the top of the Big Ten in that department (now .288 overall, .307 Big Ten).
Utility player Brittany Vanerink paces the Buckeyes with a .350 batting average and .459 in conference contests. Both outfielder Chelsea Baker and first base Courtney Pruner have knocked out a team-best seven home runs, while Billie Carder has leads the squad with 34 RBI. Another consistent scoring force OSU is junior Megan Schwab. The outfielder is hitting .333 on the year, with four home runs and 28 RBI. Nycole Koyano, who has split time at shortstop and second base, leads the Big Ten in stolen bases (26) while batting .291.
On the mound for the Buckeyes, Kim Reeder and Jamee Juarez have both garnered 16 wins. A rookie, Reeder's 1.69 ERA ranks among the league's top five. She is also closing in on several OSU freshman pitching records. Juarez, who leads the staff with 185 strikeouts, tossed her 18th career shutout May 3 in OSU's 8-0 win over Oakland. She has also struck out 57 batters looking, the fourth-highest count in the conference. Pruner has also shown some effort from the mound, compiling a 5-1 record and 2.79 ERA.
The Buckeyes face a rematch of their regular season finale series against Penn State in the first round. The Nittany Lions won 4-2 and 1-0 when PSU's pitching staff, ranked No. 10 in the nation in ERA entering last weekend, held the Buckeyes' high-powered offense to 10 hits on the weekend. Ohio State had not been shut out since March 25 and had collected at least 10 hits in 11 of its last 20 games.
In game one, three RBIs from sophomore shortstop Jen Acunto and the game-winning RBI from freshman slugger Danielle Kinley (outfield/first base) lifted Penn State to the 4-2 victory, with redshirt-senior Missy Beseres getting her 53rd career win. On Sunday, hurler Jenn Reynolds struck out four Buckeyes en route to the shut out. Junior outfielder Jen Williams drove in the game-winning run in the top of the seventh inning to keep the Lions perfect against Ohio State so far this season.
Beseres pitched her 50th career-win in the Lions' 1-0 victory against Michigan State on April 22 to set a new Penn State record. At 19-7 this season, she has struck out 223 batters this season and is pursuing her single-season record of 260, which she set last year. For her career, Beseres has amassed 735 strikeouts. In the circle, Beseres and the sophomore Reynolds, along with sophomore Ashley Esparza, comprise one of the top pitching staffs in the nation and rank third, fourth and fifth respectively among Big Ten pitchers. The trio is No. 8 in the country with a team 1.16 ERA. Reynolds (9-3, 1.13 ERA) pitched a three-hit shutout Sunday against the Buckeyes to seal the sweep.
Leading the Nittany Lions' offensive attack is Esparza, whose .321 batting average leads the squad. She has also cranked three home runs and 16 RBI.
In the only first-round match not featuring a rematch of a regular season-ending sweep, Indiana and Iowa meet for the third time this season after splitting their season series. In game one, the Hoosiers claimed a 12-5 victory behind centerfielder Kim Richards 3-for-4, four RBI performance. Capped by infielder Rachel Terry's game-winning home run, the 12 runs scored by Indiana marked the most by a Hoosier squad over a Big Ten opponent since 1996, when Indiana defeated Northwestern 12-1. The two home runs also helped the 2006 squad set the all-time record for home runs in a season with 37, replacing the previous record of 35 set in 2004.
Outfielder Lauren Hines owns a team-best a .417 batting average and leads the team with nine home runs and 27 RBI. Mariange Bogado, who is also the leading Hoosier hurler, and Terry are also batting above .300 on the season.
On the mound, Bogado has compiled a 19-8 record and 274 strikeouts. The senior pitcher received national recognition when she garnered the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Week honor for the week ending May 7,
Bogado not only led the Hoosiers from the circle, but registered a .667 batting average in the process, including a 4-for-6 effort in the series. In game one, Bogado drew two walks and took advantage of her remaining at bats, going 2-for-2. In game two, she went 2-for-4 in the 5-2 victory, including two runs and a double. Her performance helped Indiana lifted Indiana to its third 25-plus-wins season and its highest Big Ten victory output since 1997.
First base Dayna Feenstra anchors a strong Spartan lineup at the plate with 49 hits, including team-highs of 15 doubles, nine home runs and 41 runs batted in. Centerfielder Nikki Nicosia owns a team-best .303 batting average, adding 25 runs and a team-high 17 stolen bases for the season. Nicosia is one of eight Spartans to have registered at least one home run this season. Caitlin Mahoney split time at the designated player and third base positions throughout the regular season, and she tallied a career-best 38 hits, which included 11 doubles and six home runs. Infielder Megan Darhower, one of two Spartans to have started all 58 regular-season games along with Feenstra, set new career highs in nearly every statistical category: hits (44), doubles (8), RBI (20) and tied her career mark with one home run. Sharing her time at second base and in the outfield, Gina Mondo was also a mainstay in the Green and White lineup during her freshman campaign, starting 57 games at second base, posting 34 hits, 24 runs and 18 RBI.
All three Michigan State pitchers tallied at least seven wins in 2006, led by Rachel Turney with a team-best 17 victories, 18 complete games and 135 strikeouts from the circle. Hurler Lesley Noel won her first three starts against league opponents and finished the regular-season with a career-best 10 wins and 72 strikeouts. Freshman Megan Hair made an immediate impact for the Spartan pitching staff, pitching a no-hitter in her first collegiate start against Seton Hall on Feb. 17. Hair struck out 53 batters in 85.2 innings pitched and held opponents to a .223 average at the plate. The pitching staff holds a combined 2.26 ERA, has tossed nine shutouts, a no-hitter and nine two-hit games this season.
The biggest story for the Illini this season has been power hitter and first base Jenna Hall. With a .484 batting average and a league-leading tally of 13 home runs - despite drawing an NCAA-leading tally of walks - Hall has carved her place among the Big Ten's best. Named one of 25 finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year, Hall has batted in 38 runs and owns a .659 on-base percentage. She is one of only two Big Ten players on the watch list, joining Ritter of Michigan. Hall has already broken her single-season walks record with 59 walks on the year, breaking her mark of 36 all of last year. Hall is climbing the national chart for walks, ranking 15th all-time in NCAA Division I career walks with 147 and sixth all-time in intentional walks with 24.
Infielder Angelena Mexicano is not far behind Hall as far as slugging is concerned. She has knocked 11 out of the park this year and leads the league with 48 RBI. The 2006 Illinois squad has cranked 49 home runs in the season - more than any squad in school history - and it ranks 29th in the nation in home runs per game. This achievement marks a vast improvement from the two seasons prior when Illinois had just 41 home runs in 2004 and 2005 combined. With Hall's and Mexicano's numbers, Illinois has two double-digit home runs producers for the first time in school history.
Outfielder Molly Lawhead, who is second on the team batting .314, ranks in the top ten in the Big Ten in slugging percentage and total bases. Infielder Shana Diller shares the same batting average and owns an on-base percentage of .412. She is second to only Mexicano with 39 RBI this year.
From the mound, Claire DeVreese leads the Illini 18-18 with a 4.17 ERA and 16 complete games. Kacey Coonce has also split time in the circle, compiling a 6-11 record in 22 starts.