2007 Big Ten Softball Tournament Preview
May 10, 2007
Ohio State entered the final weekend of conference play needing to sweep a twin bill over Penn State to claim its first Big Ten title since 1990. The Buckeyes responded by posting a 4-2 triumph in Saturday's contest and then clinching with a late four run seventh inning rally on Sunday. This is the second consecutive year that the Big Ten Tournament will be hosted by a school other than Michigan or Iowa.
No. 3-seeded Michigan (12-4) battles No. 6 Illinois (7-8) on Friday, May 11 at noon, while the second game of the day features No. 4 Iowa (10-7) taking on No. 5 seeded Purdue (10-9) at 2:30 p.m.
No. 1 Ohio State
The first half of the year was highlighted by the torrid hitting of freshman catcher Sam Marder. Marder hit a grand slam in her first collegiate game to help lead OSU to a 4-3 win over New Mexico and hasn't looked back since. The Calabasas, Calif., native is first in the Big Ten with a .541 on base percentage and 40 walks and leads the team with a .385 batting average. With three other Buckeyes hitting over .300, Ohio State has compiled a comfortable .319 team batting average to lead the conference.
However, it is the Buckeye pitching of late that has made waves in the second half of the season. Senior pitcher Jamee Juarez became the first Buckeye to ever pick up three-consecutive Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors in the final three weeks of the regular season. During those weeks, Juarez went 9-0 with 87 strikeouts, four walks and 0.66 ERA in 53.0 innings pitched, in addition to setting four OSU all-time pitching records for wins (73), shutouts (27), innings pitched 723.2) and strikeouts (713). Sharing the pitching load is sophomore Kim Reeder (15-7) who has a 2.68 ERA in 28 appearances 146 innings pitched.
The Buckeyes head into the weekend having won 21 of their last 25 games and face a rematch of their regular season finale series against Penn State in Thursday's first round.
No. 2 Northwestern
All fairing in the top 10 of Big Ten batting leaders, the threesome of Garland Cooper, Katie Logan and Tammy Williams have returned for an encore of offensive achievements. Lead-off batter Katie Logan is second-best on the squad with a .388 average and is followed by sophomore, Williams. The Roscoe, Mo., native leads the conference and team with a .438 batting average - highly impressive and unusual from a No. 2 batter. Knocking her in is three-time All-Big Ten selection Cooper. At .379, the first baseman leads the conference in three categories that include slugging percentage (.824), rungs batted in (65) and homeruns (21). In addition, newcomer Nicole Pauly has made a name for herself in this thick line-up with a second team best .388 batting average and knocking in a conference best 26 runs.
On the mound, the Wildcats are equally dominant, turning in one the conference's lowest ERAs this season of 2.62. The senior-freshman tandem of Eileen Canney and Lauren Delaney has upset opposing batters all season long. The veteran, Canney has held batters to an average of .179 at the plate while pitching 199.1 innings with 276 strikeouts. The 25 game winning pitcher has the most wins in conference (11) to go along with three saves on the year. Her counterpart, Delaney has appeared 29 times for 150 innings to record 18 wins on the season.
The Wildcats kick off the 2007 edition of the Big Ten Tournament against No. 7 Michigan State. In the team's regular season meetings, the Wildcats posted a double-header sweep, outscoring the Spartans 19-6.
No. 3 Michigan
Perhaps one of the most balanced team entering the weekend, Michigan shows its strength on both sides of the ball due in part because of junior center fielder Alessandra Giampoalo. Giampalo has been the perfect lead-off batter, proven by a .392 batting average and conference leading 19 doubles. Postseason experience will be the biggest key for the Wolverines' title run. Second in team batting is Rebekah Milian (.357), who owns a similar .353 average through seven career tournament games. Junior Samantha Findlay is a career .300-hitter in the tournament with seven RBI, while senior Tiffany Worth batted .429 in last season's Big Ten Tournament, ranking third among Wolverine hitters.
The Maize and Blue have dominated in the circle as well, holding the conference's top combined ERA of 1.61. Michigan has two star pitchers to its disposal. Lorilyn Wilson and Nikki Nemitz, who each have 21 wins on the year. Wilson ranks fourth in the conference with a 1.45 ERA and 4-3 Big Ten record, but it has been freshman ace Nikki Nemitz who was nearly flawless with an 8-1 Big Ten record. The St. Clair Shores, Mich., native's, 1.30 ERA ranks first in the conference.
Wilson picked up a split decision against the squad's first-round opponent Illinois during the regular season. In the first game, Wilson pitched a complete game shutout win, before picking up a loss in relief in the second.
No. 4 Iowa
The Hawkeyes' biggest scoring threat is catcher Emily Nichols, who leads the team with 48 RBI and is batting .401, good for second on the Big Ten leader board. The sophomore's batting average has not dipped below the .400 mark ALL season. Nichols blasted her 30th home run of her career against Indiana on March 31st to pass Alicia Gerlach in career home runs and currently sits at 12 long balls this season. Other offensive threats for the Hawkeyes are Colleen McGlaughlin and Summer Downs who each share 26 RBIs.
Despite being sidelined the first 24 games of the season with a head injury, sophomore Brittany Weil leads the Hawkeyes in almost every pitching category. Weil leads the team in appearances (29), starts (23), complete games (19), shutouts (9), innings pitched (167), wins (18), earned run average (1.63) and strikeouts (175). With a 2.00 ERA, Weil has been the main reason for Iowa's second place standing in Big Ten team pitching (1.81), while ranking fifth in the conference individually.
No. 5 Purdue
Head coach Kim Maher will lead the Boilermakers into her first Big Ten tourney. She will be joined by her third baseman Ashley Hall who owns a team-best average of .391 and conference-best average of .473. In addition, Hall is tied with NU's Logan for first with 26 hits in conference action. However, it is Katie Mitchell who leads the team with 14 homeruns, 52 RBIs and a .713 slugging percentage. Freshman Kelsey Haupert (.313) and sophomore shortstop Candace Curtis (.283) follow.
On the mound, Brooke Baker has taken most of the workload, compiling a 25-16 record in 281 innings pitched. The senior has struck out 168 batters and boasts a team-best 2.22 ERA to go with a single-season record 12 shutouts and 37 complete games. Sophomore Ashley DiDomenico (7-14) has also found time in the circle. DiDomenico has struck out 43 batters in 134 innings of work, while contributing two shutouts.
Iowa swept a twin-bill of Purdue in the regular season, downing the Boilermakers 6-1 in the first game. Then Purdue saw a 3-2 slip away as it fell in a 4-3 nine-inning heartbreaker in the nightcap. The squad will be looking for its first Big Ten Tournament game in six tries in Friday's first round. The first pitch is scheduled for 2:30 ET.
No. 6 Illinois
The biggest story for the Illini this season has been their impressive comebacks due in part because of their even more impressive offensive production - most notably the long ball. With 84 home runs, the Illini have the 16th most home runs by a team in a single-season in NCAA history and at .528, Illinois is on pace to have the 25th best slugging percentage. The Illini are averaging 1.56 dingers a game, lead by four players who have double digit home runs. Juniors Angelena Mexicano and Shanna Diller lead the team with 16 each with catcher Lana Armstrong (15) and outfielder Makenzie Smith (11) slowly catching up. In addition, Diller has contributed a conference best seven home runs in Big Ten play. Another player on a roll for Illinois has been freshman right fielder Hope Howell. The Lithonia, Ga. native, quietly leads Illinois with a .421 batting average in Big Ten play, ranking her third overall.
With Claire DeVreese, the Illinois' most experience pitcher, battling back from injury the brunt of the pitching load has been on freshman Vicky Brown. Brown leads the Illini with 16 wins and 3.59 ERA in 165.2 innings pitched. However, DeVreese seems like she is getting back to form, recording the last two complete games for the Illini.
No. 7 Michigan State
Outfielder Nikki Nicosia anchors a strong Spartan lineup that ranks second in Big Ten play with a .310 team average. Nicosia leads the way at the plate with a .362 batting average, including four triples and 41 runs. The speedster is ranked third in the conference with 21 stolen bases on the year. Twin sister Traci follows in the Spartan lineup with a .358 mark, contributing a team-best 15 doubles. Clearing the bases is third baseman Caitlin Mahoney, who leads the team with 12 home runs and 47 RBI, while finishing the conference season ranked second with a .422 batting average. The junior is just one home run away from tying the MSU single-season high of 13.
The Spartans have been backed by the consistent pitching of Lesley Noell (9-7). Noell enters the Tournament with a 3.31 ERA in 137.1 innings pitched. Senior Rachel Turney (3.22 ERA) has had some time in the circle as well, tallying a team-high 10 wins in 126 innings.
No. 8 Penn State
Leading the way for the Nittany Lion's offensive attack is Danielle Kinley who is batting a team-high .385 with 31 RBI. With 17 doubles so far this year, Kinley is just two away from breaking teammate Jen Acunto's season record of 18. Junior pitcher Ashley Esparza has helped her own cause this year, following Kinley with a .345 average that includes a team-high seven home runs. Ashley Griffith, Kayce Zielinski and Meghan Wolfer have also been key contributors batting over .300 for the Nittany Lions.
On the mound, Penn State has clung onto Esparza, who has complied 17 complete games for a season 2.14 ERA. Behind the workhorses 163.2 innings pitched is junior Jenn Reynolds. Both Reynolds and Esparza have over 10 wins on the season.
Watch for the Nittany Lions to score early, as they have scored most of their runs in the first inning (57) and hold a 16-5 record advantage when scoring in the early frame.