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Long Beach State Coaches Pick For 2016 Softball Crown



2016 Softball Coaches Preseason Poll

Long Beach State earned the nod of 2016 softball favorite as the club was overwhelming choice in a vote of the league's eight head coaches.

The Beach claimed six first place votes and 62 points overall to claim the top spot in the preseason poll. Offensively, the squad returns two players who were named first team All-Big West in junior catcher Lauren Lombardi (.346 BA, 10 HR, 52 RBI) and senior third baseman Darian Tautalafua (.309 BA, 11 HR, 34 RBI). The duo accounted for 21 of the 40 home runs the 49ers hit in 2015 and 86 of the 224 RBI recorded by the team. Lombardi showed her two-way prowess as well as she committed just three errors in 237 total chances behind the plate. In the circle, Long Beach State has an ace in junior pitcher Christina Clermont, the co-Big West Pitcher of the Year in '15. She is coming off a season in which she went 20-7 with a 2.35 ERA and 179 strikeouts in 190.2 innings of work. Clermont is the most experienced pitcher coming back for the Beach as she accounts for 28 of the 31 starts and 36 of the 59 appearances by the returning staff.

Second place belongs to Cal State Fullerton with 52 points which included one first place vote. The Titans were one of the most prolific offenses around in 2015, ranking second in the Big West in runs (278), hits (465), doubles (71), triples (12), total baes (638), walks (170) and stolen bases (49). Expect more of the same in 2016 as CSF is led by a number of talented offensive stars headlined by senior third baseman Missy Taukeiaho (.390 BA, 12 HR, 41 RBI, .728 SLG) and junior outfielder Courtney Rodriguez (.406 BA, 80 H, 10 2B, 42 RBI, 15 SB). Taukeiaho has claimed third team All-America honors in back-to-back seasons, while both players were the only two from the Big West named to the NFCA All-West Region first team. Also keep an eye on rising sophomore Samantha Vandiver, the co-Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year. Vandiver ended her rookie campaign batting .459, knocked in 17 runs and put together a 24-game hit streak. That was the longest for any Titan player since at least the 1989 campaign when complete box scores became available. The most experienced pitcher coming back to the fold is junior Christina Washington as she went 16-6 with a 3.96 ERA in 150.1 innings. A host of transfers and senior Desiree Ybarra (11-7, 2.90 ERA, 118.1 IP) will vie for innings with Washington.

Hawai'i wrapped up the top three with 46 points and the remaining first place vote. The Rainbow Wahine return two second team All-Big West selections in pitcher Brittany Hitchcock (18-7, 2.37 ERA, 174.1 IP) and junior first baseman Heather Morales (.331, 7 HR, 32 RBI), as well as an honorable mention pick in senior outfielder and four-year starter Keiki Carlos (.293, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 51 H). In all, the 'Bows return 12 letterwinners from a squad that was one of four in the league to win 30+ games a year ago, a bounceback campaign after UH went just 22-28 in the 2014 season.

Defending Big West champion CSUN was fourth in the poll with 40 points. The Matadors return a host of talent ot the field in 2016, headlined by junior catcher Katie Hooper. Hooper, the defending conference Player of the Year, had one of the top offensive seasons in Big West history, batting .392 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI. The home run total is tied for fifth all-time in single season conference history, while her RBI total is fourth on the single-season ledger. Add the talents of sophomore outfielder Savannah Horvath (.326 BA, 9 HR, 38 RBI) and junior outfielder Taylor Glover (.382 BA, 73 H, 6 HR, 28 SB) and the Matadors have the pieces to make another title run.

Fifth place belonged to UC Riverside, a 39-win team a year ago, with 32 points, while Cal Poly is sixth with 26 points. Rounding out the poll is UC Santa Barbara with 19 points and UC Davis with 11 points. The 2016 campaign begins on Thursday, February 11 as Hawai'i hosts the 2016 Paradise Classic. The rest of the league's clubs take the field a day later in various tournaments.

Coaches Poll Results
1.    Long Beach State (6)    62
2.    Cal State Fullerton (1)    52   
3.    Hawai'i (1)    46
4.    CSUN    40
5.    UC Riverside    32
6.    Cal Poly    26
7.    UC Santa Barbara    19
8.     UC Davis    11

( ) First-place votes