Five Clubs Earn League's Major Awards
2018 Big West All-Conference Release
After the 2018 regular season, five clubs brought home the league’s major softball awards.
Long Beach State claimed three of the honors as Cielo Meza was named Pitcher of the Year, Naomi Hernandez earned Freshman Field Player of the Year and Kim Sowder claimed a share of the Coach of the Year honor. Sowder claimed the award with Kelly Ford of regular season champion Cal State Fullerton, marking the first time since 2008 that the league’s top coaching honor was shared. CSUN’s Savannah Horvath was named Player of the Year while Defensive Player of the Year accolades went to Hannah Rodriguez of UC Riverside. The Freshman Pitcher of the Year honor went to UC Davis’ Brooke Yanez.
Earning her second major Big West award after being named Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2017, Meza (Fillmore, Calif.) leasd the league with 22 wins, 217 strikeouts and a 1.48 ERA. The sophomore righty has started 30 games, tossed 16 complete contests and has recorded a league-leading nine shutouts on the year. In 170.0 innings of work, Meza has allowed just 36 earned runs and held opposing batters to.141 average. Meza also tossed two no-hitters in her second season in the circle for the Beach, the first on March 3, versus No. 21 Minnesota and the second coming less than a month later on March 31 against Hawai‘i. To add to her decorated campaign, the sophomore set a Long Beach single-game record for strikeouts with 17 against the Rainbow Wahine, just a day before her third-career no-no. Among the national ranks, Meza’s 3.38 hits allowed per seven innings is ninth-best in the NCAA, while her nine shutouts on the year are 14th. The sophomore also earned two Big West Pitcher of the Week honors this season.
Rodriguez, a junior from Brawley, Calif., was a rock at shortstop for the Highlanders as she committed just two errors in 178 chances, good for a .989 fielding percentage. Rodriguez did not commit an error after March 16, a 26-game errorless string. The junior also recorded 91 assists and turned five double plays. She spearheaded a solid defensive unit that contributed to 14 shutouts, the most of any squad in the Big West.
After becoming the first freshman since 2015 to earn three Big West Pitcher of the Week, Yanez claimed Freshman Pitcher of the Year honors after a stellar campaign for the Aggies. The Ventura, Calif. native recorded 15 wins in her rookie season to go along with an ERA of 1.75, the second-best in conference. In 187.2 innings of work the freshman tossed 23 complete games, recorded 190 strikeouts (second-most in league) and allowed opposing hitters to bat just .184. Yanez gave up one run or less in 13 of her 29 appearances and recorded at least four strikeouts 25 times.
Hernandez is the first Long Beach State freshman to earn Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year honors since 2013 and the third all-time recipient from the Beach. The Corona, Calif. native owns league-highs in batting average (.388), hits (71) and doubles (18) while also posting four home runs, 36 RBI, a .552 slugging percentage and the third-best on-base percentage in the league at .462. Over the course of the season, Hernandez recorded 21 multi-hit games and drove in a season-high four runs on Feb. 18 as part of a three-for-five day at the plate.
Ford’s Coach of the Year honor is historic as she becomes the first coach in league history to win the award in three consecutive seasons. Ford led the Titans to their third straight Big West title, the first club to accomplish the feat since Fullerton went on a four-year run of crowns from 2000-03. The Titans went 18-3 to claim the 2018 title, powered by a 10-game win streak in conference play from April 14 to May 5. The conference record is the best finish for the program since the 2003 squad went 20-1. Ford has also led CSF to 16 or more conference wins in each of the last three years.
Sowder earned Coach of the Year honors after a 42-12 overall record that earned the Beach an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Beach appeared in the Top 25 of a national poll for 11 straight weeks, earning its highest rank of the season at No. 17 earlier this year. The Beach ranks in the top 25 in multiple categories in the NCAA leaderboard, including batting average (.307 – 25th), doubles per game (1.65 – 6th), fielding percentage (0.975 – 20th) and win-loss percentage (0.778 – 14th). LBSU will make its 24th NCAA postseason appearance and is searching for its sixth Women’s College World Series appearance.
Horvath wrapped up one of the most decorated careers in CSUN history with her first Player of the Year honor. She is the third Player of the Year from CSUN in the last four years, following Taylor Glover who won the award in 2017 and Katie Hooper in 2015. The senior leads the league in home runs (16), runs (60) total bases (132), slugging percentage (.781) and on base percentage (.507) while ranking second in doubles (16), third in RBI (41) and second in stolen bases (24). The senior also ranks in the top 25 in multiple categories nationally including slugging percentage (.781 – 23rd), total bases (132 – 16th) and runs per game (1.02 – 22nd).
The league’s first team features UC Riverside’s Jenna Curtan and CSUN’s Horvath who are making their third and fourth appearances on the league’s top list, respectively. Horvath becomes just the ninth player to earn four-time first team honors, while Curtan is the 36th player all-time to earn three first team accolades.