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Midweek Showdown, Tournament Tests Await Big West Softball

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A matchup against the newly minted #1 team in the land and tournament play from the deserts of Arizona to the Inland Empire await Big West softball in the second week of the 2011 season.

Cal State Fullerton will take on #1 UCLA at Anderson Family Field Wednesday afternoon, the Titans' second straight game against a ranked Pac-10 side.

After that showdown, tournament play takes the spotlight as four tourneys dot the Big West schedule. There will be one at a league diamond as UC Riverside hosts its annual aTen Construction Tournament. The Highlanders will take on Minnesota, Rutgers and Loyola Marymount over the three-day event at Amy S. Harrison Field.


Cal State Fullerton is already in a class of its own in Big West history with eight league titles, 20 NCAA appearances and a national title as a member of the conference, but a milestone the Titans are set to hit this season may shine above them all. With four more wins this year, CSF will be the first team in league history to get to 1,000 victories. The Titans are 71 wins ahead of second place Long Beach State in conference lore.

Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara were the only clubs to begin the 2011 season at  home last week and both teams took advantage. The 49ers won all four games of the LBSU Round Robin, while the Gauchos one-upped LBSU with five wins over the weekend. The two clubs combined for nine of the 20 wins posted by Big West schools during the season-opening weekend.

UC Riverside drew arguably the toughest opening game opponent of any Big West school in #10 Washington and the Huskies showed why they are so highly regarded in a 23-4 romp. The 23 runs are the most allowed by a league school in Big West history, while the margin of defeat was one off the conference record. It wasn't all bad for the Highlanders during the opening weekend. Their win over Mississippi State the following day was their first win over an SEC school since a 4-2 win over Kentucky on  February 24, 2007.

Pacific's Nikki Armagost began her sophomore season much like how she finished her freshman season...with a bang. Armagost batted .667 (4-6) in the doubleheader sweep over Saint Mary's (Calif.), picking up a pair of RBI, a stolen base and scoring a run in the process. In the circle, she picked up one of the wins against the Gaels with a complete game two-hitter. She allowed only one run, walked one and struck out seven. Armagost may have been a little too excited to start the season as she also hit a pair of batters.

Cal Poly stole all of three bases in 47 games in 2010. It only took them one weekend to reach that number in 2011 as the Mustangs went 3-for-4 in the stolen base department during their time in Tempe, Ariz. Three different players accounted for those three steals, a year after just two players accounted for Cal Poly’s 2010 total.

Cal State Fullerton showed over its first weekend that it's on the right track toward regaining its status as a top-notch program. The Titans played two tight games against NCAA Tournament caliber clubs in Texas A&M and Nebraska, but it's most impressive result came after a blowout loss to Oklahoma State. CSF downed Oregon 4-3 in eight innings to notch the league's only win over a ranked team over the opening weekend. It was also the league's lone victory over a Pac-10 school.

Cal State Northridge made it a roller coaster first weekend for its new head coach Tairia Flowers. Playing at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., the Matadors started the season with a thrilling 9-8 win over San Jose State, then were run-ruled by Stanford. The next day CSUN played a tight one in an 8-6 win over Western Michigan, then were run-ruled once again at the hands of California. So it only made sense for the Matadors to finish the tournament with a one run win over Portland State.

A pair of freshman pitchers got their college careers off to sterling starts last weekend. Long Beach State's Erin Jones-Wesley was named Big West Pitcher of the Week after throwing two complete game shutout victories. She struck out 16 over her 14 innings, allowed eight hits and walked only three batters.

A couple hours to the north, UC Santa Barbara's Andriana Collins won three games in her debut weekend. She pitched 19 innings, allowed 13 hits, three runs (two earned), walked seven and struck out 18. Included in that was a shutout in a run-rule victory over Seattle.

The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America has selected its initial watch list for the 10th annual ASA USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award and two Big West players have made the exclusive preseason list.

Cal Poly's Anna Cahn and UC Davis' Alex Holmes are among the 50 names on the preseason list, the first leg of the process for what is considered the most prestigious honor in Division I women’s softball. The ASA will announce the 25 finalists on April 13. A player does not have to appear on the initial watch list to be considered as a top 25 finalist. However, once the top 25 finalists are named the winner of the award will come from that list. Freshman qualify for the top 25 list once they have competed at the collegiate level.

Tairia Flowers, who has enjoyed success as an outstanding collegiate player, an Olympic gold medal winner and as a successful collegiate assistant coach, is the new head coach of the softball program at Cal State Northridge. Flowers begins her new duties at Cal State Northridge after serving the past four seasons (2007-10) as an assistant softball coach at Big West rival Long Beach State.

As a member of the 49ers coaching staff, Flowers helped the team to two NCAA Tournament appearances and Top-25 rankings on numerous occasions. Flowers helped coach 29 Big West All-Conference selections and six Academic All-Americans. As a team, Long Beach State set numerous and individual school records including batting average, runs batted in, doubles, triples and walks.

Cal State Fullerton head coach Michelle Gromacki is just the fourth coach in league history to win 350+ overall games and 150+conference outings during Big West membership. This season, Gromacki might not only lead the Titans to its 1,000th win as a member of the conference, but the 12th-year coach is also just 17 wins from 400 for her career.