Softball -

A Different Kind Of March Madness For Big West Softball

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March tournament play has set the stage for a tight conference race as four teams are over the .500 mark  with one week left until Big West play. Long Beach State remains in the top position with an 18-10 record, while Pacific is just percentage points behind the 49ers at 16-9. Defending co-champion UC Davis (12-11) and resurgent UC Santa Barbara (12-11) are tied behind the top two.


A slew of games last weekend and this upcoming week have already been affected by adverse weather conditions, an act we’ve all seen before. Last Tuesday, Pacific had its home game against Northern Illinois shortened to six innings due to a downpour in the seventh.

The prestigious Judi Garman Classic had its problems with the rain as Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State had their Sunday games at the tournament called, while 138 miles away in Bakersfield, UC Riverside had its doubleheader called due to the skies coming down.

The hardest hit teams? Cal Poly and Pacific. The Mustangs had their entire slate at the Louisville Slugger Classic in Stanford, Calif., washed out, including a couple of big games against Northwestern and Stanford. The Tigers were able to get in all their games at the Judi Garman Classic but were stranded on the freeway in Southern California thanks to a closure.

Oh and to top it off, UC Santa Barbara had its Monday doubleheader against UCLA washed out, then had its Tuesday game against Fresno State postponed.

Cal Poly has played arguably the nation’s toughest schedule to this point as 12 of its 22 games have come against ranked opposition. Mother Nature might have given the Mustangs a rest they sorely needed as its slate of games against UNLV, Iowa State, Northwestern and Stanford were rained out last week. The extra prep time will be needed as not only has Cal Poly not played since March 13, but its next three games are against ranked Pac-10 opposition in #t-13/7 UCLA (doubleheader) and #16/15 Oregon..

Pacific has been absolutely peppering the ball all over the yard so far this season, leading the league in batting average (.319), runs (138), hits (208) and RBI (123), while ranking second in doubles (28) and walks (81) and third in home runs (14). The Tigers are ranked nationally in several of those categories as well, sitting 28th in batting average, 42nd in scoring and 59th in slugging (.436). Pacific is also the lone club in the Big West that has an on-base percentage over .400 (.405). Pacific also has the league's top hitter in Nikki Armagost, who is hitting a robust .440. That figure ranks her 43rd in the country.

The UC Santa Barbara defense has been lauded before in this space, but with the first NCAA rankings out, the Gaucho D deserves another mention. UCSB is 26th in the country in fielding percentage (.972), while ranking third in the nation in double plays per game (0.57). This coming after a 2010 season in which UC Santa Barbara was last in the league with a .956 fielding percentage and second to last with 68 errors.

Long Beach State has perennially been one of the top pitching programs around and 2011 is doing nothing to dispel that notion. The 49ers lead the Big West in ERA (2.35), complete games (16), shutouts (8), innings pitched (188.0) strikeouts (208) and opponents’ batting average (.195). The team’s stellar pitching has been needed as LBSU has played in a number of close games. The 49ers own a record of 6-2 in one-run games and have put up a 12-3 mark in games decided by two runs or fewer. Long Beach State is also the only team in the league with two pitchers on the top five Big West ERA list. Freshman sensation Erin Jones-Wesley leads the conference with a 1.60 mark, while veteran hurler Brooke Turner is fifth at 2.89.

UC Riverside has been trotting out a potent lineup this season, hitting at a .272 clip. Two players have been especially dangerous at the dish and on the bathpaths, Kameryn Hebenton and Kayla White. Hebenton is batting a team-high .396 and has also collected 21 hits, scored 17 runs, walked 11 times, stole six bases and notced a pair of doubles. She ranks third in the Big West in batting average, tops in on-base percentage (.515), tied for fifth in runs and tied for eighth in walks.

White, UCR’s leadoff hitter, is motoring along at a .391 batting average, 14 runs scored, 27 hits, seven doubles, two homers and 14 RBI. On the Big West leaderboard, she ranks fourth in batting, seventh in slugging (.580), tied for sixth in on-base percentage (.455), sixth in hits, tied for 10th in RBI and homers and second in doubles.

Cal State Fullerton's 3-2 win over Oregon State on March 6 was not only the clubs' second victory over a Pac-10 school this season, but also delivered a bit of history. The win was the 1,000th in the history of the program as a member of the Big West, the first school to reach that illustrious number is league history. The Titans now stand at 1,002-553-3 all-time.

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 has a chance to add to her legacy as the 12th-year coach is just 10 wins from 400 for her career.