The Real Season Begins For Big West Softball
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With the bulk of non-conference play is in the books, the eight Big West teams will embark on their first journeys toward a championship as league play begins this weekend.
All eight teams will be in action as doubleheaders are scheduled for Saturday and single-game finales Sunday. The slate has intriguing matchups all over the board, beginning with the series in Davis between the 2010 Big West co-champions Cal State Northridge and UC Davis . The top two teams in the non-conference standings will also clash as league-leading Long Beach State visits Pacific. Cal Poly will also look to put its difficult non-conference showing in the rear view mirror as it heads to the Inland Empire to take on UC Riverside, while Cal State Fullerton heads to the Central Coast looking to add to Michelle Gromacki's eye-popping coaching record against UC Santa Barbara.
FIRE VS. ICE...OR WHATEVER ANALOGY YOU WANT
The Big West schedule makers stumbled upon an intriguing league matchup in the first weekend of conference play as Long Beach State heads to Northern California to take on Pacific. It’s a battle of the top two records in the league and of contrasting styles.
The 49ers have the league's top pitching staff as they own a 2.18 ERA, 11 shutouts, 19 complete games, 228 strikeouts and have allowed a .193 average to opposing hitters. Individually, three LBSU pitchers (Erin Jones-Wesley, Taylor Petty, Brooke Turner) appear in the top five in earned run average and opposing batting average on the Big West leaderboard.
The Tigers are the top hitting team in the league, motoring along at a .321 clip with 14 home runs, 154 runs scored, 137 RBI and 242 hits. Individually, Pacific has at least four players in the top 10 of the batting average, runs scored, hits and RBI lists among Big West players.
IT'S OVER RIGHT?
Cal Poly's first 26 games were an absolutel grind as 13 of them came against ranked opposition, and that’s with an entire tournament being washed out. The coaches’ preseason pick to win the Big West has struggled to a 4-22 record, but the Mustangs typically turn it around against league foes, who are the only teams on the remainder of their schedule. Cal Poly has not had a sub-.500 season in Big West play since 2004 and has finished no lower than third during that time.
Cal State Fullerton's Ari Cervantes had a rough 2010 season in which she lost 19 games, posted a 4.68 ERA, allowed 74 walks and struck out just 52 in 154.0 innings. Opposing hitters had a field day against her at times as she allowed 193 hits to the tune of a .304 batting average.
This year Cervantes has doled out a bit of comeuppance as she is 9-8 with a 2.39 ERA in 114.1 innings. She has already struck out 67, allowed just 19 walks and hitters are finding it a bit harder to get on as she is allowing just a .244 batting average. In addition to the low walk total, Cervantes isn’t giving up other free passes as she has hit just five batters, uncorked no wild pitches and has just one balk. A year ago, Cervantes beaned an incredible 30 hitters, and had five wild pitches to go along with a balk.
WRAPPING UP NON-CONFERENCE
With a few clubs having exhausted their non-conference slates, it's time to see how the league fared against non-conference foes. The Big West has a respectable 99-118 record to this point of play, which includes three teams over .500. The league also picked up five wins over ranked opposition and is a combined 35-33 against the Mountain West, Pacific Coast Softball and WAC. The league has also won its fair share of games against bigger conferences as it owns seven wins over the Big Ten, three over the Big East and a pair over the Pac-10 and SEC.
ARMAGOST ROARING AT THE PLATE
Nikki Armagost has made a ton of noise for Pacific in her sophomore season, putting up astounding numbers at the plate. She leads the Big West in batting (.419) and ranks second in hits (36), second in on-base percentage (.527), ninth in slugging (.535), tied for seventh in runs scored (17) and second in RBI (27). Her amazing numbers could lead her to the Big West Field Player of the Year award which has not been given to a Tiger since since 2006 (Gina Carbonatto).
JONES-WESLEY LOOKING SPECIAL
After a one-year hiatus, the Freshman Pitcher of the Year award could be headed back to Long Beach State thanks to Erin Jones-Wesley. The freshman phenom leads the Big West in ERA (1.36) and wins (11), is second in opponents’ batting average (.186), fourth in innings pitched (97.2), second in strikeouts (91) and has even picked up a save. Jones-Wesley, already a four-time Big West Pitcher of the Week, will likely face off against last year’s Freshman Pitcher of the Year, Nikki Armagost, in the conference opener between the 49ers and Tigers.
GRAND 'OL CLUB
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 1,005-554-3 all-time.
TWO BIG WEST PLAYERS NAMED TO ASA PLAYER OF THE YEAR WATCHLIST
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.
FLOWERS TAKES OVER AT CSUN
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.
ANOTHER SEASON, ANOTHER COACHING MILESTONE FOR GROMACKI
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 seven wins from 400 for her career.