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Regional Showdowns Highlight Upcoming Softball Slate


Regional rivalries are the story for the upcoming Big West softball schedule as teams look to gain early separation in the race for the league title.

The marquee matchup is in Northern California as defending co-champion UC Davis hosts early 2011 contender Pacific. The Tigers are coming off a series win against Long Beach State, while the Aggies topped fellow 2010 co-champ Cal State Northridge.

In other regional showdowns, Cal State Fullerton hits the road to the Inland Empire to take on UC Riverside, Cal State Northridge leaves the comforts of the Valley for showdown against Long Beach State and the Central Coast rivalry will stage its 2011 edition as UC Santa Barbara visits Cal Poly.

Bases loaded...bottom of the seventh...two outs. Pacific hits a pop fly towards short that seemingly would give Long Beach State the game and the series. Well the Tigers had other ideas in mind with a little assist from a certain celestial body. LBSU shortstop Alisha Rosen lost the ball in the sun, allowing two Pacific players to score and giving the victory to the Tigers.

Add that to the unusual Big West finishes of late such as the no-hitter by LBSU in which it allowed a run, or the game Cal State Northridge had to end in a tie because the lights in the stadium in Las Vegas, Nev., exploded.

Home runs are down slightly this year (.42 per game) from last season (.45 per game), but two players have separated themselves from the pack in the long ball race. Cal Poly's Anna Cahn and Cal State Northridge's Mikayla Thielges each picked up their 10th homers of the season last weekend, making them the only two players in the league to have amassed double-digit round trippers to this point. This also gives the league two players with 10+ homers after a year in which only one player got to double-digit round trippers.

UC Davis' Alex Holmes has proven to be one of the league’s top hitters with a .400 average and 38 hits, but 14 of those hits have her in a class all by herself. Holmes is the only player in the Big West to have collected five or more doubles and triples on the season, having hit seven of both. Her seven triples are the most in the league since former Long Beach State player Danielle Linke hit nine three-baggers in 2008. Holmes' triples put her just past halfway to the all-time league mark of 13, a number that former UNLV star Christine Parris accomplished in 1990.

Cal Poly must've welcomed the chance to play some familiar opponents last weekend as the Mustangs reversed a couple of early trends. The staff ERA was 4.98 in their 26 games before conference play, but the club posted a 1.75 ERA in its Big West opener against UC Riverside, allowing just five earned runs in 20.0 innings. The Mustangs also turned it around at the plate with a .288 batting average, four home runs and 15 runs scored against UCR, compared to a .218 batting average, 59 runs and 13 home runs in 26 non-conference games.

The NCAA released the first RPI report of the 2011 season and the Big West has some good numbers  in the rankings. Long Beach State leads the way at #19, while Pacific (52), Cal State Fullerton (69) and UC Santa Barbara (95) gave the league four teams in the top 100. The strength of the league's non-conference slate was evident in Cal Poly’s ranking as the Mustangs have the league's worst record but are just outside the top 100 at #114.

@#$% THAT HURT!!!
When the ball makes its way a little too far inside, there have been several players in the Big West who aren’t afraid to let the ball hit them. Pacific's Nicole Matson has been the most frequent hit batter, getting plunked 12 times, while UC Davis' Jessica Gonzalez (11) and Cal State Fullerton's Nicole Johnson (10) are right behind her. Gonzalez is no stranger to getting plunked as she led the league in hit by pitch a year ago with 22.

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 1,007-555-3 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 five wins from 400 for her career.