things go poorly
Well the grinch(Bo Ryan) is in store for a nice ride this season. He has a really good team this year. They made it to the Final Four last year and there is no reason to think they will not get there again this year. The Badgers lose Zach Bohannon and Ben Brust. This means losing:
This is not that much to replace. In fact their defense will get better. Brust was a good spot-up shooter but not much else. Gasser can replace his production. Here is their roster for this year:
# Name HT WT YR POS
32 Evan Anderson 6-10 245 RS.SR C
The back-up Center, he only played 14 games last year. There is not much to go by.
21 Josh Gasser 6-3 190 RS.SR SG
The starting Shooting Guard, he is a big part of how good Wisconsin is this year. If he can fill Brust's role, then the Badgers will be favorites to make the National Championship game.
13 Duje Dukan 6-9 220 RS.SR PF
Dukan will get about 10 minutes a game this year. He is a servicable back-up.
44 Frank Kaminsky 7-0 234 SR. C
Kaminsky came on strong towards the end of the year last year and was a huge part of their run. He is the starting Center, could be in the running for player of the year.
12 Traeveon Jackson 6-2 208 SR. PG
The starting Point Guard, plays a little too much isolation ball for my liking. With Craft and Appling gone, he is top 5 Point Guard in the conference.
2 Jordan Smith 6-1 180 RS.JR PG
Redshirted last year. Will be the back-up Point Guard.
15 Sam Dekker 6-7 220 JR. SF
Will be their second go-to-guy. If he develops his shot, he will be dangerous.
33 Zak Showalter 6-2 192 RS.SO PG
The third string Point Guard, redshirted last year.
35 Riley Dearring 6-5 180 SO. SG
Will not really play.
30 Vitto Brown 6-8 237 SO. PF
Will most likely be the third-string Power Forward.
24 Bronson Koenig 6-3 190 SO. SG
The back-up Shooting Guard, was actually decent last year and will be good this season.
11 Jordan Hill 6-3 170 SO. SG
Only played 11 games last year.
10 Nigel Hayes 6-7 250 SO. PF
The starting 4, he will be really good this year. He has some good post moves and a nice jump shot.
5 Aaron Moesch 6-8 200 SO. PF
He may have redshirted.
Ethan Happ 6-8 200 FR. PF
A three star, the #35 Power Forward in the class. He may or may not play.
T.J. Schlundt 6-4 180 FR. SF
A two star, the #82 Shooting Guard in the class. He will probably redshirt.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Traeveon Jackson
SG: Josh Gasser
SF: Sam Dekker
PF: Nigel Hayes
C: Frank Kaminsky
If this team puts it all together, they will pretty hard to beat. I think that they will finish 15-3, good enough for 1st in the B1G.
Thank you guys for reading these, I am planning on posting these again when basketball season rolls back around. I may even do these for football if it gets enough support. Until then I am going to work on my NBA mock draft to post on here. Thanks Again!
Last one in my 3 part series...So now that we’ve analyzed new Division 1 lacrosse programs and former Division 1 lacrosse programs, let’s throw the doors open to wild speculation about the next school to follow Michigan's lead and add a Division 1 lacrosse program. As mentioned in previous posts, there are myriad factors preventing universities from officially adding the sport, the two most important being money and Title IX. It costs a lot to field a men’s lacrosse team and these universities have to spend the same amount on women’s athletic programs as they do on men’s - a tough bar to squeeze under when most schools have a big fat hairy football program taking up space.
I believe the ideal candidates for lacrosse expansion are schools fitting one of two profiles: the small school (Marquette) and the big school (Michigan).
- FCS level football, or better yet no football
- Private school located in the northeast, southeast or midwest
- Money to spend/wealthy alums
- Reasonably strong academics
- Respectable athletic pedigree
- Proximity to recruiting hotbeds and/or other varsity programs
- A warm/mild spring climate (the least important but my favorite)
-Profitable BCS football school with $ coming out of its ears
-In a state where the sport is growing. Powerful club program preferred
-Ready-made athletic facilities to easily accommodate a new team
-Its own university or conference television network a major plus
-Already having a women’s program may also help.
So, a school like, say, the University of Richmond would be the perfect candidate to add lacrosse. Well, hey look at that - they played their first season this year, nearly beat UVA and even made the NCAA tournament! But, schools like American and GW fit this profile perfectly- good schools smack dab in the middle of lacrosse country that already have tons of east coast kids. Plus, they don’t even have football. Additionally, dozens of teams are within a few hours drive.
Let’s look at a few others (there's no indication that any of these teams are considering it, but its just an analysis of certain factors):
For some reason I keep thinking Davidson is the perfect school for a new lacrosse program. Dubbed the “Princeton of the South”, the school’s academics are excellent, so coaches could make an impressive pitch to northern recruits. Its a basketball school with a solid athletic reputation and only 63 FCS football scholarships. Located north of Charlotte, Davidson is just a few hours drive to Duke, UNC, UVA, Richmond, VMI, Mercer and Furman so the Wildcats wouldn’t have to travel far to find opponents . Plus, northern squads wouldn’t mind scheduling an opponent in a warmer climate in the spring time. There are probably a bunch of other Davidson/Furman/Mercer-type schools down South that I am not aware of that may also fit this profile.
Seton Hall Prep has a solid lacrosse program, so its a wonder why the mother school never fielded a team. It’s a hoops and baseball school, but the Pirates don’t have football so adding lacrosse could be a good way of upping its athletic profile. They could recruit in their own backyard as well. Monmouth added a team this year and I think the Hall would be able to field a stronger team and eventually compete with the likes of Rutgers. Plus the added incentive of Big East membership. Not sure how much athletic money the Hall has, though.
Xavier always strikes me as a possible candidate. Its a decent, football-less school in a growing area. Its a hoops school and has respectable athletics. Plus, like Seton Hall, the school’s prep academy has an excellent program. I would love to see the Musketeers add to the western expansion of the sport. Plus, they could join Marquette, St Johns, Providence, and G’town in the Big East. Regional opponents include Ohio, Bellarmine, ND, Michigan, Detroit.
James Madison, George Mason, VCU, Old Dominion, William & Mary
Virginia public schools with FCS football could make a good pitch to recruits - play a sport while getting a solid education for an incredibly cheap price (W&M ranks right behind U of M in national public college rankings). Opponents for these schools lie to the north,south, east and west so they won’t struggle to fill out a schedule. Fielding a team could also be a way to get applications and even some out-of-state tuition.
Columbia’s athletic program is regarded as the Ivy League’s worst. The Lions are never good at anything so its unlikely they would add a new sport, just to suck at it. But, it does have a few things going for it: money, prestige and location. Plus, its the only Ivy without lacrosse. Urban campus could make facilities/space difficult however.
So there’s been lots of talk on the board about the Longhorns, fueled primarily by the fact UT put a ton of money into the lacrosse program’s facilities just a few years ago. Texas’s athletic program, aided by the Longhorn Network, has a higher GDP than a handful of small Asian countries. Plus, their new AD seems interested in trying new (even sometimes stupid) things. Word on the street is that if they’re gonna do it, theyre gonna do it Texas-style: big. The only drawback is geography. None of their regional rivals play lacrosse and Austin is far from the sport’s isolated pockets in the east and midwest. But, damn, Texas would be a huge domino to fall in the game’s manifest destiny.
Florida State/Georgia Tech
So, as a high school recruit over a decade ago I constantly heard coaches say Florida State and Georgia Tech were always on the verge of “going D-1”. Well that was 14 years ago now and the same rumors still persist. I dont know where they come from, but they were never true. And its always the same two - FSU and G-Tech. Maybe one day they will. They have the resources - they’re big ACC state schools with plenty of BCS football money.
While far from the sport’s traditional home, the state of Colorado has lacrosse fever these days. The sport is incredibly popular there and high schools are pumping out D-1 caliber talent. While a lot of the rumors these days are about the ACC and Texas, I think the next team will come from the Centennial State. The incredibly athletic Rams used to torment Michigan back in the club days. The Buffs were always tough and are still a top club team. Their cross-state rivalry is intense and always brings out tons of fans (holy shit they played at Mile High Stadium this year!). I would love for these guys to make the jump and the state will have its own lacrosse Beanpot: Denver, Air Force, Colorado and Colorado State. Keep in mind, CU is in the PAC-12 now so that could spur some of their conference foes to at least think about it...
Pac 12 Schools:
So, speaking of the Pac-12. A lot of the talk on the board was that a coalition of west coast schools may decide to go through with it. Supposedly, PAC-12 schools have been contemplating a lacrosse league. I think the biggest problem here is that the UC system has been in such horrible financial disarray the past several years. New sports are not on the agenda when tuition is skyrocketing. That precludes Cal and UCLA for now. A fledgling league of Arizona, Arizona St., Stanford, USC and Colorado would be great for the sport though.
NW could be the next B1G team into the mix. A prestigious school with nationwide pull, NW shouldn’t have trouble recruiting and building a program. The Wildcats are sort of the effete nerds of the B1G managing to make a surprise Rose Bowl every decade or so but also never ever making the NCAA tournament, so their athletic program isn’t amazing. It would be interesting to see if they could pull off what Princeton did in the 90s and corner the market on a niche sport. NW added a women’s team a few years ago and they have transformed into a powerhouse. I wonder if the men could follow suit. The only problem is that if they had the money and intent to go D-1, I think they probably would have done it by now.
So that concludes my three part series on the growth of the sport (which, as you can tell, I’m obsessed with). But, I think its also an interesting lens with which to examine athletic department budgets and money in collegiate sports as a whole.
Enjoy the Final 4 this weekend. Go Terps! Go Pioneers!
Slow day here at work, and for whatever reason the name Alex Legion popped up in my head. So I decided to check and see what the former UM commit and UK/UI/FIU player is up to these days. But first, the back-stroy for the younger/newer crowd: Legion was a big deal when he initially committed to UofM in 2005, decommitted 5 months later, and then recommitted in the following three months. I remember Legion as one of the first UM sports recruits I ever got excited about and thought he would make watching Michigan basketball fun again.
Ranked 44th overall by Rivals, 39th by Scout and 28th by ESPN, Legion, who played his HS ball at Detroit Country Day before transferring to Oak Hill Academy for his senior season, was seen as a major grab for Tommy Amaker. Legion was expected to form a dynamic backcourt duo with Manny Harris, boosting Michigan basketball back to prominence. When Amaker was fired in '07, he demanded a release from his NLI because "he didn't want to play for John Beilein"(!!). A quick bit of googling suggests that Legion's mother was heavily involved in changing his commitment to Kentucky, among other things.
Legion found himself at Kentucky after being released by UofM, where he would play 6 games before transferring out from under Billy Gillespie, due to concerns over playing time. He then landed at Illinois and played 33 games, averaging around 3 PPG in his time there. To the surprise of his teammates and coach Bruce Weber, Legion then transferred to FIU to play for Isiah Thomas. His career at Florida International got off to a good start, as Legion averaged 13 PPG and 5.1 RPG in his first ten games of the '10-'11 season, including a pair of 20-point performances. For the first time in his college career, Alex Legion was getting a chance and taking advantage of it.
Legion appeared to finally be settling in somewhere when he was dismissed by Thomas and FIU for an undisclosed violation of team rules. This was the last sad turn and the end of Legion's college career, which saw him finish with career averages of 5.65 PPG, 2.12 RPG and 0.76 APG. Not exactly what had been planned for a consensus top-50 player coming out of high school, and a guy who had been said to have limitless talent.
In 2012 Legion signed with PVSK Pannonpower, a Division A (highest) professional team in Hungary. He found success with the club, averaging 19.5 PPG and 5.65 RPG in the 2012-13 season, parlaying that success into a deal with the MecEnergy Roseto Sharks, an Italian professional team in the Legadue Silver league. Legion had another great season with the Sharks, notching 23.3 PPG and 9.6 RPG and being chosen for the league's All-Star game. On May 5, 2014 Legion scored 20 points after being signed by Sagesse - Al Hekmeh Beirut of the Lebanese Division A pro league, for one day to replace an injured player.
As far as I can tell, Legion will continue playing for Roseto in Italy, although I cannot find anything to confirm this. I'm glad to see that things appear to finally be going well for Alex Legion. It truly seems like he was manipulated, both by his mother and his AAU coach, as a teen, and never really had the chance to develop into a good basketball player and person. While he is ultimately responsible for the way things happened during his college career, part of me feels that he never had a chance due to his upbringing. Sometimes a guy with his amount of talent is just treated as a "meal ticket". I wish him continued success in Europe/Asia; and who knows, maybe he'll get another chance here in the US someday?
Softball Super-Regional Preview
Now that we’ve all had a few hours to come down from the gibbering sports-high provided by one of the most phenomenal innings in Michigan softball history, let’s take a look back at the weekend that was and look ahead at Florida State, who stands between Michigan and a return to the Women’s College World Series.
The regional weekend began with a game almost as crazy as the one it ended with. This, of course, is not exactly what you want going up against an SDSU squad that should be overmatched, but Michigan’s pitching was shaky and the Aztecs proved early and often that they were not intimidated by the big stage or the big Michigan name. Michigan actually fell behind early on a home run from a slap hitter before bouncing back to take a two-run lead on the strength of a Sierra Lawrence three-run blast (more from her later!). San Diego State tied it up and chased starter Haylie Wagner shortly thereafter, and the shoot-out was on in earnest. The Wolverines continued to pound away, eventually building up a 7-4 lead which they took into the 7th inning. The wheels came off for the Michigan defense, however, as the Aztecs loaded the bases and scored three runs off of a single (off Betsa), a walk (off Driesenga), and an RBI ground-out (off Wagner, who re-entered the game). Wagner stopped the bleeding there, and no more runs would be scored until the bottom of the ninth. In extra innings, freshman Lindsay Montemarano found herself on third after an error in the outfield turned a single into a triple, and Wagner brought her home with a sky-high sac-fly. After being chased early, Wagner redeemed herself in a big way, and was named player of the game by ESPN.
Saturday started out roughly for the Wolverines, who took an early lead against Arizona State in the winner’s bracket game, but couldn’t hold it as the long ball got to Wagner again. A 4-1 loss sent Michigan to the loser’s bracket, where they faced San Diego State once again. Things went much more to plan in the rematch, as the Maize & Blue mercy-ruled the Aztecs 9-1 (6 inn.) on the strength of a strong outing by freshman Megan Betsa. Betsa scattered a few too many base runners for comfort, but got the outs she needed time and again, earning her first post-season win. The highlight of the game, however, was provided by sophomore phenom Sierra Romero. Although she struggled (by her standards, at least) throughout the weekend due to flu-like symptoms, seeing her sparkling .510 batting average dip to … a still sparkling .487, she showed why she still belonged on the field, crushing a grand slam that put Michigan up by 7. The Aztecs proved a spirited team all weekend, but just couldn’t hold up in the end against the barrage of Michigan hitting.
The drubbing of SDSU sent Michigan into the Regional Final needing to win back-to-back games against host Arizona State and their National Player of the Year candidate Dallas Escobedo. In short, the stage was set for a day of softball that Michigan fans will never forget. Early on, it looked to be more of the same from Saturday, as starting pitcher Megan Betsa was chased in the first inning after handing the Sun Devils a two-run lead. Haylie Wagner entered the circle after that, and would not be moved out the rest of the day, making a slew of great pitches and reminding Michigan fans of why she was billed as the ace of the staff. Romero, while vomiting on the bench between innings, still somehow managed to jack a 2-run shot to tie the game in the bottom of the first. After that, her offense started to falter, but she continued to make great defensive plays from her short-stop position. The heroics of Romero and Sappingfield, who were both seriously ill and playing in 100+ degree heat (Romo also had the added problem of a banged knee from Saturday’s late-game), were vital in this pressure-packed situation. She would score again in the third, drawing a walk that set up another 2-run blast, this one coming from Senior Caitlin Blanchard, who’s protection of Romero is one of the most vital under-rated parts of Michigan’s success this season. The 4 runs would be all Wagner needed, as Michigan held on for a 4-3 victory, forcing a winner-take-all nightcap.
That nightcap would prove to be nothing less than one of the greatest games in Michigan postseason history, quite possibly the best ever in the regional round. Once again the Maize & Blue got to ASU star Dallas Escobedo in the first inning, this time via a pair of bases-loaded walks. After that, though, the Sun Devils’ ace settled in, and, despite having thrown well over 300 pitches on the weekend (no one else entered the circle for ASU during the entire regional), seemed to have things mostly in hand as an error and a couple of home-runs staked her side to a 4-2 lead. A Sierra Lawrence solo shot in the 5th cut the lead to 1. Nevertheless, with even Romo’s magic bat going cold (an inning-ending double play & a K to end the Michigan 6th can only be chalked up to serious illness), things looked bleak as the Wolverines came up to bat in the top of the seventh, and bleaker still when a ground-out brought Sierra Lawrence to the plate with one out and no runner to advance.
And then all hell broke loose in the best possible way. Determined to remind the world that Michigan doesn’t just have one Sierra, the sophomore outfielder smashed the first pitch she saw over the fences, staying fair by only a few yards. The dugout erupted as Silo’s first-ever multi-HR game tied things up. Just as the cheers started to die down with senior Taylor Hasselbach coming to the plate, the Michigan fans and players roared into life once more as a no-doubter (the outfielders didn’t even move) crushed to center field unbelievably put the Wolverines ahead. From being a minor role-player for her first three years, Hasselbach has exploded onto the scene as a senior, and now has a Michigan moment that she’ll never forget.
That would be all the scoring in the Michigan half of the inning, but the damage was done, and the shoe was on the other foot, with the Sun Devils needing at least a run and having only three outs to do it in. A ground-out, a single, and a pop-out brought Amber Freeman to the plate. Taking her cue from Lawrence and Hasselbach, Freeman swung away at the first pitch she saw, belting it to straightaway center field. The Arizona State crowd cheered, Freeman started sprinting around the bases, and Hutch looked like she was going to join Romo and Sappingfield in vomiting. The only person in the stadium who still thought Michigan had a chance as the little yellow ball streaked towards the fence was senior outfielder Lindsay Doyle. Doyle stretched every inch of her 5-foot 4-inch frame to pull back the would-be walk-off, saving the day and putting Michigan through to the Super Regionals in Tallahassee. On the roster, Michigan doesn’t have anyone listed shorter than Doyle, but in that moment, she towered over them all, spoiling ASU’s day and extending her career with an immortal memory.
With the brilliant heroics of the regional behind us, we turn to consider the next opponent, the Seminoles of Florida State. The Noles have blazed through their season to this point almost without a hitch, boasting a dazzling 53-6 record. The ACC is not a particularly strong softball conference, and no one was able to provide them with much in the way of a challenge, as they won both the regular season and tournament championships by decent margins, racking up 8 mercy-rule wins along the way. Their few losses have been competitive affairs against quality opposition, leaving no real embarrassments to speak of. One note of interest is that they did lose their one match-up against a Big Ten team, dropping their season opener against Nebraska 4-3.
For the second week in a row, Michigan will have to face down a Player of the Year finalist in the circle. Lacey Waldrop anchors the FSU rotation, boasting a .90 ERA that has her in the top five nation-wide. She hurls almost four times as many Ks as BBs, and has conceded only 4 homers all season. Unlike ASU, however, who lived and died on the arm of Dallas Escobedo, the Noles seem to use their rotation a little more. While Waldrop has started 37 games this year, she’s been relieved in twelve of those. Jessica Burroughs is the other starter for Florida State. She’s a step back from Waldrop’s dominance, but still a solid pitcher in her own right, with a 1.89 ERA. Finally, there is Jessica Nori, a reliever with 18 appearances but only one start. Expect Florida State to go with Waldrop as long as they can, but if the Michigan bats get to her, the Noles do have some valid options in the bullpen.
Offensively, Maddie O’Brien (FSU’s other Player of the Year finalist!) is the star. She’s their only player with more than 5 at-bats who is hitting .400 or better, and she is also the team-leader in homers with 23. Like Sierra Romero, she also plays shortstop and bats third. Courtney Senas is the other major threat. She sets the table for O’Brien, but can also play long ball, having cleared the fences 13 times. There are a few other .300 hitters in the line-up, but it doesn’t quite provide the top-to-bottom fear that ASU boasted. That said, with the up-and-down pitching Michigan has had lately, nothing can be taken for granted. Hopefully Wagner’s strong finish to the Regional will carry over and those concerns can be put to bed.
FSU did struggle to put away South Florida last weekend, but that’s understandable given the excellent pitching the Bulls have. After the madness that was the Regional, I’m not even going to try to make any predictions here. If Michigan plays their best, they can win, if they play their worst, they’ll lose, and if it’s somewhere in between, it’ll be a toss-up. I expect another round of thrilling softball, although unfortunately I’ll be at a conference & unable to follow the games. Keep the live threads going, guys, and go Blue!
Nebrasketball was awesome last year, especially since they beat everybody but us! We escaped with a win at Nebraska and absolutely blew them out at home. The Huskers were a great story last year, they did well enough to earn Tim Miles B1G coach of the year. The great thing about this team, is that they have TVs in their toilets! Nebraska loses almost nothing this year, they lose Mike Peltz, Ray Gallegos, Nathan Hawkins, Sergej Vucetic, Tim Wagner. This means losing:
This is why Nebraska is rated so high. They do not even lose a starters statistics. They also bring in two decent freshman and a transfer. This team will be experienced and good. Thirty Eight percent of their team are seniors. And another Thirty percent of the team are juniors. This team will perform really well at home and will be decent enough on the road. Here is their projected roster:
# Name HT WT YR POS
Moses Ayegba 6-9 247 SR. C
I do not know much about Ayegba. I am pretty sure that he sat out last year because he transferred. He will be the third-string Center this year.
21 Leslee Smith 6-8 255 SR. C
A turnover machine last year. He will be a good back-up this year. He needs to lose about 10 pounds to be more athletic.
2 David Rivers 6-7 198 SR. PF
The back-up Power Forward, he will average about 4 points a game this year.
10 Trevor Menke 5-11 183 SR. PG
The third-string Point Guard, he is a walk-on so I doubt he plays.
44 Kye Kurkowski 6-11 214 SR. C
31 Shavon Shields 6-7 219 JR. PF
Their second best player last year. He took some games over last year and will lokk to do the same this year. The starting Power Forward.
35 Walter Pitchford 6-10 234 JR. C
The starting Center, he was a pretty decent scorer and can shoot the three.
5 Terran Petteway 6-6 209 JR. SG
He may have horrible facial hair, but he is good at basketball. He is the starting Small Forward. He averaged 18.1 points per game and should be one of the frontrunners for B1G POY.
3 Benny Parker 5-9 166 JR. PG
The starting Point Guard, he is small and that is a weakness. However, he does not need to handle the ball much.
0 Tai Webster 6-4 194 SO. SG
He may not score much but he is decent at defense. He is the starting Shooting Guard.
23 Nick Fuller 6-6 199 SO. SG
Redshirted last year, will be the back-up Shooting Guard.
Jacob Hammond 6-8 228 FR. PF
The third-string Power Forward, he may redshirt. He was a three star, the #29 Center in the class.
Tarin Smith 6-2 165 FR. PG
The back-up Point Guard. He was a two star, the #63 Point Guard in the class.
This team found a way to put it all together last year, and this year, they are even better. I think they will go second, with a record of 13-5 in the B1G.
Next up... Wisconsin
Softball Regional Preview
This is going to be a bit briefer than my previous two write-ups about this team, as I’m in the middle of a very busy week and my energy has waned a little given the disappointing results of late (how spoiled we softball fans are when a Big Ten co-championship and Player of the Year is a disappointment!). However, I still wanted to get something together for the regional, as this team absolutely has the potential to do great things if they can get firing on all cylinders again.
Big Ten Recap
Halfway through the Big Ten season, everything was looking great down at the Wilpon Complex. The Wolverines were riding a 20-game winning streak that had begun with a 3-0 victory over then-7th ranked Arizona. Sierra Romero lead the country in batting average, along with several other offensive categories, star pitcher Haylie Wagner was in the top ten nationally with a sub-1 ERA, and the team was highly ranked in runs per game, fielding percentage, team ERA, and more. At the height, the Maize & Blue climbed into the top 5 in the polls and looked to be a lock to cruise to yet another outright Big Ten Championship and a Super Regional seed.
The first bump in the road came at the hands of Minnesota, who snapped the winning streak, claiming a 1-0 win in a pitcher’s duel that ended as Wagner’s first loss on the season. Michigan bounced back to claim the next two, however, and no one thought much of a close loss to a strong team. After that, however, things began to get out of hand. A mid-week loss to a middling Purdue team turned into the prelude to an astonishing run-rule loss at miserable Illinois. The tail-spin was capped off by losing two out of three to Wisconsin, which ended up costing the Wolverines an outright title. For the first time in years, we were forced to share, in this case with Nebraska, an up-and-coming team in the conference.
Michigan went to the conference tournament looking for a measure of redemption as well as an opportunity to shore up their claim to host a regional. Things looked good in the beginning, with a decisive win over the Illinois team that had embarrassed the team just a few weeks back, followed up by a thrilling walk-off win against Wisconsin. It seemed as though Michigan was exorcising the demons as, despite a few sloppy mistakes, they found themselves matched up with Minnesota in the conference final. After grabbing a 2-0 lead, Michigan gave it right back again, as the Gophers smacked two solo-shots to tie things up. Michigan missed several opportunities to reclaim the advantage, and in the end Minnesota walked off a winner as a defensive blunder turned what could have been the final out of the 7th inning into a game-winner.
In the end, the tumble cost Michigan the right to host a regional, and they will instead travel to Tempe, where Arizona State will play host. It’s difficult to point to any one problem that cost Michigan during the home stretch of the regular season. The pitching was not as good, the offense faltered in key situations, and the number of errors was on the rise. There is a lot to correct if Michigan wants to make a big run in the postseason.
With all that said, Carol Hutchins isn’t one of the greatest of all-time for nothing. She has assembled a powerfully talented team and doubtless knows exactly what needs doing. We can be quite certain that Arizona State was not at all happy to see us on their radar. While Wagner’s ERA has taken a hit of late, she still clocks in at #25 in the nation and tops in the Big Ten with a 1.55 mark. Similarly, recent errors have hurt Michigan’s fielding percentage, but a .977 number is tied for 5th in the country in that category even so, and at 6.69 runs per game, the offense is tenth in the land. The offense is powered by the Big Ten Player of the Year, sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero. Romero has continued to put up video game numbers all season long, leading the country in batting average by almost three-tenths of a point with a staggering .510. She likewise leads in on-base percentage by a country mile, with an almost-unbelievable .646 (2nd place is way back at .581). She is also tied for 2nd in the land in runs scored per game, a great testament to Blanchard, who has been her protection for most of the season. Perhaps losing the right to host a regional will be just the wake-up call this team needs. A deep run is still very much in the cards if everything shapes up right.
Three teams look to stand in Michigan’s way in their quest to advance to the super regional. Michigan will play San Diego State Friday at 12:30 PM, with more games to follow depending on the results. All regional games will be broadcast on ESPNU, so even though we don’t get to watch at Wilpon, we’ll still get to see our ladies compete!
San Diego State
The Aztecs took home the Mountain West crown this year with a 16-8 conference record. Overall, they went 39-17, with one win against a ranked team (a decisive 7-3 result over California). Outside of that, they lost to a few other ranked teams, but mostly faced a fairly light schedule against which they had decidedly mixed results. In the circle, SDSU is a one-trick pony, living and dying on the fortunes of sophomore southpaw Danielle O’Toole. Her 1.66 ERA (tied for 34th nationally) and 30-8 record are impressive despite the less-than stellar opposition she faced. She is definitely a strike-out pitcher, boasting 184 Ks on the season to only 39 BBs. She should provide a decent test for the Michigan batters in the regional opener.
On offense, the Aztecs have a balanced attack, with 6 different players batting over .300 for the season, the highest mark being .361. That mark is held by Sydnee Cable, who also gets on base over half the time. Patrice Jackson is the real driving force of the offense, however, with an on-base of .543 and a team-leading 16 long-balls. Both are somewhat strike-out prone, however, so there will be chances to set them down without facing too much damage. This is a match-up that Michigan should win, but can’t take for granted – as if we needed any reminding of that right now!
The Big Green (!) dominated Ivy League play, running away with the championship on the strength of an 18-2 record and will be making their first NCAA appearance. While they will almost surely be steam-rolled by a highly-ranked Arizona State squad in the opening game, it’s possible we could see them at some point in a loser’s bracket match-up. Outside of the Ivy League, Dartmouth only managed a 15-17 tally, despite not facing any powerful opposition. Their top pitcher is Kristen Rumley, whose 1.86 ERA is tops on the team, as is her 18-7 record. Morgan McCalmon has also seen substantial time, putting together a 10-7 record and a 2.49 ERA. Their offense is a little more top-heavy than SDSU’s, with only four .300 hitters (two of whom, incidentally, are the aforementioned pitchers). Katie McEachern provides most of the power, leading the team in homers and RBIs, with 8 and 30, respectively. If Michigan ends up in a pitched battle with this team at any point, it’ll be time to sound the alarm bells. If all goes well, we should never have to face them.
The Sun Devils are the regional hosts and favorites to win. They went 44-10-1 (rain lead to the tie, a 2-2 draw with top-ranked Oregon), and 15-7-1 in the ultra-tough Pac-12. Like Michigan, however, they have been scuffling somewhat of late. Ranked in the top-5 at one point, they are now only the #9 seed in the NCAA tournament, having three losses and a tie in their last five games. Their struggles are more understandable, however, as they came against Oregon and three-seed (and perennial powerhouse) UCLA. The Sun Devils will be looking to regain some momentum by throttling Dartmouth before the real showdown later on.
ASU’s offense is strong top to bottom, with 6 players hitting over .320 (and another just a couple points under .300), giving them the 12th-ranked team batting average in the NCAA. What’s more, they have some serious power as well. Four separate players boast double-digit home run totals, and only one of their starters has fewer than 6 round-trippers. All these numbers have come against the always-strong pitching of the Pac-12, as well, so there isn’t much of an issue of inflation against weak opposition. This is a team that can punish you 1-9, so if Michigan wants to win, the pitching and fielding will have to be absolutely top-notch. Defensive mistakes or pitches left hanging will be turned into runs in very short order.
In addition to their potent offense, senior-righty Dallas Escobedo is a powerful presence in the circle. The National Player of the Year Finalist managed a 1.85 ERA, and with over 10 Ks per game, is among the nation’s best strike-out pitchers. She is absolutely the real deal, although last year Michigan’s own Player of the Year candidate Sierra Romero did touch her up for a 2-run blast in the wee hours of the morning. She got her revenge earlier this season, however, pitching a brilliant 1-hitter in a 2-0 shutout during the non-conference schedule.
Michigan is facing down a tough challenge, and they’re in a hole they dug themselves. Nevertheless, this is a team that was once looking likely to cruise to a top-5 finish in the country, one that has wins against a number of elite teams, and one that boasts (in my totally-not-biased opinion) the best candidate for the Player of the Year award. In the end, it seems likely that this regional will break down into a best of three series between Michigan and ASU, with a couple other games mixed in for good measure. Neither Dartmouth nor SDSU look like serious threats to win the thing. It’s tough to pick against the Sun Devils, but I will say that Michigan absolutely has a shot to win here. All that’s needed is cleaning up the mistakes and playing to ability. Do that, and we could be looking at a super-regional date with (most likely) Florida State!