2007 NCAA Softball Preview

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Craig
Fain, a Virginia Tech graduate (2002) and Tennessee graduate (2006) who has
years of experience working with the Virginia Tech and Tennessee softball teams,
brings us a detailed preview of this weekend’s NCAA Softball Regionals in
Columbus, Ohio, matching the #1-seed Hokies up with #2-seed Ohio State, #3-seed
Cal State Fullerton, and #4-seed Canisius.

#1 Virginia Tech (48-14)

Virginia Tech is the automatic qualifier from the Atlantic Coast Conference
(ACC) and is winner of 20 of its last 22. This is the Hokies’ third NCAA
Tournament selection, and they post a 2-4 record all-time in regionals. Virginia
Tech played 30 games against teams bound for NCAA Regionals, and they were 23-7
in those games. Games of note from that group include a pair of games with the
Buckeyes of Ohio State, the host team. The teams split the two games in
Clearwater, Florida with OSU winning the first 4-0, with the Hokies taking the
second by a score of 2-0.

This
Virginia Tech team is young, as the current roster has only three seniors. The
Hokies are lead at the plate by the duo of Caroline Stolle and Callie Rhodes.
Stolle leads the team with a .330 batting average, 10 home runs and 46 RBIs.
Rhodes is batting .320 from her lead-off spot to go along with 32 stolen bases.
The Hokies have eight players with double digit RBI totals, with four having 26
or more RBI. Virginia Tech will run as a team, as they have 69 stolen bases on
80 attempts this season.

The pitching staff is of course anchored by junior All-American Angela
Tincher. Tincher has a record of 37-5 and nation-best 0.55 ERA to go along with
581 strikeouts in 291.2 innings pitched. The ACC Pitcher of the Year also has 22
shutouts to her credit this season, which means almost 60% of her victories were
via the shutout. Teams hit a minuscule .103 against Tincher. It has been said
good pitching can hold down good hitting. Let’s just hope that holds true this
weekend.

Virginia Tech is making only their third appearance at regionals, so they are
continuing to learn how to win in the postseason. Winning the ACC Tournament
last weekend will only boost the team’s confidence heading into this weekend. We
all know what Angela Tincher can do in the circle, the question that remains is
can this team put enough runs on the board to survive and advance?

The Hokie offense has improved over the season, with the line-up becoming
more balanced than in the past. Everyone knows about Rhodes, Stolle, and first
baseman Stephanie Savre, so it will be up to catcher Kelsey Hoffman,
centerfielder Jessica Everhart, and shortstop Charisse Mariconda to get the job
done. All three of these players are ready for the challenge, as Everhart has
come on recently to become a better hitter, while Mariconda is a tough player
who has moved back and forth from third base and shortstop this season.

Survive and advance is the name of the game at this point in the season.
Winning 1-0 ball games might not be pretty, but it gets the job done. Virginia
Tech needs to jump on teams early or exert their dominance on a game to stay in
control. Getting down early has hurt the Hokies in the past, as three of their
four loses in NCAA regionals have come via the run-rule, meaning the game was
stopped early cause they were losing by eight or more runs after the fifth
inning.

This is a different team, as the upperclassmen have been to three straight
regionals and have learned want it takes. Also, there will not be the
distraction of a lingering injury for Tincher, as she is pain free for the first
time in a postseason, as it showed last weekend in the ACC Tournament. The key
for the Hokies is to remain in the winners’ bracket and play one game a day.
That plan last weekend lead to a championship, so if it holds true again the
Hokies could be Columbus Regional champs and moving on to Super Regionals.

#2
Ohio State (38-16)

Host school Ohio State is the automatic qualifier from the Big 10 Conference
and has won 24 out of their last 28 games dating back to late March. The
Buckeyes were a perfect 19-0 at home this season, which could play a huge role
as they are hosting on Buckeye Field in Columbus. They were the Big 10 regular
season and tournament champs. This might be deceiving as OSU never had to face
2005 National Champion and top 10 Michigan, as their regular season doubleheader
was canceled along with their doubleheader with Michigan State, who finished
ahead of NCAA bound Penn State in the Big 10 regular season standings.

This is the Buckeyes’ 5th NCAA Tournament appearance, and they have posted a
5-8 record in their previous appearances. OSU faced several teams bound for NCAA
Regionals and was 15-9 in those games. A pair of those games came against the
Virginia Tech Hokies, as the teams split a pair of games at the USF-adidas
Spring Break Invitational back in early March down in Clearwater, Florida. The
Buckeyes took the first game in pool play with a 4-0 win, scoring four runs with
two outs in the sixth inning off Angela Tincher. However Tincher and the Hokies
rebounded in the Silver Flight Championship game with a 2-0 victory with Tincher
throwing a no-hitter, which was the first time OSU has been no-hit since 2001.

The offense is lead by freshman catcher Sam Marder with a .378 batting
average, 10 home runs and 48 RBIs. Sophomore Courtney Pruner has a .346 average,
11 doubles and 35 RBI. Ohio States has eight players with double digit RBI
totals, with five players with 26 or more. The Buckeyes also have some gap
power, as the team has 61 doubles on the season along with 14 triples. OSU will
run, as they have 61 stolen bases on 79 attempts, which is comparable to the
Hokies, who stole 69 bases on 80 attempts. This could pose a problem as Virginia
Tech only threw out three of an attempted 53 steals this season.

The pitching staff has experience and youth at the same time as a senior and
sophomore lead a balanced pitching staff. Senior Jamee Juarez is 20-8 on the
year with a 1.50 ERA and 224 strikeouts in 173 innings pitched. Sophomore Kim
Reeder is 16-7 with a 2.57 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 155 innings pitched. Reeder
is from Salinas, California, which is the same hometown as Tennessee’s Monica
Abbott. In the pair of games down in Clearwater, the Hokies were able to see
both Juarez and Reeder, which will serve them well should the teams meet later
in the regional.

Ohio State is a rising power in the Big Ten, as four of their five NCAA
regional appearances have come since 2002. Similar to Cal-State Fullerton, the
Buckeyes have prepared themselves well by playing 24 games against teams in the
field of 64. A huge key will be how well OSU plays at home, where they are 19-0
this season. They have already lost once to Fullerton this season by a score of
5-4, and as noted earlier, have faced the Hokies twice. This familiarity will
only help the Buckeyes, as many teams playing this weekend will not have
previous knowledge of two other teams at their regional.

#3
Cal State Fullerton (34-20)

Cal State Fullerton is an at-large selection from the Big West Conference and
has won seven of their last nine games. This is the Titans’ 23rd NCAA Tournament
appearance, and they are 52-43 all-time. Fullerton won the 1986 National Title
and has six appearances in the Women’s College World Series, with their last
trip coming in 1995. Traveling to Columbus, Ohio this weekend marks only the
third time the Titans will have to travel outside the state of California for
NCAA Regional action.

They posted a 17-12 record against teams bound for the NCAA Tournament and
are one of five teams selected from the Big West Conference, which is tied with
the ACC for fourth most by a conference. Some of their notable wins include one
over #2 national seed Northwestern and ACC teams Virginia and Florida State. The
Titans also own a 4-3 victory this year over host and first round opponent, the
Ohio State Buckeyes.

Fullerton is led at the plate by juniors Kiki Munoz, with a .335 batting
average and 27 RBIs, and Georgia transfer Jessica Doucette, with eight home runs
and 30 RBIs. The power is balanced through the line-up as five players have five
or more home runs, with Doucette and Ashley Van Boxmeer tied for the lead with
eight. Driving in runs is also a balanced affair as six players have 20 or more
RBIs, and nine total players are in double digits driving in runs. Doucette once
again leads the team with her 30 RBIs.

The Titans do not run much, as they only have 37 stolen bases on the year.
Compare that to Callie Rhodes of Virginia Tech, who has 32 swipes of her own
this season. The pitching staff is lead by senior right-hander Candice Baker,
who is a three-time All-Big West Conference selection. The past two years Baker
has made the first team at two different positions, pitcher and utility. She is
currently 17-11 on the year with a 2.10 ERA and 237 strikeouts, along with five
saves in 203 innings pitched this year. Baker is the work horse for this team,
as Doucette is second in innings pitched with only 99.1. Teams hit a mere .181
against Baker, but she has given up 22 home runs in 36 appearances this season.

Cal State Fullerton is a traditionally tough team, as one can see with their
23 appearances in the NCAA Regionals. Their schedule has prepared them for
everything, as they played 29 games against teams in the NCAA field. If Baker
can pitch like she can and the experience shows through, this Titan team is a
dangerous match-up for anyone. It was probably a good thing that the NCAA
selection committee error was corrected, as this would have been a tough opening
game for Virginia Tech, but now host Ohio State has to tangle with them first.

#4
Canisius (27-19)

Canisius is the automatic qualifier from the Metro Atlantic Athletic
Conference (MAAC) and have won eight straight games and 17 of 19 since April 1.
This is the Golden Griffins’ 9th NCAA Tournament appearance, and they have
posted a 4-17 record in their previous appearances. Canisius played five teams
headed to NCAA Regionals, posting a record of 3-8. One of those loses was an
impressive 1-0 defeat to national power and 10-time NCAA Champion UCLA. Canisius
allowed only two hits in that game and it took a solo home run to defeat the
Golden Griffins.

They are a mix of youth and experience, as the team has eight upper classmen,
seven sophomores and no freshmen. The offense is balanced, as they have five
players with 20 or more RBIs and the team leader, Cameron Norton, only has 32.
Their leading hitter is junior, Katie Miranto with a .378 batting average, seven
home runs and 27 RBIs. The pitching staff looks to be anchored by a pair of
right-handers. Senior Courtney Piar has a record of 11-5 with a 1.61 ERA and 171
strikeouts in 117.1 innings pitched. Piar was the pitcher who held a powerful
UCLA team to one run on two hits. Junior pitcher Lindsay Garbacz has a record of
10-6 with a 2.06 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 98.1 innings pitched.

The only edge Canisius might have is that no one has ever seen them, and next
to home standing Ohio State might have a decent crowd as Piar is from nearby
Mount Vernon, Ohio. The 2007 MAAC Player and Pitcher of the Year, Piar would
probably like to perform well in front of the home crowd and might have extra
motivation to prove herself in front of the home-standing Buckeye faithful.

Overall Thoughts

The major thing to watch for this weekend in Columbus is who wins the
winners’ bracket game on Saturday. Just like in the ACC Tournament, if Virginia
Tech can keep it to one game per day, their chances of advancing greatly
increase. The Hokies should be able to defeat Canisius and advance to play
either Ohio State or Cal State Fullerton. Fullerton would be a better match-up
for the Hokies, as Fullerton has never seen Angela Tincher, and the Titans
struggled against Tennessee’s Monica Abbott to the tune of 14 strikeouts back in
February. If Virginia Tech can make it to Sunday undefeated, they will face a
tired team who would most likely have played two very tough games on Saturday
and would need to win twice to advance to Super Regionals.

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