2008 NCAA Softball Preview

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Craig
Fain is a Virginia Tech graduate (2002) and Tennessee graduate (2006) who has
years of experience working with the Virginia Tech and Tennessee softball teams,
and he has attended the last three Women’s College Softball World Series. Craig
brings us a preview of this weekend’s NCAA Softball Regional in Knoxville,
Tennessee, matching the #2-seed Hokies up with #1-seed Tennessee, #3-seed
Louisville, and #4-seed Winthrop.

#1 Tennessee (47-14)

Host school Tennessee is an at-large selection from the Southeastern
Conference (SEC) and is actually on a slide coming into NCAA Regionals, as they
have lost five of their last seven (however four of those loses were to #1
Florida). This is the Lady Volunteers’ sixth NCAA Tournament appearance, and
they have posted a 27-12 record in their previous appearances and are coming off
three straight trips to the Women’s College World Series. During the regular
season, UT faced several teams bound for NCAA Regionals and went 16-12 in those
games. Most of those games came against conference competition as the SEC placed
eight teams in the tournament.

The offense is lead by SEC Player of the Year Tonya Callahan with a .473
batting average, 16 home runs and 61 RBIs. The senior has been walked 55 times
this season, with 20 of those being intentional. All-SEC shortstop Kenora Posey
leads off with a .383 average and 43 stolen bases. The Lady Vols have eight
players with double digit RBI totals, with five players with 37 or more. UT will
most definitely run, as they have 123 stolen bases on 138 attempts.

The pitching staff has a mix of experience and youth for a balanced but
inconsistent pitching staff. Senior Megan Rhodes is 20-9 on the year with a 2.24
ERA and 202 strikeouts in 184.2 innings pitched. Freshman Ashton Ward is 27-5
with a 1.94 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 198.1 innings pitched. Neither pitcher has
many complete games, so there is a good chance teams could see both pitchers in
a single game. The pair has struggled to the combined numbers of 141 walks, 23
wild pitches, 25 hit batters, and surrendering 27 home runs.

#2 Virginia Tech (44-15)

Virginia Tech is the automatic qualifier from the Atlantic Coast Conference
(ACC) and has a 15-4 record in their last 19 games. This is the Hokies’ fourth
NCAA Tournament selection, and they post a 3-6 record all-time in regionals,
going an identical 1-2 each postseason. Virginia Tech played 21 games against
teams bound for NCAA Regionals, and they were 11-10 in those games. One game of
note from that group includes a single game with fellow regional participant
Winthrop back on February 24th, with the Hokies taking that game 3-0. Also
Virginia Tech faced four of the top sixteen seeded teams in the tournament and
posted a 2-2 record, with wins against #8 seed Houston and #11 seed
Northwestern, while the two loses were to #2 UCLA and #7 Arizona. All four of
those games were one run games.

The Hokies are led at the plate by the All-ACC duo of Charisse Mariconda and
Jenna Rhodes. Mariconda leads the team with a .368 batting average, nine doubles
and 36 RBIs. Rhodes is batting .324 from her lead-off spot to go along with 40
stolen bases. The Hokies have seven players with double digit RBI totals, with
five having 22 or more RBI. Virginia Tech will run as a team, as they have 100
stolen bases on only 110 attempts this season, a success rate of just over 90%.

The pitching staff is of course anchored by Senior All-American Angela
Tincher. Tincher has a record of 33-6 and a 0.57 ERA to go along with 571
strikeouts in 283.2 innings pitched. The three-time ACC Pitcher of the Year has
14 shutouts to her credit this season, while teams hit a minuscule .104 against
her. Her most famous game this season was a no-hit, 10 strikeout performance
against the U.S. National Softball Team, which snapped a 185-game pre-Olympic
exhibition tour winning streak dating back to 1996.

It has become a recurring theme when discussing the postseason plans of
Virginia Tech: can they score enough runs to support Tincher? The top of the
order of Rhodes, Erin Ota, Mariconda, Kelsey Hoffman, and Misty Hall have been
doing most of the work for the Hokies all season. Players such as Beth Walker
and Jessica Everhart are going to have to step up and protect these players so
teams can not pitch around them. Also a major key is holding the opposing team
down early. The Hokies have allowed a total of 93 runs this season, and 47% of
those runs have been scored in the first or second inning. Tincher must settle
down early and find her rhythm and not worry about potential illegal pitches
(balks) being called against her.

#3 Louisville (30-21)

Louisville is an at-large selection from the Big East Conference and enters
the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time with a record of 5-8 all-time in those
appearances. The Cardinals posted a 5-8 record against teams bound for NCAA
Regionals and are one of four teams selected from the Big East.

Louisville is led at the plate by sophomore catcher Melissa Roth, who is
hitting .361 with 20 doubles and 22 RBIs. Second on the team is freshman third
baseman Chelsea Bemis, batting .333 with 49 RBIs. The Cards lack power and
speed, as they have only hit 21 home runs and stolen 26 bases as a team. Driving
in runs is a balanced affair, as five players have 20 or more RBIs, and eight
total players are in double digits driving in runs.

The leader in the pitching circle is Australian Kristen Wadwell, who is a
sophomore and an All-Big East selection. She is currently 18-13 on the year with
a 2.19 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 226.2 innings pitched this year. Wadwell’s
innings pitched are more then double junior Kassie Stanfill, who only worked 107
innings, collecting a 10-7 record and 3.34 ERA. Looking at appearances and game
starts, Wadwell is obviously the workhorse of the staff, as Stanfill and the
third pitcher only have a combined 13 relief appearances on the season.

#4 Winthrop (36-17)

Winthrop is the automatic qualifier from the Big South Conference and has won
six straight games and 14 of 16. This is the Eagles’ second NCAA Tournament
appearance, as they posted a 2-2 record in their inaugural appearance last year
in Knoxville. Winthrop played seven teams headed to NCAA Regionals, posting a
record of 2-7. One of those loses was a 3-0 defeat to the Virginia Tech Hokies
back in February at the Hokies United Memorial Tournament hosted by Tech in
Botetourt, VA.

The Eagles are a tough team, with the offense led by a pair of junior
outfielders. Lisa Kingsmore is batting .448 with 11 doubles and 30 RBI, while
leadoff Tessa Thomas is hitting .341 with 13 doubles and 21 RBI. The power and
run producer is Mallory Hogan with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs. Thomas was quite
impressive in the Knoxville Regional last year as she hit .538 and scored four
runs during the Eagles’ stay, which included a 2-3 effort against current U.S.
National Team member Monica Abbott.

Winthrop returns its top two pitchers from last season. Sophomore Megan Evans
has a record of 18-6 with a 1.32 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched,
while fellow sophomore Cari Wooldridge was 16-9 with a 1.81 ERA and 104
strikeouts in 139 innings. The Eagles’ pitching will be similar to the Lady Vols
as teams could see more than one pitcher a game. The Winthrop pitching staff has
35 relief appearances this season.

Overall Thoughts

This section could pretty much be copied from last year’s regional as the
cliché "survive and advance" is the name of the game at this point in
the season. One key to success this weekend is staying in the winners’ bracket.
There is a major difference playing only one game a day, as opposed to playing
two games on Saturday and Sunday if a team is coming out of the losers’ bracket.

Pitching and how teams adjust to it will be another thing to keep an eye on.
Tennessee and Winthrop could use two or more pitchers a game, so the adjustment
from one pitching style to another for opposing hitters is important.

One other thought is the pressure of television. ESPN2 selected the noon game
on Saturday because of the potential Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech match-up. Last
year it was suppose to be Alabama vs. California or Florida State, but Tennessee
Tech ruined that plan by defeating the Crimson Tide on the first day. All the
teams in the Knoxville Regional will be a tough out, and nothing can be assumed.

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