2008 NCAA Softball Super Regional Preview

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Michigan
(51-6) breezed through their Ann Arbor Regional with a 3-0 record by the
combined score of 26-5. The Wolverines are an at-large selection from the Big
Ten Conference and making their 14th straight NCAA Tournament appearance and
16th overall. They have amassed a record of 51-33 in the NCAA Tournament with
eight trips to the Women’s College World Series. They are the first program east
of the Mississippi River to claim a National Title in softball, which they did
in 2005. During the regular season the Wolverines posted a 20-4 record against
teams headed to NCAA Tournament and a 4-1 mark against Super Regional bound
teams.

Michigan is led at the plate by senior co-captains Samantha Findlay and
Alessandra Giampaolo. Findlay leads with a .401 batting average, 21 home runs
and 69 RBIs. In 2005 as a freshman, Findlay hit the game-winning three-run home
run in the tenth inning that gave Michigan their first National Title. Giampaolo
is hitting .364 on the year with a team-leading 67 hits and 12 doubles. The
Wolverines have ten players with double digit RBI totals, including their top
pinch hitter, who has 21 RBIs coming off the bench.

While Virginia Tech may have the best pitcher in the country with Angela
Tincher, Michigan has the best pitching staff in the country. The Wolverines
lead the nation with a staff ERA of 0.82, and both starting pitchers are ranked
in the top 12 nationally in individual ERA. Freshman Jordan Taylor is 30-3 on
the year with a 0.70 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 210 innings pitched. Sophomore
Nikki Nemitz is 21-3 with a 0.97 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 174 innings pitched.

Taylor
has developed into the ace of the staff, as Nemitz has struggled in her two
postseason starts (4 innings, 4 hits, 5 runs). Taylor has picked up the last six
decisions for Michigan dating back into the regular season. However if head
coach Carol Hutchins wants to make a change in the circle it will be easy, as
Nemitz and Taylor are usually both in the starting lineup as either the starting
designated player or pitcher. Nikki Nemitz will hit for herself when she
pitches, meaning the designated player Jordan Taylor is the tenth player who
does not bat. Having both pitchers in the lineup at the same time is a luxury
for a team, as either pitcher is never lost and always in the lineup.

Virginia Tech won the Knoxville Regional by a score of 4-2 over the Tennessee
Lady Volunteers after being forced into a winner take all regional final. The
Hokies have a record of 3-3 against teams who have advanced to the Super
Regional round. All three wins in Knoxville were due to the timely hitting of
Misty Hall and Caroline Stolle. Hall had two home runs that either won the game
(Louisville) or gave the Hokies the lead (last game against UT). According to
the game notes posted on hokiesports.com, Hall "never took her helmet off
or put down her bat during the delay." The delay referred to is the
56-minute rain delay VT sat through before Hall’s home run heroics.

Let’s
take a look at how the Virginia Tech Hokies are doing under pressure by
examining the combined stats from the postseason (ACC Tournament and NCAA
Regional) and the game versus the U.S. National Team, which is a total of eight
games. Caroline Stolle has been struggling most of the year and that has
continued into the postseason, however her only two hits from these selected
games are game winning hits (U.S. game and first UT game). Stolle has come
through in the clutch like a senior should and might get that chance again this
weekend, as Michigan might look forward to pitching to her with runners on-base.

Junior Beth Walker is making an early statement about potentially being a
leader next spring, as she has stepped up her play in the spotlight. Walker’s
postseason batting average of .400 is well above her regular season numbers and
even kicks it into a higher gear when the TV cameras are rolling. She is a
perfect 6-for-6 in the three games played on television this year.

Walker is not the only one to star on TV this season. Angela Tincher has
thrown three shutouts in those same television games, surrendering only five
total hits, three walks and averaging over 12.5 strikeouts per game. Tincher
will need to be at her best right from the beginning against the Wolverines, as
it would be a tall order to win both games on Sunday if the Hokies fall in
Saturday’s game one. Michigan has not lost back-to-back games all season, and
the last season the Wolverines accomplished that feat, they won a National
Title.

If Virginia Tech is to advance to their first Women’s College World Series,
it will probably be similar to last weekend in Knoxville: Take the first game,
and Michigan will come out firing in the second game, similar to what Tennessee
did. If that happens, get Tincher out of there quickly to save her for the third
and decisive game. UT used this same strategy in the 2006 Super Regional round
to beat the Wolverines, as UT great Monica Abbott was pulled early in game two
and then came back to win in game three.

Game one of the Super Regional between Virginia Tech and Michigan begins at
noon on Saturday, May 24th and will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN360. Game two
will be played Sunday, May 25th at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN360. Game three, if
necessary, will be played Sunday at 3:00 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN360.

NCAA
Tournament Bracket
(up to date; PDF format)

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