BELOW THE RADAR
Watching a mid-major, Butler, come within a bounce of winning the NCAA, the thought occurred as to how likely is the prospect that a mid-major could win the Women’s College World Series – or even qualify. Historically, the major power conferences have dominated softball’s final eight, as they do in most selections – whether it be USA national teams, or All Americans, etc.
The 25 finalists for ASA/USA Softball’s Player of the Year underscores the point. Nineteen of the 25 are from the four power conferences – Pac 10, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten – and if you consider the ACC a major power conference, then 23 of 25 come from five of the 30 Division I conferences.
Are these the 25 best players in the country? A panel of college coaches, media and others picked this list from a compilation of more than 40 nominees. While the conventional wisdom is that they key to being selected for a national team is to first make the list of those invited, the same is essentially true of that initial grouping of 40-plus nominees. However, it must be noted that the ASA staff were especially responsive to suggestions for additions made by the panel, and the staff did a yeoman job of compiling all of the relevant statistics for the panel to consider.
In a somewhat parallel fashion, while West Coast and particularly Pac 10 players dominate national teams, USA Softball invites 40 or more players from around the country to its selection camps.
That said, the historical evidence is that a player’s chances of being selected for a national team, or, becoming player of the year, are enhanced if she plays for a major school in a power conference – and has a pedigree which begins with success at the lower levels of competitive softball, especially travel ball. I can remember watching Jennie Finch, Catherine Osterman, and Monica Abbott in their early highschool years when they were playing for very competitive travel ball teams. College coaches, like everyone associated with softball, watches the same teams year after year – like the Batbusters, the former Gordon Panthers, So Cal Athletics, Cruisers, Renegades, Shamrocks, Sorcerers, Hurricanes, et al – which play at a highly competitive level, year after year, and feature players with a high probability of success in college competition.
My concern is the player who is overlooked in this narrow focus. Is there another Angela Tincher who went virtually unnoticed until her senior year at Virginia Tech when it became obvious she would set or break strikeout records? The camps and tryout processes by definition provide a crucible for finding then showcasing the best talent – but the number of players who get those chances is small.
We were surprised when Bethune-Cookman grabbed Texas by the horns, and when Brandice Balschmitter and U Mass had Oklahoma on the ropes – surprised because the group of teams which receive close scrutiny outside their own conferences is small.
Biting the bullet, do I think the 25 finalists are the absolute best choices? No, not in every instance. But, this is the process we have, and I, along with numerous others, were given ample opportunity to make the case for other players.
What I can do, in my small way, is to try to make SPY more inclusive. For several years, SPY has published the weekly list of conference honors (and remain annoyed that two conferences still do not give these awards the attention they deserve). SPY endeavors to call attention to no-hitters, game winning hits and the like. We will try to do more.
What follows are mini-portraits of three pitchers who had outstanding weeks – but can be said to fly below the level of a fictional national radar. The argument is not that any of the three should be the national player of the year, but that our sport – and SPY – should recognize superior achievement at schools large and small. There are many others who week after week make solid contributions, Tara Oltman comes immediately to mind, and from time to time SPY will feature other players from non-major teams.
Morgan Childers, USC Upstate
SPY notes that the junior hurler is now 22-9. In the most recent NCAA statistics report, Morgan ranks #1 in ERA (0.62), is #3 in strikeouts per seven innings (12.5); is also #3 in fewest hits allowed per seven innings, and #4 in won-lost percentage. This past weekend, Morgan racked #299 in career strikeouts. USC Upstate currently ranks 6th in Atlantic Sun, and the odds are against the Spartans winning a WCWS berth. Still, when one is considering Player of the Year, individual accomplishment reigns over team, and Morgan just hurled her fourth career no-hitter, and her second of the season. Not on the same bar with a Danielle Lawrie (neither is anyone else) but Morgan deserves a round of applause, and a tip of the Spyglas
Olivia Galati, Hofstra
Amy Hughes of the NCAA’s official website profiled Hofstra freshman pitcher Olivia Galati (West Babylon, NY) in a feature. “Galati, who has been named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Pitcher and Rookie of the Week four times already this season, concluded Wednesday’s doubleheader at Rutgers with a 15-2 record and a 1.18 ERA in the pitching circle, as well as a .301 batting average, two homers and 18 RBI at the plate.” SPY watched Olivia on many occasions, hurling for NJ Inferno, who burns with a competitive fire few can surpass. To view the Hughes feature, go to the following link:
Ashley Forsyth, Seton Hall
Senior pitcher Ashley Forsyth (Freehold, N.J.) tossed a perfect game and struck out 17 of the 21 batters she faced, setting a new school record, in a 7-0 victory over St. Peter’s Forsyth (5-7) becomes just the fourth pitcher in school history to toss a perfect game, and is just one of three hurlers to throw a perfect game and a no-hitter in her career. She had a string of nine consecutive strikeouts from the second to fourth innings, struck out the side four times during the game, and did not allow a hit-ball out of the infield.