Thursday, September 11, 2008

Facility upgrades in the SEC

Been awhile since I've posted... hope everyone is having a good start to their fall.

As many of you know, some facility upgrades are taking place around the conference.  Look at how close Arkansas is to having theirs completed... looks great.

LSU is also getting closer to finishing their stadium... it's structure is starting to come into place.

Wouldn't it be great if Pat Murphy gets the updates he's been asking for?  It's clear that the SEC is the cream of the crop when it comes to softball facilities.

Quick personal note (and shameless plug):  I'm currently finishing up my final six hours of school this semester and interning at the local TV station.  I had the opportunity to anchor the sports block last month.  If you want to take a look, here's the video.

Also, from what I understand, a decision has been made as to who the new radio announcer(s) will be for next year.  Hopefully, they will be taking over the blog in earnest when the season starts up.  When the Fall Brawl games come nearer, look for the announcement here as to who the new announcer(s) will be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shocker in Beijing: USA wins Silver, Japan Gold

I honestly don't know anyone who could say they saw this coming. The United States Olympic team lost 3-1 in the Gold Medal game against Japan, a team they had beat in extra innings earlier.

Everyone is going to look for someone to blame here. That's natural. The U.S. was expected to win, they expected to win, and now someone or something is going to be blamed.

It's hard to blame the actual game play. Some days you just aren't going to hit, pitch or play defense well. Some days, unfortunately, these run together. It's a part of the game. However, there are controllables, and one of those things is the game-time decisions made by head coach Mike Candrea.

First, as a disclaimer, I think Candrea is a fine coach. I honestly haven't seen enough of his in-game decisions to make an educated, all encompassing judgment of him as a coach. As a recruiter at Arizona, he's golden. He built a winner, and now Arizona's recruiting takes care of itself. On Team USA, he manages a Dream Team. It's hard to judge in-game decisions when your players are the best of the best.

That being said, I didn't agree with his decision in the 6th inning. With the United States trailing Japan 2-1, Caitlin Lowe led off the inning with a single. Then, Candrea decided to bunt Mendoza. Ordinarily, trailing by a run in the late innings, that doesn't sound like a terrible move. However, with Crystal Bustos standing on deck, you knew what would happen next. After Mendoza layed down her bunt and was thrown out at first, Lowe moved to second and Bustos came to the plate. Predictably, and wisely, Japan issued an intentional walk to Bustos.

By bunting, Candrea effectively removed the bat from his best hitter. His most feared hitter. She hit a solo home run earlier in the game to give the United States their only run of the game. Ueno had shut down the U.S. lineup, and now, the only player which had gotten to her was being walked. To Kelly Kretschman's credit, she drew a walk to load the bases with one out. After that however, Duran popped to short, and Nuveman popped to second. Furthermore, I question why Nuveman was in the 7th spot in the order to begin with. She is probably the weakest hitter on the team at this point.

Does letting Mendoza swing away automatically change the outcome? Of course not. It does let your players do what they've been taught to do. Hit the ball, and win games. Often times, a coach can be his teams own worst enemy. This can most often happen when a coach is making the status-quo "smart move." It sounds smart on its face, and few will question it, but was it really the best decision? I don't think so. You knew by bunting Mendoza, they would intentionally walk Bustos. There was no question about that. For that reason, I wouldn't have bunted. Sometimes, by staying out of your player's ways, you let them win games. This may have been one of those instances.

It's sad that Team USA had to go out on a losing note. Softball will not be played in the 2012 London Olympics.

By the way, Kelly Kretschman, the former Bama great, was one of five U.S. players to lay her cleats on home plate after the game, the traditional signal of retiring from international play. Kretschman was quite the ambassador for Alabama softball, and her retiring marks a somber day for Bama fans. If I find a picture of this, I'll post it.

By the way, I don't think the U.S. losing this game will give the International Olympic Committee any more incentive to put softball back in the Olympics. One great team, and one good team does not equal a competitive and elite level of softball. It's a start, but you need more than two good teams on the international level to warrant a spot in the Olympics.

EDIT: It's been pointed out to me that Mendoza may have bunted on her own. That's entirely possible. If that's the case, my criticism of Candrea is minimized, but not entirely gone. Mendoza needs to know (if she made the decision on her own), what the bunt is doing. It's not only giving up an out, it's taking the bat out of the hands of your team's best hitter. If she doesn't know that, Candrea should let her know that.

Finally, to be very clear, Candrea was in a position I don't envy. Lose, and the whole world looks at every move you made. Win, and I don't blink. I'll admit that. I do believe it's a decision that could have been a bit better, however.

Finally, here are two pictures of Krestchman placing her cleats at home plate to retire from international play as I promised.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A few schedule notes

Most of you reading this blog know about They have many active users who engage in softball discussion daily, and they form the most active college softball forum on the internet. One of the users who often posts valuable information is "UMassFan," and he's posted the tournaments in 2009 he's found so far.

Here are the Alabama tournaments that can be found so far, and the teams participating in them:

2/6-2/7 South Alabama Classic-South Alabama, Alabama, Memphis

2/13-2/15 Bama Bash-Alabama, East Carolina, Notre Dame, Wisconsin

2/19-2/22 Palm Springs Classic-Oregon State, Nebraska, UMass, Long Island, Georgia Tech, Fresno State, Alabama, Cal Poly, Arizona State, BYU, Cal, CS Fullerton, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, LMU, Maryland, Nevada, UNC, NC State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, Tennessee, Tennessee Tech, Texas, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, UNLV, Washington

2/27-3/1 NFCA Leadoff Classic-Nebraska, UMass, Long Island,Georgia Tech, Houston, Alabama, Southern Illinois, Hofstra, Mississippi State, LSU, Virginia Tech, DePaul, Florida State, Illinois State, Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, Georgia, Louisiana-Lafayette, Michigan, South Carolina

3/6-3/6 Easton SEC/Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge-Alabama, Baylor, Georgia, Washington

A few thoughts:
  • That's a lot of tournaments to participate in. Five tournaments, big or small, is a lot of tournaments. It gives the team an opportunity to play in a large amount of games, but at the same time, is a bit dangerous because of how many games that early in the season you play. On the plus side, by the time you get to conference play, the schedule seems easy. On the possible negative, Bama will be playing a lot of games early and risks burnout (although that rarely seems to happen.)
  • Bama will play in two big tournaments. The Palm Springs Classic and the NFCA Leadoff Classic. The Palm Springs Classic boasts a lot of elite teams like UCLA, Arizona State and Florida, and the NFCA always brings a strong crop of teams as well. The Leadoff Classic is always a dangerous scheduling decision, because of the risk of rain and lack of tarps in Columbus. That being said, it's nice to see this tournament back on the schedule. Alabama, a power in the southeast, should be a part of the biggest tournament in the south.
  • I love the idea of a SEC/Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge. NCAA Basketball is known for their ACC/Big 10 challenge, and I think the extension of that idea to softball is a great one. Take three power conferences (and the two best), matchup some teams, and let the bragging rights begin. The SEC will have Alabama and Georgia representing them, while Washington was tabbed as the PAC-10's rep and Baylor from the Big XII. It would have been great to see one more team from both the PAC-10 and Big XII, and maybe we'll see that in the future. I'm not quite sure what 2009's format will look like (it seems it will all be played on one day), but it should be a unique experience.
  • Patrick Murphy likes to take the Tide on the road in Alabama to give other small schools an attendance boost and an opportunity to see Bama away from Tuscaloosa, and he's doing it in a tournament format at South Alabama. Neat idea. Memphis and South Alabama shouldn't provide to much of a test for Bama, but that's the idea.
Meanwhile, I've caught a few innings here and there of the United States Olympic team. We all knew how good Team USA was, but I really thought some of the other countries would start to catch up. Not so much. I watched about half of the Venezuela vs. USA game, and found it interesting that Venezuela's roster was in large part filled out by JUCO athletes from Iowa, Alabama and other states, and those were their better athletes.

I, like everyone else, would prefer softball remain in the Olympics (it is being removed in 2012.) That being said, you can understand at least to an extent why it's being removed. It's not so much that Team USA is so dominant, it's more a case of the other teams simply don't perform at an elite level. I'll put it this way. I think Alabama's softball team would beat almost every team there, with the exception of Team USA, and maybe Canada, Australia and China. Honestly. Should I be able to say with such confidence that a college team will beat a national team? Therein lies the problem. Team USA has done everything right. They've got the best players in the world to play. The problem is the other countries don't have those players, and that's primarily because softball isn't as popular in other countries.

If softball is to return to the Olympics, the international popularity of the game must increase.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Incoming Freshmen

As most people know, recruiting is an inexact science. Sometimes you get lucky and land an eventual All-American, sometimes you get role players, and other times, it just doesn't work out. If anyone has a good track record for recruiting, it's Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy. Since he took over the program in its third year his teams have made the NCAA tournament each year. Lately, it's been even better, with the school's first "Final Four" appearance in its history.

It's hard to preview freshmen because of varying levels of competition at the high school level. That being said, most players who are recruited at the high division one level are playing summer ball tournaments, and it's there that many coaches get their best glimpse of possible recruits.

Alabama has five incoming freshmen this coming year. They are:

Cassandra Reilly-Boccia, New York
Kendall Dawson, Florida
Jazlyn Lunceford (Tuscaloosa County)
Jennifer Fenton, Georgia
Olivia Gibson (Tuscaloosa Academy)

The five freshmen form a large incoming class. A few thoughts:

  • Two products from the Tuscaloosa area make up part of the class. Alabama has already had a good history of turning local products into great division one players. Mandy Burford recently graduated with a great resume, and Vestavia Hills graduate Whitney Larsen put together a fantastic freshman season last year. It's clear that the state of Alabama is able to produce high class softball players. Some may assume Alabama has to go far and wide to find recruits... that's not always the case.

  • This class has a little bit of everything. Reilly-Boccia is Alabama's first ever recruit from the state of New York, and she provides a power bat. Her swing will remind many of Charlotte Morgan's. In her senior year, she blasted eight home runs and slugged to the tune of .923. Gibson provides a great on-base threat. She nearly hit .600 last year for Tuscaloosa Academy. Dawson provides speed, and Lunceford had great all-around numbers last year for County High, batting .493 with six home runs, and perhaps most impressively, 21 doubles. That's an awful lot of doubles.

  • Power, speed, on-base. This signing class fits the perfect blueprint of Murphy-ball. Murphy has always liked girls who can get on base, hit the ball hard (and far) and can steal a base. This class has everything he wants, and perhaps more.

  • This class replaces what Alabama loses in Jordan Praytor, Dani Woods and Katie Johnson. Woods and Praytor both put up OBP's over .420 last year, and OBP is often the hardest area to fill. All of Murphy's recruits this year are more than capable of doing just that.

  • While no pitchers are included in this class, it's not a huge priority this year. Dunne and Morgan pitched about 75% of Alabama's innings last year, and it's not unreasonable to believe Morgan will take on an increased workload. On top of that, you have redshirt freshman Amanda Locke available to throw innings this year.
I'm aware of no publication which ranks classes nationally, so it's hard to say where Alabama's "ranks." However, this class completely answers Alabama's most pressing needs. It's easy to give Murphy and his staff an A+ for this class when it so perfectly meets the Tide's needs going forward. Now, all anyone can do is wait and watch for what happens. Needless to say, with the return of most players from last year, and the addition of the newcomers, Alabama will be favored to compete with Florida for the SEC title.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Significant rule change could take place in 2009

Looks like Taryne Mowatt will be leaving her legacy on the NCAA Softball Rule book. Check out this proposed rule change from the NCAA Rules Committee.

From the article:

Next spring, the rules committee wants to see two nine-foot lines painted on the field, beginning within the outer edges of the pitching plate (rubber) that extend toward the inner edges of the batter's boxes.

The new lines will clearly mark the pitcher's lane that is already defined in the rulebook. If the change is approved, instead of an umpire making a judgment call as to whether a pitcher took too wide a stride while delivering the ball, it will be clearly defined.

The Playing Rules Oversight Panel will meet via conference call September 3 to consider the recommendation.

If the pitcher's foot is completely outside the line on her stride, the pitch is illegal. If the batter does not reach first base safely and all other base runners safely advance at least one base, then the offensive team would have the option of taking the results of the play or having the effect of the illegal pitch enforced.

When the offensive team elects to have the result of the illegal pitch, a ball is called on the batter and any base runners advance one base.

My thoughts? Good. It's about time the Softball Rules Committee tried to actually enforce the rules. It may not look all that aesthetically pleasing, but the intent is important here. Pitchers gain a ridiculous advantage when they slide their foot completely outside of the pitching lane, because when they do, the angle of the pitch changes significantly. I applaud the Rules Committee for making the umpires do their job.

I understand that umpires have a hard time watching both the pitcher's lane and calling balls and strikes... at least that's the most common excuse I've heard. Why you can't watch the foot of a pitcher before she throws is beyond me. You're not calling a ball or a strike when she releases the pitch after all.

This quote caught my eye: "This has been on our radar for a while," said Dee Abrahamson, NCAA secretary-rules editor for softball. "It will be a visual cue for the pitcher to know where she is allowed to step. It's better for the umpire because he or she has a visual aid to help with the rule."

Well, maybe it's been on your "radar" for awhile, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which pitcher was breaking the rules on a game by game basis and getting away with it. It was on fans, coaches' and player's radar for most of last year, if not before. Remember Charlotte Morgan's long home run against Taryne Mowatt in the WCWS? She did that despite another no-call illegal pitch from Mowatt...

Abrahamson explains the advantage gained by hopping out of the lane nicely: "When you throw a curveball or a screwball, the more you can get your hips out of the way the more spin you can get on the ball. We've always said you have to go forward within the imaginary lines. Now, we're giving you a visual indication of where those lines are."

Again, it may not look all that nice on the field, but if it causes the rules to be enforced, I'm all for it. Maybe after a few years umpires will be able to make the call without the "training wheels" and they can remove the lines again. I for one, hope the rule change passes, at least for a year.

Monday, July 21, 2008

USA Softball Olympic announcers will call the games from New York

This isn't unprecedented by any means, but it's still a little disheartening. According to the Chicago Tribune, softball is one of ten sports than NBC will not send commentators to Beijing for. Instead, the team including Joe Castellano and Michelle Smith will call the games from New York. In other words, they'll be watching on a series of television monitors and call the action from a studio instead of on location.

First off, kudos to NBC for hiring Castellano to do the play-by-play work. I've listened to him plenty of times, and one of his more popular gigs is his hosting of XM Radio's MLB Live - Late Edition. He's called softball before, calls the games well, and knows the sport. Smith adds a Olympic name to the booth, and is a logical choice. Some may not prefer her style of comparing everything in the game to her personal experience, but it's what NBC hire's her to do in some sense of the word.

Now, the part I don't like. Calling the games from New York is a tad silly in my opinion. Yes, it saves money. But my goodness, NBC is already sending over 2,000 staff members to Beijing. Are a few more commentators really going to kill the bottom line all that much? I suppose when you factor in flights, lodgings and maybe even food it can add up. However, it's just not genuine. If they're calling the games from New York, you might as well commentate the game yourself. They aren't there, they can't talk to the coaches and players before the game easily to gather information, and they won't be a part of that atmosphere. Just a bit dissapointing, especially given the fact that softball has a growing and loyal fanbase.

NBC's senior director of corporate communications, Brian Walker, claims that it's not a budget issue. He said, "This is part of a mandate from the IOC to reduce strain on the host city by bringing fewer people." Really? How is it that the commentators of your events are the most expendable? That seems a bit odd. And if that's truly the case, the IOC seriously needs to think about what they're saying to NBC. Their coverage is truly extensive, and if they are limiting that coverage by telling NBC they can't bring all their people, that's a bit silly.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What do you think?

Found a website that is supposed to tell you how much your blog is worth... our blog returned the following results...

My blog is worth $2,822.70.
How much is your blog worth?

Almost $3,000? Wow. Wouldn't have guessed it. That's a testament to the amount of traffic you the readers have given the blog this year.

As most of you know, I will not be behind the microphone next year for Alabama softball. WVUA-FM is currently in the process of definitively creating a plan for who will be continuing the broadcasts next year. Be assured, Bama softball will still be on the air, it will simply be another play-by-play voice. Once I know something more definitive, I'll let you know here. I also assume they'll continue to update the blog, as I'll hand it over to them when the new season draws closer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Softball Returns Soon

When the Women's College World Series ends in June, it's often the start of a long off-season for softball fans. Yes, the National Pro Fastpitch league starts soon after, but let's be honest. Most fans of softball are more adamant about NCAA softball than they are NPF teams. For starters, there's only eight pro teams, as opposed to hundreds of D-1 teams at the local level. Furthermore, it's hard to follow the NPF given that only a few games are aired on the likes of FOX Sports.

However, it's always fun to watch the USA Olympic Team. Almost every player is remembered for fantastic collegiate careers, and they truly are the closest the United States has to a real "Dream Team" in the like of the old USA Basketball teams.

The United States schedule has been released. The bad part? Most games start around 11:00 PM central time. (Remember, the Olympics are located around the world this year in Beijing, China.) Here is the schedule as released by USA Softball. I've also included the TV coverage that I could find for it... I had to pull it from the master schedule, but I figured to have the softball games in a convenient spot would be easier for everyone.

Tuesday, August 12

USA vs. Venezuela - Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD

Wednesday, August 13

USA vs. Australia – Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD

Thursday, August 14

USA vs. Canada – Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD

Friday, August 15

USA vs. Japan – Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD

Saturday, August 16

USA vs. Chinese Taipei – Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD

Sunday, August 17

USA vs. Netherlands – 7:30 p.m. Local - (7:30 a.m. EST) TV: MSNBC

Monday, August 18

USA vs. China - Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD

Tuesday, August 19 – OFF DAY

Wednesday, August 20 - Playoffs

GM1: Seed 1 vs. Seed 2 – 9:30 a.m. Local - (9:30 p.m. EST)

GM2: Seed 3 vs. Seed 4 – Noon Local - (12 a.m. EST) TV: CNBC and CNBC HD
GM3: Loser of GM1 vs. Winner of GM2 – 5 p.m. Local (5 a.m. EST)

Thursday, August 21 – Grand Final Game – 6:30 p.m. - (6:30 a.m. EST) TV: USA and USA HD

A few thoughts:
  • You've got to love the Olympics. Even if you're not a softball fan, there's all kinds of sports to watch and follow. Remember above when I said I pulled the TV schedule from the master schedule? The .pdf file that NBC Sports released with their completele schedule this summer is 66 pages long. Want to see the whole schedule? Here it is. I wouldn't advise opening that page on a slow computer though... it may destroy it. Honestly, that file is HUGE.
  • Team USA will play seven games in seven days. That's a lot of games. While every team there has to go through it, that's a grueling stretch of games.
  • Don't expect the Olympics to be a cake walk for Team USA this year. While Team USA has won three straight gold medals, this is the last year softball will be included in the Summer Games. Everyone there wants to win the last one. Watch out for Australia, who has won silver and twice won bronze in the past, and Canada as well, who always seems to play the United States close. Team USA beat Canada 9-5 on June 7th, but trailed as late as the 6th inning.
  • The day before USA beat Canada 9-5, they barely beat Team NPF 10-8. Is the pitching a source of concern? Perhaps. Remember, Team USA is only carrying three pitchers this year. Cat Osterman is just two years removed from NCAA softball, and Monica Abbott is only a year removed. Finch has the most game experience, but she may not have the same stuff she did in her absolute prime. The offense will most likely score runs, but if the pitcher's run into trouble, their depth is limited. There's no Lisa Fernandez this year.
  • For those fans who want to watch even more softball, is offering live streaming of EVERY Olympic softball game. Pretty cool.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Clint Myers: New baseball coach at ASU?

Just a few weeks removed from Arizona State's first national championship in softball, speculation is rising that their head coach may be in line to take over the reigns of their beleaguered baseball program. East Valley Tribune columnist Scott Bordow seems to think it's a real possibility... here's his column.

Current ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy (that's not a typo, his name is indeed Pat Murphy) has come under fire this season for allegedly committing NCAA infractions for recruiting and also helping student-athletes commit academic fraud. An internal investigation has been ongoing this season by the athletic department at Arizona State.

Now, the latest oddities arose before Arizona State's Super Regional game against Fresno State. As starting lineups were being announced, two good friends on the team scuffled publicly on the field. ESPN's cameras were there to catch it all, and ESPN, along with everyone else watching, was dumbfounded. I myself caught the scuffle on Sportscenter, and the anchors understandably reported that it was a fight amongst teammates. (If you didn't see the video, check it out here.) Only later did Pat Murphy say, "It was fun. Most everyone around us knew it was a joke." OK, that's fine, except you aren't the only one at the stadium. There's another team on the opposite baseline who can't believe their eyes, and fans in the seats, your own fans in fact, that think they are seeing their team fall apart. Murphy went on to claim it was a tactic to try and loosen up the team... fighting, fake or not, loosens up the team? Good grief.

Needless to say, it's an embarrassing situation. Pat Murphy has had immense success at ASU, but he is quickly falling out of favor with the administration for lack of control over his program and his latest silly decision to stage or allow the "fake fight." Clint Myers on the other hand is at the top of his sport. Three years into his reign as the head of the ASU softball program, he's given them a national championship. He's led a team to a JUCO baseball national title before, and many think he could make the jump back to baseball if Murphy gets the hook.

Will it happen? Probably not. Murphy has three years left on his contract and almost $900,000 owed to him. But if it does, it would create a huge opening on the coaching market. What's more, there are rumors already flying that Mike Candrea may step aside at Arizona. It's a possibility that the national landscape of softball could change in one off-season due to coaching changes.