2017 was a wild year with many headlines around the sport of softball both on and off the field. From incredible accomplishments on the field to off-field controversy. 2017 had it all. Here are some of the top stories of 2017.
Just Missed The Top 10 - Atlee Junior Little League Team DQ'd for Inappropriate Snap Chat Photo
On an episode of “In the Circle” we spoke with David M. Lawrence, Sports Editor of the Richmond (VA) Suburban News. Lawerence discussed the controversy surrounding the Atlee Little League’s Junior softball team that was disqualified from its World Series championship match-up over what officials said was an inappropriate social media post. August 7th edition of In The Circle on Fastpitch News.
Just Missed The Top 10 - Texas Charge Fold from NPF
Just missing the top ten list is the Texas Charge. The Charge was one of six teams that competed in the National Pro Fastpitch league in 2017. They will not be playing 2018 as they have since folded. The Charge had been the league’s fourth-longest tenured franchise. The Charge’s dissolution marks the second time in as many years that the NPF has seen the exit of a league franchise, following the Pennsylvania Rebellion’s departure before the 2017 season.
No. 10: LSU-Eunice Wins D2 JUCO National Title in Walk-Off Fashion
LSU Eunice (LA) used a walk-off squeeze bunt to down No 1 Jones County (MS) 8-7 to win the 2017 NJCAA Division II Softball Championship.
LSU Eunice trailed 7-5 entering the bottom of the sixth inning. The Bengals notched in the sixth inning to cut the deficit 7-6 and then knocked in the final two scores of the game to capture its fifth national championship in program history. You can watch entire game right here.
No. 9: Kevin Blaskowski Steps Down as Head Coach of West Texas A&M
Kevin Blaskowski restarted the Lady Buff softball program in 2006 after a 24-year absence. Blaskowski took the Lady Buffs program to national prominence step down in fall in a move that surprised many in DII.
Blaskowski led the Lady Buffs to five Lone Star Conference Championships, eight-straight NCAA postseason appearances, two College World Series berths including winning the 2014 NCAA Division II NCAA National Championship.
No. 8: Virginia Wesleyan Sets DIII Record with 54 wins. Wins National Title
Virginia Wesleyan set a DIII Record with 54 wins and would go on to Win the National Title in Oklahoma City, OK defeating St. John Fisher. They were led by National Freshman of the year in pitcher Hannah Hull.
No. 7: Minnesota State wins first NCAA DII National Title
Minnesota State sweeps Angelo State to win the program’s first National Championship. Coley Ries started both games on the mound for the Mavericks, tossing two complete games and striking out 25 batters.
No. 6: USA Junior National Team wins Junior World Championships in Clearwater, FL
The USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team became back-to-back World Champions after defeating Japan 13-4 to take home the Gold Medal at the 2017 World Baseball Softball Confederation’s Junior Women’s World Championship. The U.S blasted three home runs in the win and were led by Bubba Nickles who broke World Championship Records with six Home Runs and 30 RBIs in the Tournament.
Tied No. 5: Scrap Yard Dawgs win 2017 NPF Title
Led by Monica Abbott, The Scrap Yard Dawgs won the franchises first NPF Title knocking off the USSSA Pride. The Dawgs dropped the first game of the series before winning the last two games in one day to take the series in three games.
Abbott shutout the Pride 2-0 to even the series. In Game three Kasey Cooper’s two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning provided Abbott with the necessary run support to secure a 5-2 comeback win that clinched the title for Scrap Yard Dawgs. This was just their second season in the NPF. Abbott’s final line for the day: 14 innings pitched, one earned run and 25 strikeouts.
Tied No. 5: Minnesota Get's Snubbed by NCAA & Allister Leaves Minnesota for Stanford
Despite going 54-3 during the season, winning the Big 10 regular season and conference tournament championships and being ranked No. 2 in the country going into selection Sunday night. The Gophers somehow were left off of being one of the 16 host sites for the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Minnesota was sent to Alabama for the regionals. It was a story that was picked up by the mainstream media that normally does not cover softball trying to understand how this could happen? The committee turned down media requests for interviews instead sending out this statement.
“When the committee compared Minnesota against other teams being considered for the top 16 seeds, Minnesota did not have as many regular-season Top 10 and Top 25 wins as compared to other teams. The teams that were selected as the 16 seeds had at least one or more Top 10 wins and between four to 18 Top 25 wins. Minnesota did not have any Top 10 wins and only two Top 25 wins.
Furthermore, Minnesota’s strength of schedule was 114. The top-seeded teams had strength of schedules ranging from 1 to 36.
Again, this was a very difficult decision and should not take away from the season that Minnesota has had thus far. We are excited about the parity in Division I Softball and look forward to a great tournament. ”
I wrote a blog when it happened calling it a “Black Eye” for the Sport basically showing that the committee got this one wrong and how the numbers did not tell the whole story.
On July 11 Rachel Hanson step down as Stanford Head Coach Little did we know that this move would start one of the wildest off-seasons in recent memory. One week later Jessica Allister was named new Head Coach at Stanford leaving Minnesota as first reported right here by Fastpitch News.
It marked a homecoming for Allister who returns to Stanford where she was a second-team All-American as a catcher in 2004 and helped lead the Cardinal to Women’s College World Series appearances in 2001 and 2004. Allister appeared on ” In The Circle on Fastpitch News” podcast on October 10th to discuss her move.
No. 4: Lisa Fernandez Gets Ejected At WCWS
What is the Obstruction rule? That was the hot topic in Oklahoma City during the Women’s College World Series. With UCLA leading Texas A&M 3-1 in the sixth inning in the elimination game, Bruins outfielder Gabrielle Maurice doubled and subsequently advanced to third on an ill-advised attempted force by the Aggies. She was still there when, with an additional runner on first base, UCLA attempted a delayed double steal in which the runner going to second tried to draw a throw and spend enough time in a rundown to allow a run to score. Maurice broke for home and arrived at the same time as a throw that pulled Texas A&M catcher Ashley Walters into her path.
Maurice was unable to avoid the tag as she dove to one side to avoid Walters and hit her head on the ground as she landed. Both players remained on the ground for some time as the Aggies completed an inning-ending double play. First Inouye-Perez and then Fernandez came out of the dugout to protest the lack of an obstruction call against Walters. Plate umpire Erin Peterson ejected Fernandez when the encounter grew heated, but the UCLA assistant coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist continued to argue aggressively and bumped Peterson before being escorted from the field.
Oddly, UCLA lost two days earlier to LSU when the Tigers were awarded the go-ahead run on an obstruction call. Inconsistency seemed to be a major theme in NCAA Softball in 2017.
UCLA would eliminate Texas A&M but then was eliminated with a 1-0 loss to Washington later that night with Fernandez sitting among fans in the stands after being ejected earlier in the day and, after making contact with an umpire, drawing an immediate two-game suspension. Fernandez will sit out UCLA opener in 2018.
No. 3: Louisiana Fires Michael Lotief
After 16 seasons, Ragin’ Cajuns softball coach Michael Lotief was fired following complaints from students and staff that he subjected “student-athletes and co-workers to violent, vulgar language and verbal and physical assault, creating a hostile learning and working environment,” according to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette officials on November 1st.
Lotief who was placed on Administrative leave since Oct. 6, denied the allegations during a news conference on the same day that he was fired.
In a year that had many impact players transfer to different schools, no program was impacted more than Louisiana who lost a player of the year finalist All-American D.J. Sanders who transferred to Oregon. Joining Sanders in leaving ULL was Aleah Craighton and Alyssa Denham who both transferred to Arizona.
On November 20th, Louisiana hired Gerry Glasco to be the new Head Coach. Glasco appeared on the December 8th edition of “In The Circle on Fastpitch News podcast for his first national interview since taking the job.
No. 2: Oklahoma Goes Back to Back National Champions
For the second straight year, the third time in the last five years and the fourth time overall, the Oklahoma Sooners won the national championship defeating Florida 5-4 in Game two of the championship series to claim the national title.
The Sooners won a classic 17 inning Game one against the Gators in what may go down as not only the game of the year, but maybe the best game ever played at the WCWS.
It was the fourth title for Sooners Head Coach Patty Gasso who would make headlines in the off-season agreeing to contract extention to stay at Oklahoma through 2024. The contract will earn her one million dollars a year which makes her the highest paid coach in the sport and the first coach to approach one million dollars.
Of course, Gasso and the Sooners almost did not even have a chance to play for a fourth national title. Oklahoma lost their regional opener to North Dakota State and had to come out of losers bracket. Following wins over Arkansas and North Dakota State the Sooners had to beat Tulsa twice to advance and found themselves down 4-2 in the bottom of the 10th before the Sooners bats woke up. Sophomores Caleigh Clifton and Sydney Romero powered the Sooners to a walk-off victory behind a pair of two-run home runs in a 6-4, 10-inning win over Tulsa and would go on to beat Tulsa in a winner take all game to win one of the wildest and most memorable regionals ever played.
No. 1: Auburn Turmoil
2017 will be remembered by the turmoil that happened at Auburn during the season and after the season. During the season, the Tigers had to suspend three players for getting arrested on April 20 on charges of marijuana possession, a day ahead of the No. 7 Tigers’ SEC road series at South Carolina.
Shortstop Haley Fagan, starting pitcher Makayla Martin and reserve outfielder Brittany Maresette were arrested on second-degree charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. All three players would miss six games before returning to the field. This was the second incident that Haley Fagan was involved in during the season as on March 27, Fagan got into a postgame incident with Florida Head Coach Tim Walton at the handshake line that made national headlines following Auburn’s win over Florida in the final game of the series.
The off-season headlines started when star catcher Carlee Wallace announced on June 30th that she was leaving Auburn and transferring to Baylor. But no one was prepared for what would happen in the rest of the off-season at Auburn.
On August 23, Auburn Head Coach Clint Myers retired abruptly after we would later find out was a sexual discrimination lawsuit which was filed by an Auburn player regarding his son Cory Myers the assistant coach who resigned a while back amiss rumors of improper behavior with players. “On The August 30th edition of In The Circle on Fastpitch News” Podcast., We spoke with Auburn beat writer James Crepea from AL.com who has been covering and breaking the story on the Auburn softball program to break down the story from both the players and administration’s perspective on the impending allegations as well as the many questions surrounding this story.
On September 14th, Auburn hired Mickey Dean to be the new Head Coach of the Tigers program. How Dean will do with Auburn will be one of the many questions entering 2018. It will be hard to top 2017 in the news department, that is for sure.