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What We Learned: Taryn Kern Chases Legends, Maddie Penta Dominates, Julia Cottrill Slugs

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After a weekend of watching and covering college softball, D1Softball’s Graham Hays, Rhiannon Potkey and Brady Vernon share the players, teams, trends and stories that caught their eye.

Jump to: Maddie Penta leads Auburn | Kentucky’s ace returns | UCF’s not-so-secret weapon | Julia Cottrill powers Texas A&M | The NCAA seed you don’t want | Arizona State overachieves

Graham Hays

We’re going to get to see Taryn Kern in the postseason. And that’s something the entire sport should be celebrating. Kern’s freshman season is otherworldly. After briefly relinquishing the lead in the national home run race over the weekend, she reclaimed it while becoming the first visiting player to hit two home runs in one game in the newly-rechristened Carol Hutchins Stadium in Ann Arbor. In Indiana’s sweep, she went 5-for-11 with five RBIs and three extra-base hits. She’s tied for the NCAA lead with 21 home runs. And you read that right, Indiana swept Michigan in Ann Arbor. That hints at the tough times (by Wolverines standards) for the home team, but it’s also an exclamation point on Indiana’s revival. The Hoosiers now have a postseason resume that, assuming they avoid disaster next weekend at home against cellar dweller Michigan State, should guarantee regional participation. And that means a bigger stage for a freshman whose line stacks up remarkably well with one of the best freshman seasons.

After 52 gamesYearBAOBPSLGHRRBI
Lauren Chamberlain2012.372.460.8662563
Taryn Kern2023.423.595.9922162

Alabama is truly the land of aces. It’s not the most revelatory insight to suggest Alabama is a different team with Montana Fouts in the circle. This weekend’s series against LSU is just the latest example. The Tide won two brilliant shutouts by Fouts (who improved to 20-8 by striking out 15 and allowing seven hits across 14 innings over senior weekend) and lost the middle game, . But that got me thinking about how Alabama with and without Fouts compares to other contenders with and without aces. The Jekyll and Hyde effect, so to speak. Below is a look at the Tide and the teams that ranked ahead of them in last week’s D1Softball Top 25.

For our purposes, ace is defined as the pitcher with the most innings. This isn’t a perfect fit for some teams, Duke most of all (Cassidy Curd has been darn impressive in splitting innings with the ever-reliable Jala Wright). Auburn’s numbers are slightly skewed by a handful of really difficult outings for pitchers who aren’t part of Mickey Dean’s first three options, but it’s still interesting to see Alabama isn’t even the most ace-dependent staff in Alabama.

TeamAce ERAAceRest of staffGap
Auburn0.96 Maddie Penta3.382.42
Georgia1.30 Shelby Walters2.851.55
Washington2.11 Ruby Meylan3.291.18
Alabama1.43 Montana Fouts2.471.04
Tennessee0.82 Ashley Rogers1.881.02
Florida St.1.17 Kat Sandercock2.010.84
UCLA1.14 Megan Faraimo1.880.74
Arkansas1.81 Chenise Delce2.480.67
Oklahoma St.1.47 Kelly Maxwell2.120.65
LSU1.60 Sydney Berzon2.160.56
Texas1.74 Mac Morgan2.100.36
Clemson1.22 Valerie Cagle1.460.24
Stanford1.71 Alana Vawter1.37-0.34
Oklahoma1.12 Jordy Bahl0.63-0.49
Duke2.50 Jala Wright1.95-0.55

Claire Timm provides Oklahoma State’s silver lining. Oklahoma State’s visit to Texas Tech didn’t get the train completely back on track, but it cleaned up the mess of the recent derailment. Yes, the Cowgirls dropped the middle game to the Red Raiders in Lubbock. which all but ensures they will finish behind Texas in third place (a strong probability anyway). But it was hardly another lost weekend. First, Oklahoma State’s resume remains remarkably resilient when it comes to earning a top eight seed in the NCAA tournament. The RPI doesn’t care how bad you look losing (and there’s scarce little evidence to suggest the selection committee does to a much greater degree). And the numbers say Oklahoma State still has double-digit wins and a winning record against the RPI top 25 and a 19-3 record against the rest of the top 100. Second, while the offense couldn’t solve Kendall Fritz in the middle game of the series, it did produce 12 extra-base hits in the two wins. The way things have been going, it wasn’t clear they would have that many extra-base hits the rest of the season. And lastly, but most intriguingly, Kenny Gajewski rolled the dice with freshman Claire Timm and has to like the results. Timm went 3-for-8 in three starts, and all three of the hits went for extra bases. Gajewski spoke very positively about Timm’s potential in the fall, and any spark is a good spark right about now.

Bedlam will be special, but there’s no better series next week than Boston University and Lehigh. The Patriot League is the place to be in the final week of the regular season. By sweeping their respective series this past weekend, Boston University and Lehigh remained tied atop the conference standings with matching 15-0 records. No one else could beat them, but one of them is about to lose at least twice. And not only will the upcoming series in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, settle the regular season title—it comes with massive postseason implications. We don’t yet know where the Patriot League tournament will take place because it’s one of the few tournaments hosted by the regular season champion (only four teams qualify). We know both the Mountain Hawks (who beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa) and the Terriers (who beat Baylor on a neutral field this year and Georgia in Athens last year) can be giant killers. But while Boston University still has some small NCAA at-large hopes, it’s going to be a stretch to get multiple bids out of the Patriot League. That makes Bethlehem the place to be this week.

Minnesota is on the move. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. An ace going on an otherworldly run through April and into May? A Minnesota team surging toward the top of the Big Ten, just in time for postseason? Even on a weekend that saw Northwestern clinch a share of the regular season title and Indiana sweep Michigan, Minnesota’s demolition of Ohio State in Columbus jumps off the page. Then again, the way things have been going, the biggest surprise might be that the Buckeyes managed so much as a run in two looks at Autumn Pease. After seeing a scoreless inning streak of nearly 40 innings come to an end Friday on a meaningless run in a 7-1 win, Pease responded by throwing a three-hit shutout to complete the sweep. Since ending up on the wrong side of Kern and the Hoosiers on April 7, she’s allowed two earned runs in 50 innings—striking out 62 and walking just six in that span. And the lineup has followed her lead, improving its average and slugging percentage in conference play. Is this 2019 all over again? Maybe that’s getting a little ahead of the story, but May could be a long month for the Gophers—in the absolute best sense of the phrase. 

More conferences should follow the Big Sky model. The Patriot League model of having the regular season champion host the conference tournament is great, but it’s admittedly logistically difficult in larger tournaments or more geographically disparate conferences to determine hosts on such short notice. The Big Sky offers a great alternative. Idaho State’s surprising road sweep at Sacramento State this weekend means the league’s regular season title race remains undecided entering the final week. That also means we still don’t know the host of next year’s conference tournament. Each season’s regular season champion hosts the following season’s tournament, a true reward for winning a regular season title. Meanwhile, tip of the cap to Idaho State junior Jordan Schuring. She allowed one earned run in 15.2 innings against Sacramento State over the weekend, winning two complete games and earning a save in the middle game. The Hornets, who still need one win to clinch, had just one league loss entering the weekend.

It’s a good time of year to celebrate the rest of the country. To absolutely no sentient being’s surprise, Oklahoma and UCLA clinched conference titles with time to spare this past weekend, the Sooners in memorable fashion in a combined no-hitter. But before we get to more deserved hosannas for the Sooners and Bruins, a quick word on the team that beat both of them to clinching. Prairie View A&M swept Southern over the weekend, outscoring the Jaguars 24-3 in Baton Rouge, but that was the victory lap. Now 22-1 in the SWAC, Prairie View clinched the best record across both divisions a week ago. You might remember that Prairie View started the 2022 season by losing its first 19 games, then went on to win the SWAC tournament and reach an NCAA regional. In fact, since that 0-19 start, the program is 46-28.

Rhiannon Potkey

Oklahoma’s Patty Gasso is dreaming big. After her team swept Kansas to clinch the Big 12 Conference title outright, Gasso mentioned the news this week about the Nebraska women’s volleyball team already selling 82,900 tickets to play a match in August in Memorial Stadium. The game at the university’s football stadium would blow away the single-match attendance record for volleyball. “So you know what my next conversation with Joe Castiglione is going to be,” Gasso said, referring to the OU athletic director. Oklahoma’s own Memorial Stadium seats 80,126. Given the rise in women’s sports attendance overall, it would be easy to see a softball game between major programs attracting that many fans to watch the Sooners. We’ve seen many football bowl games held in baseball stadiums. But a softball game held in a football stadium? Sign me up.

Maddie Penta continues to deliver for the Tigers. Penta has emerged as the clear-cut ace for Auburn over the past two seasons. The junior is growing stronger as the season progresses. Penta added to sterling closing stretch on Sunday by throwing Auburn’s first no-hitter in SEC play since 2006 as the Tigers run-ruled South Carolina 10-0 in five innings to win the series. Penta recorded both wins in the series, and the no-hitter was her fourth individual no-hit outing of her career. The SEC wins leader improved to 23-5, which is tied for sixth most wins in a single-season by an Auburn pitcher. The complete game was Penta’s seventh shutout of the year, which is tied for fourth in Auburn single-season history. Five of her seven shutouts have come in SEC play. Penta’s performance moved the Tiger pitching staff into sole possession for the third most shutouts thrown in a season with 21. In the series opener on Friday, Penta struck out 10 batters for her ninth double-digit strikeout game in 2023. Penta finished with nine strikeouts on Sunday, and there is no doubt she would have had another double-digit game if the game went another inning or two. Penta hasn’t allowed more than a run in her last five starts. For the season, she has an ERA of 0.96 with 261 strikeouts and 36 walks in 182.0 innings. She is only nine strikeouts away from eclipsing last year’s total, which she set in 195.0 IP. Penta had only five shoutouts combined in her first two seasons and is one complete game away from tying last season’s total in six less starts..

Troyan, Hesse reached the 900-win milestone on the same day. Winning 900 games is a worthy feat to be celebrated at any level of coaching. What are the odds of two Division I coaches reaching the milestone within hours of each other in midweek games? Lehigh’s Fran Troyan and Missouri State’s Holly Hesse did just that last Wednesday. Lehigh beat St. Joseph’s 13-3 to help Troyan improve to 900-502-7 in his 28 seasons with the program. Troyan came to Lehigh as an assistant coach to his wife, Sue, in 1990 and became the head coach prior to the 1996 season. Missouri State beat Southern Illinois 4-3 to secure an undefeated home season and improve Hesse’s career record to 900-853-2 in 35 seasons with the Bears. Hesse, a former standout pitcher at Creighton, helped lead the Blue Jays to three straight Women’s College World Series appearances, including the inaugural WCWS in 1982, before entering the coaching profession.

  • How about three coaches reaching the 900 win club in the same week? Clemson made sure that happened by beating Virginia Tech on Sunday to avoid the series sweep. It vaulted head coach John Rittman to 900 career wins as he improved to 900-392-3 in 44 seasons. Rittman is 150-41 as the inaugural coach of the Clemson program. He became the 44th collegiate softball coach to reach the 900-win benchmark.

UCF found a perfect answer to preseason pitching questions. We are talking about UCF pitcher Sarah Willis. The junior transfer has improved with every start this season and achieved perfection on Friday night in the series opener against Houston. Willis threw the first seven-inning perfect game in UCF history, and only the third ever, to lead the Knights to a 7-0 win. Willis joined Pysha Simmons and Taylor Sawyer in UCF’s exclusive club, with the first two both coming in run rule fashion in 24-0 and 11-0 victories over Morris Brown (Feb. 2, 2003) and Bucknell (March 13, 2003), respectively. Willis lowered her ERA to 1.81, including an AAC-leading 0.78 ERA in conference play. In her last 21 appearances (15 starts), Willis has a 1.03 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 32 walks while limiting opponents to a .158 average.

Virginia trending in the wrong direction. Just a few weeks ago, Virginia seemed on track to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. But the Cavaliers have seen their chances plummet since. UVA was swept by Syracuse this weekend. It’s the second straight ACC series sweep the Hoos have suffered and their fourth straight series loss overall. Virginia entered the season with high hopes after a breakout 2022 season, when the UVA won 28 games – the most since 2010 – and finished above .500 for the first time since 2012. Although UVA has still improved with a 29-21 record so far this season, this recent stretch of play can’t bring much satisfaction to a program now possessing higher expectations. 

Schoonover’s makes her return. Kentucky just needs more. Stephanie Schoonover returned to the circle for Kentucky last week after a month’s absence because of a forearm injury. The Wildcats ace showed what they missed. They just hope Schoonover can provide more as she gradually builds her innings. Schoonover made her first appearance since March 26th when Kentucky run-ruled Eastern Kentucky last Wednesday. She threw 2.0 innings, giving up two hits and one run. In her first SEC start in more than a month, Schoonover gave up three hits and two runs in 2.1 innings on Saturday before being replaced with Kentucky leading 5-2. The next three pitchers combined to give up nine earned runs as the Bulldogs scored 10 straight for a 12-6 win before the game was called after six innings because of weather. 

  • Mississippi State broke its 14-game losing streak in a big way against Kentucky. Not only did the Bulldogs sweep the series, they hit 10 home runs, which is the program’s most ever in an SEC series.
  • Speaking of ending long conference losing streaks, Arizona did the same by beating Oregon State 6-3 on Saturday night to snap a 14-game Pac-12 losing streak. It was the longest conference losing streak in the program’s illustrious history. The Wildcats won the series with a win on Sunday, their first since opening Pac-12 play with a series victory over rival Arizona State in March.

Michigan State is working on a solution for field flooding. The Michigan State softball field was flooded earlier this season when the Red Cedar River spilled over its banks, and two Big Ten Conference games had to be moved 35 miles away. In 2017, the Spartans scheduled home game against Michigan had to be played in Ann Arbor and conference home series against Penn State and Illinois were moved to Eastern Michigan and Davenport, respectively. MSU athletic director Allan Haller told the Lansing State Journal last week that he is committed to addressing the problem. “I mean, I get it. It’s a flood plain,” Haller told LSJ’s Graham Couch. “You can’t really move a floodplain. But I do think over decades of having the same issue, we should be able to look at it and say, ‘Well, let’s do something.’ … It’s on my plate now. It’s on our clock.” According to Couch, Haller called first-year MSU softball coach Sharonda McDonald-Kelley to apologize. “He told the players, there’s going to be a plan for this,” McDonald-Kelley said.

Brady Vernon 

Julia Cottrill fuels the Texas A&M offense. North Texas didn’t have many answers for D1Softball Pitcher of the Week Laurin Krings last week. However, Cottrill had them all against the Missouri ace. In Friday’s series opener, she homered twice off of Krings. The Aggies catcher didn’t get a long ball before her team pushed Krings out Sunday, but she still homered twice in the 11-4 win. Her three-run blast capped a seven-run frame. Texas A&M is 9-1 when Cottrill drives in two or more runs this season. Cottrill leads the team in batting average by a good margin and is the only hitter who has at least 10 doubles and 10 home runs. When Cottrill missed the Ode to Joy Invitational, Texas A&M averaged two runs per game. If you’re wondering what the lineup looked like without her. 

Do you really want to host a regional? If the the selection committee had to make the bracket tomorrow, I’d feel comfortable picking—more on that later in the week—15 teams that would host. The last one would be a battle between Clemson, Oregon and Wichita State. But is it even worth it? Sure, the chances of making a super regional are greater if you host. However, you’d be signing up for your road to Oklahoma City to run through Norman and the presumably top-seeded Sooners. Texas looked upset on Selection Sunday last season, but the Longhorns probably preferred facing the Sooners in the Women’s College World Series finals ,as opposed to seeing them in a super. Hosting a regional is a great reward, but it’s not everything, as we learned last year. Clemson, despite recent struggles, is one of the best 16 teams in the nation. But are the Tigers’ chances to make their first WCWS better by hosting a regional and then traveling to Oklahoma or heading to, say, Alabama’s regional and then trying to win a super regional on the road like last season? It’s quite the interesting case when it comes to the No. 16 seed. 

We should applaud Megan Bartlett. Arizona State will need to either win the Pac-12 tournament or at least make quite the run to make the NCAA tournament. If they don’t, it’ll be the first time since 2004, and that’s OK. Bartlett should have never had first-year expectations—she took over a team that had eight players on the roster. Nevertheless, her team fights and still has a fighting chance to make the postseason. The Sun Devils were in a good spot against a lot of quality teams this year and a lot of the time the ball didn’t bounce their way. A 1-0 loss in a pitcher’s duel to Kelly Maxwell in Stillwater. Three straight sweeps to the hands of Oregon, UCLA and Stanford, in which the majority were close games. Bartlett pieced the roster together to make a competitive Power 5 team and there should be reason for optimism in Tempe. 

Taylor Roby is having an All-American year. The two-way, first-team nod is going to go to Valerie Cagle, that’s not a debate. What about the second team spot? Taylor Roby is going to have quite the case. The graduate student is tied for the nation’s lead in home runs (21) and has helped thrust the Cardinals into the rankings and postseaosn picture. She also leads the team in walks and RBI. Oh, and she’s thrown 100-plus innings with 10 wins and a 2.26 ERA. It’s hard to imagine where Louisville would be without her.


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