SOFTBALL: ASC releases preseason predictions, awards
RICHARDSON, Texas – Texas-Tyler and Mary Hardin-Baylor have been predicted to win 2012 American Southwest Conference softball division titles, it was announced by the league office on Tuesday (Jan. 17) after a vote of each division's head coaches, sports information directors and media members. Texas-Tyler's Joey Cronin, Mississippi College teammates Brooke Smitherman and Kim Mason, Hardin-Simmons' Taylor Namey and Concordia Texas' Teyler Schiefelbein earned preseason individual honors.
The 2012 ASC season – the 14th in league history – begins as early as February 11. The ASC First Pitch Tournament, featuring all 15 league teams and special guest Southwestern (Texas) in cross-divisional, non-conference action, is set for March 2-3 at Oran Good Park in Farmers Branch, Texas. The six-team, double elimination conference tournament is on tap for April 26-28 at a to-be-determined Lewisville, Texas, location with an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Softball Championship on the line.
New head coaches in the league include former ASC student-athlete Kate Bell (LeTourneau), Brad Posner (Texas-Dallas), Mark Rosier (Louisiana College) and Wade Wilson (Texas Lutheran).
Texas-Tyler, which went 40-13 overall and 17-7 in league play last season en route to a third-place finish at the NCAA Division III finals, collected 140 points and 16 of the 21 possible first-place votes in the annual poll to be the division favorite. Head coach Mike Reed's Patriots, who won the 2009 ASC title and have advanced to four straight NCAA tournaments – also including a fifth-place finish in the 2009 NCAA finals, hit a league-high 53 home runs last season.
Defending conference and division champion East Texas Baptist, which went 36-9 overall (17-5 ASC) last year, picked up 127 points and the remaining five first-place votes to be the East's second-place pick. The Lady Tigers, who have won a record six ASC crowns, claimed the national title in 2010. Mississippi College (33-15, 16-8 ASC), which has made the NCAA postseason two straight years, was predicted for a third-place finish after totaling 109 points. UT Tyler, ETBU and MC would be the three teams from the East Division to qualify for the ASC Championship Tournament.
Three-time conference champion Louisiana College (30-12, 15-9 ASC), which advanced to the regional final last season, picked up 79 points to be the fourth-place selection in the East. LeTourneau (63 pts.) was fifth, followed by Texas-Dallas (45 pts.) and Ozarks (25 pts.). First-year ASC member Centenary will compete in the East Division but is ineligible for the conference and division title as it continues to phase out athletic scholarships. The Ladies' games will not count toward conference standings.
Mary Hardin-Baylor, which went 28-14 overall and 21-3 in league play last season to claim its fourth West Division title in five seasons, received 139 points and all but six of the 21 possible first-place votes to be the favorite to repeat. Head coach Larry Hennig's Cru led the league in pitching last season with a 2.23 ERA.
Hardin-Simmons (24-19, 17-7 ASC) was picked for a runner-up finish in the West after totaling 123 points and the remaining six first-place votes. The Cowgirls won back-to-back conference titles in 2006-07. Concordia Texas (24-18, 15-9 ASC) was predicted in the third spot with 107 points. UMHB, HSU and CTX would round out the West's Division's three ASC tournament teams.
Howard Payne was picked fourth in the West with 76 points, followed by Texas Lutheran (61 pts.), Schreiner (54 pts.) and Sul Ross State (28 pts).
Cronin (Celina, TX / CHS), a junior third baseman, and Smitherman (Prattville, AL / PHS), a sophomore first baseman, shared the title of ASC East Division Preseason Player of the Year. Cronin hit .376 with eight home runs, 12 doubles and 41 RBIs last season, while Smitherman batted .448 with 10 homers, 15 doubles and 40 RBIs.
Mason (Lawrenceville, GA / Collins Hill HS), a senior right-hander, was named ASC East Division Preseason Pitcher of the Year after going 13-6 with one save and a 2.21 ERA last year.
Namey (Fort Worth, TX / Northwest HS), a senior catcher, was voted ASC West Division Preseason Player of the Year. She hit .391 with eight home runs, 10 doubles and 34 RBIs in 2010.
Schiefelbein (Houston, TX / Concordia Lutheran), a sophomore left-hander, was named ASC West Division Preseason Pitcher of the Year after going 12-8 with a 2.15 ERA and just 32 walks in 130 innings of work last season.
Cronin, Smitherman, Mason, Namey and Schiefelbein were all first team ASC all-division selections last year. Smitherman earned All-American status by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and Easton.