Softball preason No. 19: Houston

January, 9, 2009
01/09/09
9:22
AM ET
On Friday, we took a look at North Carolina, the first entry in this softball preseason top 20. Moving in chronological order means it's time for No. 19, a number which also served as the title of a song by Paul Hardcastle that was the first rock single I ever purchased. And the fact that not a single player on the team that occupies this spot was alive when the song came out in 1985 doesn't make me feel old. At all. Really.

19. Houston

Last season: 54-11 (lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in Houston super regional)

Preseason talking point: The good news is Houston averaged 5.7 runs per game last season and returns the five most productive hitters in its batting order:

Laurie Wagner (.498 OBP, .826 SLG, 57 RBI)
Jessica Valis (.475 OBP, .539 SLG, 20 SB)
Elaina Nordstrom (.444 OBP, .601 SLG, 52 RBI)
Jennifer Klinkert (.458 OBP, .619 SLG, 55 RBI)
Katie Bush (.444 OBP, 18 SB)

The bad news is, outside of Virginia Tech and possibly the Milwaukee Brewers, you're going to have a tough time finding a team that lost a more valuable ace than the Cougars did when Angel Shamblin matriculated. With just one more win last season, and the spot in Oklahoma City it would have earned, Shamblin might have caught more eyes. As it was, her 36-5 record, 0.94 ERA and 299 strikeouts went gently into that good night of graduation.

What's left is a top-10 offense with questions in the circle that lands them in this spot. Baillie Lott returns after a solid freshman effort (7-3, 2.50 ERA), but the intrigue comes with a trio of newcomers: Oklahoma State transfer Amanda Crabtree, JC transfer Lindsey Olson and freshman Kaela DeBroeck. Olson had a tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratio for Galveston College last season (185 strikeouts, 36 walks in 160 innings) and Crabtree could be a sleeper after a freshman season for the Cowgirls that was marred by control issues as much as anything.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

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