Friday, March 5, 2010
Mineau leads Fordham on five-game streak
CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. -- Will one of softball's best-kept pitching secrets once again call the Atlantic 10 home?
Brandice Balschmiter has moved on after a standout career at Massachusetts (although sophomore Sara Plourde is off to a strong start in her place for the Minutewomen), but the A-10 still had strong representation in Cathedral City. In what might have been the best pitching performance of the tournament, Fordham sophomore Jen Mineau opened her team's five-game run by striking out 15 in a shutout win against Texas A&M.
The Rams also beat Oregon State and UNLV to leave the weekend with three wins and a 6-3 record overall. In the three wins in California, Mineau struck out 39 batters in 21 innings and surrendered just 11 hits and one earned run (she also pitched limited innings in losses against Cal and San Diego State, with only the Bears doing much damage). For the season, she has 75 strikeouts in just 39 innings.
So outstanding though the Texas A&M performance was, it was also business as usual in some ways. And while she's not Balschmiter just yet, Mineau is on the rise.
"Pretty much this season, that's just how she's been," Fordham coach Bridget Orchard said, noting the work Mineau had put in during conditioning and weight training. "We kind of knew that coming in -- when she was working out in our offseason, she was throwing like that. Her ball's really just been hopping and moving. So we really kind of expected it almost out her. We weren't surprised. I think a lot of people of were surprised at a lot of her strikeouts, but that's the way she's been throwing. This season she's really been able to get the ball moving and keep batters off balance."
Mineau should get a couple of more shots at big-time offenses, most notably against George Tech next weekend but also against Florida Gulf Coast this weekend. And with Massachusetts scheduled to come to Fordham the first weekend in April (the conference tournament will be in Amherst, Mass. this season), the A-10 race should have more drama than it did during most of Balschmiter's reign.
One key will be what kind of run support the Rams can provide for Mineau. Given the quality of competition, scoring 14 runs in five games in Cathedral City isn't bad. But the only team in the A-10 other than Massachusetts to slug better than .400 last season. Fordham still finished a distant second to the Minutewomen in the category.
Even there, Mineau's improvement from good to ace might have some spillover effect.
"We play great behind her as well," Orchard said. "And I think we hit when she's pitching -- we hit a lot better because I think we know if we can get her a run, one or two runs, we're going to win a ball game."
I didn't see perhaps the most dramatic moment of the Cathedral City Classic, but even from two fields over, I heard the reaction.
With Ohio State trailing 7-3 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning against Oregon State (the Buckeyes had trailed 7-2 to begin the inning), sophomore Alicia Herron tied the game with a grand slam that elicited a roar heard around the complex. An inning later, Leah Ledford's RBI single provided the eventual winning margin.
That comeback, coincidentally against the only team Ohio State played all weekend that hadn't received votes in the previous week's Top 25, seemed to provide a pivot point for the Buckeyes. Instead of standing at 1-2 in their first three games and winless for the day after an earlier loss to Tennessee, they took the momentum and closed their stay in the desert by beating Cal State Fullerton and UCLA the next day.
If the previous week's three losses against Alabama suggested Ohio State had some work to do to recapture the magic of last year's run to within two games of the Women's College World Series, the games in Cathedral City suggested it can be done.
It's all part of the juggling act for a team looking to build on last season's success without living in it.
"That's so tough because every season is its own season; it's a whole new world," Ohio State coach Linda Kalafatis said. "And yet you want to take in the lessons that you learned, the experiences that you learned. We're old enough, we've got enough returners, that we can use [the super regional appearance], I think, in a positive way without comparing."
While Ohio State is battling some injury issues at the moment, knee injuries have affected pitchers Melanie Nichols and Lindsay Bodeker, there's a lot to like about a team that returned nine position players who started at least 35 games last season.
Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.