Monday, January 21, 2013

2013 PREVIEW: San Diego State Aztecs

Defending Mountain West softball champion San Diego State takes the field in 2013 knowing that it will have to improve in order to have a chance at a second straight title.

While the Aztecs won the MW regular-season title last season and earned the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they did so by just a game in the final standings over both Colorado State and Boise State.  SDSU may go into this year as the league favorite, though not an overwhelming one.

This year, San Diego State will find a Mountain West that's deeper and more competitive than ever before.  The additions of former WAC members Fresno State and Nevada make the Aztecs' run to a repeat championship more difficult.  Both the Bulldogs and the Wolf Pack defeated San Diego State in San Diego last season, and Fresno State has been a thorn in the side of the Aztecs for years, defeating SDSU 54 times in 63 all-time meetings.

Coach Kathy Van Wyk's team (32-24 a year ago against a difficult schedule) will look for a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance this year and there is a lot of talent returning, both on offense and in the circle.

All-Mountain West pitcher Rebecca Arbino (13-11, 2.02 ERA in 2012) returns for her senior season.  The former Texas A&M Aggie led the MW in overall ERA in 2012 and struck out 107 with 38 walks.  It's interesting to note that she was hit fairly hard by both Nevada and Fresno State a season ago in what was then non-conference play.

Arbino lost that game at home against the Wolf Pack last year, and allowed three hits, including a pair of doubles, and an earned run in just two-thirds of an inning against the Bulldogs.  Fresno State and Nevada combined to out-hit the Aztecs 17 to 5 in their victories in San Diego last year.

Three All-MW players return for an offense that showed great power sometimes, but was missing in action at others.  In 16 different games last season, San Diego State scored one or zero runs.  Too often when facing strong pitching, the Aztecs couldn't get their offense going and that will have to change this season if the record is going to improve.

San Diego State was one-hit in its home loss to Fresno State last season.  Despite reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Aztecs failed to score more than one run in any of their four postseason games.  Still, they led the Mountain West in all three major categories in conference play.  As a team, they hit .344, had a team ERA of 3.12, and committed a league-low 10 errors.

Junior shortstop Hayley Miles, the MW Co-Player of the Year in 2012, should be a force again and leads the offense.  Miles hit .429 overall and a staggering .487 in conference action last year with 75 hits, 20 home runs, a .519 on-base percentage and 49 RBI.  She broke 11 school single-season marks as a sophomore and earned second team All-Region and third team All-American honors.  Miles was limited to one single in four combined NCAA Tournament games last year, however.

Left fielder Kayla Jordan hit .324 last season to win conference Freshman of the Year honors, and returns.  She had 47 hits and 12 stolen bases during her collegiate debut season.  Jordan is the only returning Aztec player to get a hit last season in the NCAA Los Angeles Regional championship game against Hofstra.

Junior outfielder Patrice Jackson returns after earning All-MW honors last year as well. Jackson hit .311 with 11 home runs, 11 doubles and 39 RBI.  Also back is Lorena (Klopp) Bauer, who could see time in the pitching circle. Bauer hit .301 as a sophomore and 13 of her 37 hits were home runs.

Catcher Kristin May (.280 BA, 33 hits) and pitcher Kamerin May (2-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 7 starts in 2012) also return for their senior seasons.  Junior Katie Mathis (.200 BA) and senior second baseman Tiffany Corder (.190 BA, 33 starts) could see additional playing time this year.

Freshman buzz centers around Leia Ruiz (Chino, Calif.), who tripled and scored in an exhibition game the Aztecs played against the National Pro Fastpitch All-Stars in late October.  Ruiz is one of six freshmen among seven newcomers. The lone freshman pitcher is Danielle O'Toole (Upland St. Lucy's HS, Calif.), who went 19-4 with a 1.56 ERA last season as a high school senior.

In all, four of the five players who hit over .300 for the season a year ago are back on a well-rounded roster that features 10 freshman and sophomores, along with a total of 10 juniors and seniors.  That's not to say there aren't key losses, because there are.

Pitcher Bailey Micetich, a former MW Pitcher of the Year and All-American, is gone and is a huge loss.  Micetich was the team leader in wins, shutouts, strikeouts, innings pitched and several other categories a year ago.  She went 17-8 with a 2.43 ERA, six shutouts, 198 Ks and 13 complete games.  In three of the season's final five weeks, Micetich was the MW Pitcher of the Week.  Perhaps most importantly, she was the starting and winning pitcher in both of San Diego State's NCAA Tournament wins last year, twice throwing complete-game shutouts.

Micetich finished her career with 58 wins (4th in school history), 136 pitching appearances, 27 shutouts, 611 strikeouts, and 91 starts among her many accomplishments. She was the winning pitcher in San Diego State's last three NCAA Tournament victories spanning two seasons.

Also gone:  Justeen Maeva, who hit .327 with seven home runs and 42 RBI last season.  Maeva was second on the team in both hits and RBI as a senior and made 54 starts.  Center fielder Felicia Reifschneider (.274, 34 hits and 10 stolen bases in 54 starts), third baseman Ashley Rose (.248 with 11 doubles and a .248 average) and right fielder Fiana Finau (.230, 3 home runs) are all gone after combining for 122 starts last season.

As always, Van Wyk's team will face a rigorous schedule with 18 games vs. 2012 NCAA Tournament teams.  If they hope to garner another NCAA bid of their own at the end of the 2013 season, the Aztecs will need Arbino, Miles, Jordan and Jackson to lead the way.

Seventh in a 7-part series of Mountain West softball previews.