By Maren Angus
Previously, Behind the Plate discussed the top storylines from 2017 to forget about. Now, it’s time to shift the focus to 2018 and what to watch for.
The Oklahoma Sooners return to the field to defend their back-to-back titles on Feb. 9 against Weber State at the Grand Canyon University Kickoff Tournament. The Sooners return eight of their starting nine, outfielder Macey Hatfield graduated, and added Mizzou-transfer Parker Conrad to the pitching staff.
Duke University made history when the Blue Devils played in their first fall game but Feb. 8 will be another date to remember. Duke will play Florida Atlantic in its first official game as an NCAA program. The youthful program will look to freshmen pitchers Katherin Huey, Peyton St. George and Amelia Wiecioch as it looks to make its mark in the ACC.
3. Southeastern Conference
The 2017 season was a big one for the SEC. Ole Miss won its first SEC Tournament and the hearts of America as it defeated Mississippi State, Florida, Alabama and LSU. All 13 programs made the NCAA tournament, eight hosted a Regional and all eight moved on to the Super Regional round of the tournament. Florida, LSU and Texas A&M moved on to the WCWS in Oklahoma City where the Gators finished runner-up. Will the SEC get all 13 in again? How will Ole Miss compete without the Taryne Mowatt-Kaitlin Lee duo? How many home runs will Abbey Cheek hit this year for Kentucky?
4. National Pro Fastpitch
The Houston-area based Scrap Yard Dawgs won their first Cowles Cup when they defeated the favorite USSSA Pride at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Monica Abbott led the way in the circle. She limited opponents to 15 hits and struck out 56 in 29 innings of work. The Tennessee-alumna was named MVP of the tournament. In 2018, the NPF will feature another international team, as the Aussie Spirit will compete for a Cowles Cup. The Spirit is operated by Softball Australia and will play home games in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.
Recruiting has been a hot topic in 2017, as the commitment age got younger and younger. Florida head coach Tim Walton closed out the calendar year with two verbal commitments from two seventh graders both of whom are eligible to play 12 and under. The recruiting process is something to watch for in 2018 because of coaches like Arizona’s Mike Candrea who want to stop recruiting players in middle school.