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The Fastpitch Bulletin, Volume 19, Number 17 -- 7/3/19

07/03/2019, 4:30pm CDT
By Bob Tomlinson

Some thoughts on the game and on top teams in 2020

Hello Fastpitch Friends,

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. Last week the WIAA office posted the sectional assignments for the 2020 softball tournament. Late last week posted an article listing the enrollments reported to the WIAA by each member school based upon their 9-12 numbers on the third Friday of September.

With those things in mind I’d remind you that the 2020 softball season has unofficially gotten underway. I say unofficially because the WIAA will tell us that the official start date is in March. However, there are changes for 2020 that I will note later in this Bulletin so for many coaches the planning and organizational part of being a head coach should have already started.

When teams get moved with a Division of play from one sectional to another it really affects that team’s schedule for the following year. It would be great if those numbers and assignments were published earlier. Perhaps by mid-April would be a good time. The reason is scheduling and seeding issues.

When a team has a schedule set for the following year before the sectional assignments come out only to learn 1) they’ve been moved to the other Group (either A o0r B) or 2) they’ve been moved to a different sectional schedule altogether it affects them in ways purists have little understanding about.

In a pure seeding meeting teams from the same conference would not use same conference affiliation as a way to rank teams on a seeding chart at a seeding meeting. Instead they would only use the criteria that are supposed to be used to rank teams on that chart. I’ve been going to seeding meetings since seeding started. At those meetings, year –in-and-year out I listen to coaches talk about how strong the conference they play in is and therefore their team should be ranked above a team whose conference they view as being weaker than theirs.

The only chance a team from another conference has against such rankings methods is to play those teams from the conference deemed really strong. If a school’s conference schedule is set before those changes from the controlling body are announced it’s tough to get out of contracts and schedule schools now in the same half sectional with them. Even if a school can get out of a contract it is just as difficult to find those new teams with openings in their schedules or if there are openings get them to play you.

A couple of years ago our school was slated to host the sectional final in the southwestern area sectional of Division 3. Suddenly in mid-winter our school was shifted to the southeastern sectional and lost out on hosting the sectional final we were slated to host. Our schedule for the upcoming year was filled with non-conference games against teams in our half sectional. We honored the contracts we had in place.

Here are some teams that are probably faced with the same dilemma for 2020 based upon where they played in 2019 and where they are slated for 2020.

In Division 3 Arcadia has been moved from the southwest to the northwest and Stratford has been moved from the northwest to the northeast. Wautoma was moved from the southeastern to the northeastern while Watertown Luther Prep has been moved from the southwest to the southeast. Due to other enrollment caused factors (Turner dropping down from D-2 into D-3) Poynette was moved from Group B in the southwest sectional to Group A in that sectional which includes all six SWC schools, two from the Coulee and one from the Mississippi Valley.

That is just examples from Division 3. The same type exist throughout the brackets of all five divisions.

With all that said –

Here are the top teams I would expect to see battling hard to get to the Final Four in all five divisions in 2020. Things can really change between now and March though. All it takes to change things up is a “hot-shot” freshman pitcher walking through the school building door on the first day of school in August or September. For today though this should help fill your fastpitch reading void. All bets from me of course, are off once September rolls around. By that time news of young players coming in to bolster other teams will most likely have reached me.

In Division 1
With two-time all-state and D-1 Player of the year Maddie Gardner returning for her senior year I pick Sun Prairie to be in the Final Four in June and to be the #1 ranked team all season (barring injury). I see Kenosha Bradford returning to the Final Four in Division 1. Although graduating three all-staters they return sophomore pitcher Livie Lehman who went 13-4 as a freshman in 2019. Pulaski returns pitcher Lauren Dixon (15-3; 1.05 ERA in 2019) to the circle and are my third D-1 team to make the Final Four. My fourth pick is Stevens Point. The Panthers will have to bolster the pitching staff but 2019 saw them field a very young team that will be much stronger next year and will score more runs.

In Division 2 I foresee Ellsworth returning for a second consecutive shot at a WIAA title. They return Avery O’Neil, now a senior in the circle. In 2019 she went 18-1 with a 1.58 ERA with 211 strikeouts. They will have to get past Mosinee out of Group B in the sectional to get there though. If they do get there they will have to have had to shore up some defensive issues that surely caused them nightmares after being beaten by an aggressive baserunning team in Seymour. Looking at Seymour as the favorite out of that sectional for 2020 my thoughts are they have lots of offense coming back and their baserunning is superb. The question will be whether or not they have pitching to get past the other tough teams in that sectional such as Luxemburg-Casco, Winneconne, Waupun and Kettle Moraine Lutheran. For today I will stick with Seymour led by Division 2 player of the year, catcher Chloe Evans. The fourth spot out of the southeast goes to New Berlin West. A Final Four team this past season the Vikings return now junior pitcher Andrea Kuhne (11-3; 3.38 ERA) catcher Kat Burkhardt (.694 average)sophomore Elena Barnes (.472) senior Lauren Stephens (.463),senior Alana Ward (.420) and more.

In Division 3 the Northwest Sectional is wide open again this year. In 2019 Prescott surprised many folks and returned to the Final Four after graduating seven starters and replacing the head coach who in my opinion was Co-Coach of the Year in the state (along with Dells coach *Dale Gray). Abbie Morris, who played fastpitch at UW-River Falls then assisted two seasons for the Cardinals took over and led her flock back to Goodman Diamond. They could be the favorite again but Arcadia, Northwestern, Altoona, Bloomer and a few others could loom big. For today I will give the Final Four nod to the Cardinals. In the Northeastern sectional I’m giving today’s nod to Wautoma. The Hornets return now sophomore Bri Handle who throws it hard. They will get plenty of pressure from Nekoosa from their own South Central Conference though and Tomahawk could have a say in that sectional as well. In the southwest it will be dogfight. In the southeast, Campbellsport must replace a dominant pitcher in the circle to get back for a back-to-back trick and will be challenged by Mayville. North Fondy I’m sure has their eyes on a better showing in 2020 and Shoreland Lutheran could slip in from the other group. I will put some go with Mayville as today’s favorite as they have pitching returning. In the southwest Poynette as has been mentioned here-to-fore has moved into the other grouping and will enter the season with a 54-game win-streak and back-to-back state titles in their pocket. The Pumas I’d guess are the favorite as they graduated just one player in June and return Division 3 state player of the year Casey Fountain as well as two other all staters in Molly Anderson and Lucy Cuff. Poynette also could be bolstered by a couple of promising freshman who could put some more pop in the circle. In Group B Turner has dropped down from Division 2 . From my point of view they enter as the favorite in that half sectional with Lake Mills being right there with them.

In Division 4 I am picking two teams that have been dropped down from Division 3 to be half of the Final Four field in the division. Westfield returns soon to be senior pitcher Hannah Hockerman along with catcher Taylor Bignell as well as several other excellent players. Hockerman will be one of the  top pitchesr in the division in 2020 but the Pioneers will have to deal with Pacelli to in order to prove this prediction. The other team is Random Lake who battled Campbellsport tough in the sectional final losing 3-2. They will be tough to beat in that D-4 sectional. Algoma could be the sleeper there. In the northwest  Grantsburg is always tough but Thorp has ruled that area in back-to-back seasons. Thorp will have to replace some pitching to hold off Grantsburg or Clayton/Turtle Lake. In the southwest it appears that the favorite and division favorite is back-to-back champion Horicon. The Marshladies return  D-4 state player of the year Allison Tillema in the circle and have a great offensive club as well.

In Division 5 some teams dropping down and the subsequent rearranging of sectional members created some consternation for this writer. In the southeastern sectional Oakfield is clearly the favorite and they are also the host for the sectional final. Highland and Belmont are back in the same half sectional in 2020 after enjoying a one-year separation. Although are some questions, I foresee Oakfield making another trip to Goodman Diamond. In the Southwest (if we can call Blair-Taylor southwest) I believe it will be Blair-Taylor getting back for a fourth consecutive trip to try to win it all. Pepin-Alma looms big in that half-sectional though and could emerge from that part of the state. In the northeastern part of D5 Wausaukee is always right on the cusp but Assumption is as well. Today, I will go with Sue Stoltenberg's Rangers making it from that sectional. Lastly the northwest sectional has several tough hombres including Gilman, Chippewa Falls McDonell Central and perhaps Hurley. Today I believe we will see the Pirates back at the state tournament in 2020. Head Coach Brian Phelps has beefed up the Pirate schedule and has two fine pitchers to carry the program. 

That's it for today.

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