Slideshow: Counting Down The Top 25 NCAA Softball Stars
Ready for the sweet sound of bat meeting ball? We sure are. To celebrate the start of the NCAA softball season, we've been spending the week counting down the top 25 players in the country. Today we unveil our top 5, including No. 1.<br><br> <i>-- Graham Hays</i></p><p>
Who's No. 1?
Ready for the sweet sound of bat meeting ball? We sure are. To celebrate the start of the NCAA softball season, we've been spending the week counting down the top 25 players in the country. Today we unveil our top 5, including No. 1.
-- Graham Hays
25. Morgan Zerkle, CF, Marshall, Jr.
Georgia's Nicole Barber and Mississippi State's Chelsea Bramlett are the only players in Division I history to steal more than 200 bases in a career. Halfway through her time at Marshall, Zerkle is on pace to be the third. The homegrown West Virginia product ranked second in the nation in batting average a season ago as a sophomore, but her work on the bases is where she's chasing history. The right people are impressed. Zerkle made the USA Softball developmental team that will compete alongside the senior national team this year.
2015 key stats: .506 BA, 62 R, 47 SB, .631 SLG, .549 OBP
24. Kirsti Merritt, CF, Florida, Sr.
Few do more without swinging the bat than Merritt. Start with her defensive range and instincts. She is a pest on the bases, successful on 23 of 25 stolen base attempts a season ago and 59 of 65 in her career. Merritt doesn't even need to swing to get on base. She walked or was hit by a pitch 163 times in her first 193 games, the prime example of something Florida has turned into an art form. Add in the damage when she does swing, and she lands a spot in the Top 25.
2015 key stats: .325 BA, 23 SB, .568 SLG, .498 OBP
23. Megan Betsa, P, Michigan, Jr.
Haylie Wagner took the lead as Michigan pushed Florida to a winner-take-all finale in the Women's College World Series, but Betsa was the team's ace for much of the season. That includes dominant performances as late as the Big Ten tournament against Northwestern and NCAA tournament games against California and Georgia. She ranked third nationally in strikeouts per seven innings.
2015 key stats: 31-5, 1.72 ERA, 333 Ks, 211 1/3 IP
22. Kayla Bonstrom, 1B, Stanford, Sr.
Bonstrom was the bright light in an otherwise forgettable season that saw the Cardinal sink to the bottom of the Pac-12. Despite the disappointing record, Bonstrom matched the standard set by former All-Americans like Jessica Mendoza, Alissa Haber and Ashley Hansen. Bonstrom enters her senior season in the top 10 in Stanford history in doubles, home runs and RBIs, and she's second in slugging percentage and fourth in batting average. This being Stanford, she's also an international relations major and academic All-American.
2015 key stats: .439 BA, 13 HR, 54 RBIs, .806 SLG, .549 OBP
21. Megan Good, P/1B, James Madison, So.
Good is one-half of a unique dynamic duo at James Madison. Alongside Jailyn Ford, essentially co-aces in the pitching circle, they trade off playing first base and hold down the middle of the batting order for the Dukes. It's as good a combo in that role as we've seen since Amanda Scarborough and Megan Gibson at Texas A&M a decade ago. But what Good did last year as a freshman, especially in the circle, stands apart.
2015 key stats: .372 BA, .607 SLG, .406 OBP; 29-3, 1.05 ERA, 199 Ks
20. Katiyana Mauga, RF, Arizona, Jr.
Wherever she ends up in the NCAA record book -- her first two seasons set an eye-opening pace -- the 5-foot-2 Mauga is already a safe choice as the best inch-for-inch home run hitter in college softball history. With 46 home runs, Mauga already ranks sixth among active players, the five players ahead of her all seniors. It's not all she does, but it's a heck of a skill.
2015 key stats: .350 BA, 26 HR, 76 RBIs, .819 SLG, .448 OBP
19. Allexis Bennett, CF, UCLA, Sr.
If you could measure personality and energy, Bennett would comfortably rank among the best in the nation in both. Fortunately, we can measure much of what she brings to the Bruins, and she isn't far from the top of the heap in those categories either. Along with Florida's Kirsti Merritt, Bennett is at the very least on the heels of Alabama's Haylie McCleney as college softball's preeminent defensive center fielder. And as the reigning national batting champion among major conference players, she's also a force at the plate.
2015 key stats: .492 BA, 61 R, 21 SB, .577 SLG, .529 OBP
18. Jenna Lilley, 3B, Oregon, So.
You get the feeling watching Lilley that the fact that anyone keeps score, gives her a uniform or shows up to watch games is just a bonus. Take all of that away and she would still end up on a field somewhere playing softball until someone reminded her she needed to eat something. She has all the metrics -- plate discipline, power, baserunning, fielding -- to be a star, along with a place on Team USA. But how much she wants to play is her most striking trait.
2015 key stats: .427 BA, 16 steals, 44 RBIs, .659 SLG, .539 OBP
17. Shelby Turnier, P, UCF, Sr.
Turnier will have more on her shoulders this season without pitching partner Mackenzie Audas around, at least in expectations, if not innings. Good luck finding evidence to suggest the 5-foot-5 right-hander can't handle it. The national ERA champion a season ago, Turnier also ranked in the top 25 in wins despite splitting starts with Audas. She works both the vertical and horizontal planes, and her strikeout totals suggest hitters aren't close to solving the movement.
2015 key stats: 25-8, 0.87 ERA, 268 Ks, 208 1/3 IP
16. Aleshia Ocasio, P, Florida, So.
Unlike many talented freshmen, Ocasio didn't have to carry a pitching staff right away -- not that she left much doubt that she could do so if asked. Tim Walton tested her against top competition early in the season and she excelled, so when she pitched well during her start in the opening game of the championship series against Michigan, it came as no surprise. Time will tell what kind of offensive role Ocasio will fill now after her limited plate appearances a season ago, but she can hit.
2015 key stats: 18-3, 2.58 ERA, 155 Ks, 136 IP
15. Sami Fagan, 2B, Missouri, Sr.
She may not be the only person in her family in line for accolades -- younger sister Haley is a cornerstone of Auburn's infield -- but Sami Fagan has few peers in all-around talent. Put her at any position you want, including catcher, and not only can she play it, but she probably has played it in college. And no matter where she lines up with a glove, she is equally versatile at the plate, able to use her speed to set up runs or drive the ball to finish the job.
2015 key stats: .368 BA, 13 HR, 66 RBIs, .702 SLG, .481 OBP
14. Paige Parker, P/DP, Oklahoma, So.
Few freshmen faced a tougher task than Parker. She joined the Sooners as a pitching-hitting talent at a program where no one has forgotten about Keilani Ricketts, and she also was the ace of a team trying to send off Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley with another title. The Sooners fell short after an epic super regional at Alabama, but Parker passed every test. She had more walks than strikeouts as a hitter and more strikeouts than walks as a pitcher. It's a nice combo.
2015 key stats: .394 BA, .628 SLG, .514 OBP; 28-7, 1.65 ERA, 224 Ks, 217 IP
13. Bianka Bell, SS, LSU, Sr.
How much of a difference can one player make? In two of her first three seasons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bell hit more home runs on her own than the entire team did the season before she arrived (and if she'd hit just two more home runs as a freshman, it would have been three out of three seasons). She isn't the only good run producer in the lineup these days, but she single-handedly makes it a lineup that could enjoy a long stay in Oklahoma City.
2015 key stats: .415 BA, 18 HR, 73 RBIs, .790 SLG, .500 OBP
12. Ali Aguilar, SS, Washington, Jr.
Aguilar went from being one of the best freshmen in the Pac-12 two seasons ago to being one of the best players in any class in the nation as a sophomore. It isn't easy to join the first group, but it's even harder to make such a quick leap to the second. She led all major conference players in doubles last season, but her deceptively smooth, almost languid swing also produced 16 home runs for a full power game. She's an asset on the bases and in the field, too.
2015 key stats: .411 BA, 16 HR, 58 RBIs, .795 SLG, .509 OBP
11. Kasey Cooper, 3B, Auburn, Jr.
Auburn coach Clint Myers still hasn't found someone to fill the shoes of Katie Burkhart, the ace who helped him win his first national title at Arizona State. But Cooper may well be the SEC version of Kaitlin Cochran, the All-American run producer at the heart of those Sun Devils lineups. Cooper hits for power and average, draws walks and even led the Tigers in stolen bases, albeit with a modest total. She's also a wall at third base who rarely makes mistakes.
2015 key stats: .391 BA, 18 HR, 64 RBIs, .745 SLG, .524 OBP
10. Alexis Osorio, P, Alabama, So.
In this pitching-starved world, Osorio's numbers alone more than qualify her for a spot on this list. But sometimes a moment tells a more complete story. Go back to the super regional against Oklahoma last May, when a freshman pitcher threw 241 pitches and allowed just one earned run in 14 innings against a lineup that included Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley. In that series, we saw exactly what kind of ace Osorio could be.
2015 key stats: 22-9, 1.75 ERA, 227 Ks, 192 IP
9. Delaney Spaulding, SS, UCLA, Jr.
Spaulding will merit this spot if she merely duplicates her sophomore success of a season ago. If she has improved during the offseason in anything like the way she did between her freshman and sophomore seasons, the world had best look out for one of the newest members of Team USA. A good hitter from the start at UCLA, she added All-American power a season ago, with 43 of her 75 hits going for extra bases. She did that while also (and perhaps as a result of) tightening up her plate discipline.
2015 key stats: .397 BA, 20 HR, 72 RBIs, .852 SLG, .487 OBP
8. Emily Carosone, 2B, Auburn, Sr.
That Carosone and teammate Kasey Cooper offer such similar value is high praise for both. Carosone isn't purely a Clint Myers product, having hit .389 as a freshman the season before the new coach arrived, but the maturation of her power is emblematic of the effect Myers and his staff have on hitters. More than just an offensive force, Carosone is also a key part of an infield that, in backing up a pitching staff that counts on it, has been instrumental in Auburn's rise.
2015 key stats: .438 BA, 18 HR, 80 RBIs, .809 SLG, .552 OBP, 3 errors
7. Lexie Elkins, C, Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr.
Program records mean more at some schools than others. Catching Danyele Gomez as the all-time home run leader at the biggest (and most successful) small program in softball would mean a lot. And it means even more when you only have three years to do it. Elkins, who played one season at Texas Tech, is 27 home runs away from matching Gomez's record for most in a Ragin' Cajuns uniform. The RBI binge she went on a season ago, driving in 30 in a 10-game stretch, was a sight to behold.
2015 key stats: .426 BA, 32 HR, 83 RBIs, 1.077 SLG, .536 OBP
6. Sara Groenewegen, P/DP, Minnesota, Jr.
This season, Minnesota's pitching ace and primary run producer displayed shades of Lauren Haeger, the former Florida standout who pitched and slugged her way to USA Softball Player of the Year a season ago. Also frequently compared to former Washington star Danielle Lawrie for the same reasons (as well as their Canadian passports), Groenewegen held up very well under a substantially heavier workload in the circle as a sophomore in 2015.2015 key stats: 31-7, 1.67 ERA, 379 Ks; .372 BA, .650 SLG, .474 OBP
5. Alex Hugo, 2B, Georgia, Sr.
You won't forget one of the most distinctive and menacing swings in softball once you see it -- Hugo's bat swishing back and forth through the air in anticipation of a pitch like a lion's tail. But it's the result of so many of those swings that will give opposing pitchers nightmares. Hugo takes huge cuts, and she doesn't strike out much. She had almost as many home runs as singles a season ago. There is a high-risk, high-reward element to her play in the field, but she makes some spectacular plays.
2015 key stats: .389 BA, 22 HR, 73 RBIs, .898 SLG, .498 OBP
4. Kelsey Stewart, 2B, Florida, Sr.
She already has two NCAA national championships on her resume and will try to add a world championship as part of Team USA this summer. She is the quintessential lineup catalyst, more than willing to employ the short game but also capable of driving the ball into the gaps. She needs 113 hits to break Alison McCutcheon's NCAA career record set nearly two decades ago, a lot but not inconceivable for someone who averaged 101.5 hits the past two seasons.
2015 key stats: .435 BA, 71 runs, 11 triples, 26 SB, .638 SLG, .487 OBP
3. Cheridan Hawkins, P, Oregon, Sr.
It isn't easy to be a pitcher in college softball these days, not with offensive numbers soaring everywhere you look. But Oregon's lefty ace is a throwback, piling up wins and strikeouts with the nasty spin one might expect of someone who grew up watching Cat Osterman. Already a veteran of Team USA, Hawkins begins her final college season with more wins than any other active pitcher. She also has a chance to join current national team pitcher Sara Nevins as the only college players with 100 career wins and 20 career saves.
2015 key stats: 30-5, 1.64 ERA, 7 saves, 282 Ks, 200 1/3 innings
2. Haylie McCleney, CF, Alabama, Sr.
If the Crimson Tide's senior couldn't touch a bat, she still might make this list for the runs she saves as perhaps the best college outfielder since former Arizona All-American and Olympian Caitlin Lowe. But why take her bat away? No active senior has a better career batting average. And with 61 walks against nine strikeouts a season ago, she's also among the most patient hitters in the nation. She fields, hits, runs and leads. Name a tool, and she has it.
2015 key stats: .436 BA, 8 HR, 47 RBIs, 32 SB, .703 SLG, .588 OBP
1. Sierra Romero, 2B, Michigan, Sr.
She may not catch Lauren Chamberlain's newly established home run record, although it isn't out of reach, but she is Chamberlain's heir as the face of college softball. The reigning espnW player of the year also is the toughest out in the country. Among active Division I seniors, she ranks first in career home runs and walks, as well as third in career slugging percentage and batting average. She has more home runs than strikeouts. For good measure, she stole a career-best 21 bases a season ago.
2015 key stats: .449 BA, 22 HR, 83 RBIs, 21 SB, .909 SLG, .601 OBP
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