Tuesday Trend-Spotting: Fresh aces emerge at Michigan, Notre Dame and UC Davis
Forgive a quick word of introduction. Each Monday on espnW, we try to provide the biggest story or theme from the previous weekend of college softball. Each Wednesday brings the espnW national player of the week. Sandwiched between them is this Tuesday space. The aim is to highlight a trend or streak of note, a quick, midweek softball snack.
As a debut, there is no more reliable trend in college sports than that there will be freshmen. They are persistent that way. From UCLA's Rachel Garcia a year ago (admittedly as a redshirt) to Florida State's Meghan King in 2016 to Alabama's Alexis Osorio and Oklahoma's Paige Parker in 2015, freshman pitchers who were unproven, if not unknown, when the season began eventually shaped the race for the Women's College World Series.
While the top half of the Top 25 at the moment is full of experienced aces, Michigan and Notre Dame are testing out -- and counting on -- freshmen. Meghan Beaubien will help determine whether the Wolverines regain their place among the contenders for Oklahoma City, and Alexis Holloway will help decide if the Fighting Irish can finally join that group.
Michigan's 2-2 record in the portion of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge hosted by Florida State belies Beaubien's performance. Her two-hit shutout in a 1-0 win against the sixth-ranked host was one of the new season's best pitching lines. She wasn't far off that pace in earning a win earlier that day against Notre Dame. In 33 2/3 innings, the high school All-American has 41 strikeouts.
Yet it was the Fighting Irish who left Tallahassee with three wins against ranked teams, splitting with Michigan and sweeping two games from No. 14 Minnesota. Holloway was the winning pitcher in all three games, albeit twice in relief. Ranked by some evaluators as the nation's top incoming pitcher, she has flirted with trouble -- 20 walks in 31 1/3 innings -- but she also has 35 strikeouts in those innings, the majority of which were against ranked opponents.
Perhaps the most impressive showing by a freshman pitcher came on the other side of the country, where UC Davis newcomer Brooke Yanez is setting the early pace for first-year success. Yanez earned three wins last week, and that doesn't include a 1-0 loss at No. 22 Cal in which she didn't allow an earned run. She also threw a one-hit shutout in a win at Fresno State.
Her line for the week: 23 IP, 9 H, 0 ER, 27 K, 7 BB
You don't need a calculator to figure out that ERA.
Unlike much of the Big West, which contains ample softball lore from earlier eras, UC Davis is celebrating its 10th anniversary in Division I. Big West programs have nearly 150 NCAA tournament wins total, but UC Davis -- which won a Division II national title in 2003 -- is looking for its second trip to the Division I tournament and its first win. Who better to lead than a freshman uninterested in waiting in line?