Illinois State freshman Kara Nelson and Creighton freshman Tara Oltman made MVC history as they became the first two freshmen ever to win Missouri Valley Conference Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, in a vote of the league’s coaches, as announced at the pre-championship banquet held in Normal, Ill., on Wednesday evening.
Nelson, the Redbirds’ first-year player from Moline, Ill., becomes the first freshman ever honored as the conference’s Player of the Year after posting league-leading figures in average (.416), hits (82) and runs (57), and finishing in the top-three in doubles, triples, total bases and on base percentage. In conference play, the third baseman was even better at the plate, hitting .440 on 40 hits and 33 runs scored.
Beyond the stellar stat line, Nelson set a new standard for single-season runs scored in MVC-only games and sits just four hits and three runs off of MVC-great Kate Madden’s all-time records.
Oltman was equally impressive in the circle in her first season at Creighton, leading all MVC pitchers in wins and ERA. The right-hander finished the regular-season 23-7 overall in 197 innings, striking out 189 with seven shutouts. She posted an MVC-best 13-3 record in conference play, hurling 119.1 innings, posting five shutouts and striking out 114 hitters.
The Cortland, Neb., native posted a minute 1.00 ERA during the conference season and limited opponents to a .175 batting average against while completing 13 of her 14 MVC starts.
The battle for the league’s Newcomer of the Year was decided between the two freshmen sensations, with the nod going to Creighton’s Oltman.
Southern Illinois’ Cassidy Scoggins is a three-time first-team all-conference selection for the Salukis. She was the 2006 MVC Pitcher of the Year helped lead SIU to the lowest team ERA in the league this season. A three-time 20-game winner, the senior from Oklahoma posted a 20-8 record this season with a 1.79 ERA in 199.1 innings of work. She struck out 198 batters and allowed hitters just a .196 average against. In conference play, she was even tougher to score on, yielding just 1.63 earned runs a game while striking out 110 Valley hitters in 111.1 innings of work. She finished Valley play in the top-five in wins, innings, strikeouts, shutouts and tied for the league lead in complete games.
Stacy Birk of Illinois State was a 19-game winner in the circle and .314 hitter for the Redbirds, earning her third all-MVC honor. Birk hurled 18 complete games this season, most notably in Illinois State’s 2-1 win over perennial national power UCLA at UCLA. She striking out 150 hitters in 187 innings of action in the middle while chipping in offensively with five home runs, 20 runs scored and 19 runs batted in.
Senior right-hander Shannon Nicholson overcame an in-season knee injury to post the second-best overall ERA, win 20 games and record 107 strikeouts in 168.2 innings. She posted an 8-2 conference ledger, the third-best conference ERA at 1.46 and a pair of shutouts for the league-runners up. Nicholson boasts wins over No. 18 Georgia, No. 16 Baylor and two wins over No. 17 Florida and No. 19 SIU.
Wichita State’s strikeout machine Margo Pruis was impressive in league games, posting a 12-4 conference mark, a 1.94 ERA and a conference-best 131 strikeouts in 119.1 innings of Valley play. During Wichita State’s current run of 18 wins in 21 games, the senior is an unblemished 12-0 with a 1.38 ERA, 106 strikeouts, eight complete games and six shutouts.
Creighton’s T.J. Eadus is a .296 hitter for the Jays, fourth-best on the team and ranked second among catchers in Valley games at .295. She threw out 14 would-be base stealers and committed just one error all season. Eadus led the team in slugging at .652 and hit a school single-season record14 home runs.
Evansville’s Brittany Herald, a junior from Old Hickory, Tenn., was a constant threat in the Aces’ lineup, starting all 52 regular-season games and hitting .391 overall with 59 hits, driving in 39 runs and scoring 26. She leads the league in triples and on base percentage as the only player in the league with better than a .500 average (.505).
Illinois State’s Amber Smith is a repeat first-team selection after winning the league’s Newcomer of the Year award last season and earning an at-large nod on the first-team. Smith managed to avoid the sophomore slump, blasting 15 home runs to go with her .345 average and 40 RBI. The Fairfield, Calif., native scored another 37 runs and slugged .661 in 57 games. She became Illinois State’s all-time homerun leader on April 14 and currently sits at 32 career homeruns seven shy of tying the all-time conference mark.
Southern Illinois freshman Alicia Garza gets the first-team nod at second base. The freshman from Lafayette, Ind., led the nationally-ranked Salukis in hitting with a .363 overall mark and a .338 average in conference play. Garza tied for seventh overall in hits with 58, eighth in runs with 33, third in doubles with 13 and drove in 32 runs on the year as one of two Salukis to start all 51 games this season.
Britnee Barnett is a three-time all-conference player, and Wichita State’s leading hitter for a second-straight season. The Peoria, Ariz., native was the 8th-best hitter in the league overall, hitting at a .347 clip with nine homeruns, 35 runs batted in and 70 hits with 14 doubles. She is second in the league in total bases with 115 and in runs scored with 39.
Creighton senior Jamie Reiss is they Jays’ leading hitter and the Valley’s No. 4 at .373, started all 50 games, amassing the third-best hit total of 62 and scored 33 runs. As a spark at the top of the Creighton order, Reiss posted a .416 on base percentage and tied for second in triples.
Evansville is junior Laura Rather earns her first all-conference nod in the outfield. The Louisville, Ky., native was impressive this season with her .362 average, 6th-best in the league, 10 home runs, 13 doubles, 32 runs scored, 94 total bases and a .667 slugging percentage. She led her team in runs and slugging and was second in hitting, hits, homeruns, and RBI.
Illinois State teammates, Jessie Buker and Kelsey Warning, round out the outfield honorees.
Buker slammed the fourth-best single-season homerun total in league history during the regular-season, blasting 16 homeruns to lead the league. The sophomore from Macon, Ill., led the conference in slugging with a .686 clip and ranked second in RBI with 48. She set the single-season record for homeruns in conference play with 12 and led the league with 30 RBI in Valley play. She hit .331 for the season starting all 57 games for the Redbirds.
Warning was a .306 hitter in conference play and slugged .600 in those contests. She scored 16 runs and drove home another 27 in league action a figure good for second-best in the conference. Overall, Warning was tied for second in homeruns with 15, was first in RBI with 53, which is tied for the third-best single season in Valley history, and was one of five league players to tally 100 total bases.
2007 Missouri Valley Conference Softball All-Conference Team
P Tara Oltman, Creighton
P Cassidy Scoggins, Southern Illinois
C T.J. Eadus, Creighton
1B Amber Smith, Illinois State
2B Alicia Garza, Southern Illinois
3B Kara Nelson, Illinois State
SS Britnee Barnett, Wichita State
OF Jessie Buker, Illinois State
OF Kelsey Warning, Illinois State
OF Laura Rather, Evansville
At-Large Jamie Reiss, Creighton
At-Large Stacy Birk, Illinois State
At-Large Margo Pruis, Wichita State
At-Large Brittany Herald, Evansville
At-Large Shannon Nicholson, Illinois State
Player of the Year Kara Nelson, Illinois State
Pitcher of the Year Tara Oltman, Creighton
Newcomer of the Year Tara Oltman, Creighton
Coaching Staff of the Year Creighton (Brent Vigness, Jessica Draemel, Abby Johnson)
Jayme Wamsley, Southern Illinois
Michelle Koch, Creighton
Katie Martin, Missouri State
Meredith Simpson, Indiana State
Katie McGeeney, Wichita State
Tiffanie Dismore, Southern Illinois
Caitlin Marcano, Creighton