#27 Florida Atlantic Softball 2016 Preview

Florida Atlantic Owls
Overall Rank: #27
Conference Rank: #1 Conference USA
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The Owls are coming off of their best season in nearly ten years after qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. The 2015 season also included some firsts, as the team's 15-1 record was the best in school history and Coach Joan Joyce won her 800th game when the Owls defeated Florida A&M 18-0 on February 20th. FAU will be a team to look out for, bringing back six starters and three pitchers.
2015: 39-19-1, 16-7
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Joan Joyce
Field Players:
The Owls bring back six everyday starters, including Melissa Martinez and Emily Lochten, both of whom were named to last year's All C-USA Second Team. Martinez hit .314 and had a team-leading 51 RBI and tied for the lead in home runs with Laura Mann, with six apiece. Lochten led the Owls in most offensive categories, including batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.470), doubles (15) and stolen bases (31). Melissa Martinez's twin sister, Christina, also returns and she had quite the season for the Owls last year as well. Christina Martinez hit .348 and led the squad with 71 hits, while scoring 39 times and finishing second on the team in steals with 12. Carnesha Thompson finished fourth on the team in RBI with 25, while hitting three homers and seven doubles.
Sophomore Kylee Hanson was a member of both the First Team All C-USA and Second Team All-South Region by the NFCA. Hanson led the staff with 18 wins, 157.1 innings pitched and 219 strikeouts. She also threw her first career no-hitter and struck out a career high 18 in a win over Charlotte.  Amanda Wilson made some history last season in the Regional Final when she held Florida scoreless for seven innings, the first pitcher to do so in more than a year. She finished the season with an 8-5 record in 20 appearances, 16 of which were starts and led the team with a 1.34 ERA. Tatum Buckley, who appeared in 14 games last season, also returns.
Who to Watch:
Ashtin Strickland comes to the Owls after an impressive high school career at Santa Fe High School in Alachua (Fla.). She's listed as a pitcher/first baseman and last season, as a hitter, hit nine home runs, nine doubles, finished with a .424 average and knocked in 31 RBI. She also had an impressive career in the circle, especially as a senior when she was named Pitcher of the Year, after winning 17 games, striking out 327 and allowing 24 earned runs in 175.2 innings pitched.  With the return of three pitchers, she may not be asked to be a force in the circle, but the squad may look to use her bat.
Final Projection:
The Owls will look to continue their success from last year behind their returnees. Having six of eight returning everyday players will be a huge boost for both Hanson and Wilson, who look to continue their successful careers. Last year's pitching rotation was split pretty evenly between Hanson, Wilson and Samantha Messer. Messer has now graduated, so will either of the two returnees be looked to up their games or will Buckley be asked to step into that third starter's role? Florida Atlantic hosts four of the five tournaments they're playing in and get SIUE, Hofstra and Tulsa that first weekend, including SIUE and Hofstra on the first day. Other big nonconference games include matchups with Oregon, Minnesota, Purdue and UCF. The Owls also get C-USA favorite Western Kentucky at home this year.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Christina Martinez, OF, 204
Hits: Christina Martinez, OF, 71
Home Runs: Melissa Martinez, INF, 6
RBIs: Melissa Martinez, INF, 51
Runs: Emily Lochten, UT, 48
Stolen Bases: Emily Lochten, UT, 3`
Wins: Kylee Hansen, P, 18
Innings Pitched: Kylee Hansen, P, 157.1
Strikeouts: Kylee Hansen, P, 219
Complete Games: Kylee Hansen, P, 16