#23 Utah Softball 2016 Preview

Utah Utes
Overall Rank: #23
Conference Rank: #6 Pac-12
 Utah Lofo
Utah had a breakthrough season in 2015 as they worked their way into the top 25 and caused plenty of havoc for the rest of the Pac-12 conference, especially at home. The Utes secured series wins over perennial powers Arizona, Arizona State and Cal along with a split against Washington. That secured a trip to the Knoxville Regional. Most of the key players are back in 2016 and that should give Utah softball fans plenty of confidence heading into a challenging spring schedule.
2015: 36-19, 12-11
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Amy Hogue
Field Players:
Junior infielder Hannah Flippen returns as the leading returning overall offensive player in most major categories for the Utes. Flippen will be looking to make a run at first-team All Pac-12 accolades after a second team all conference selection in 2015. The ability to hit for a high average combined with power is what makes Flippen such a dangerous hitter to deal with game in and game out. Junior infielder Bridget Castro will bring a great mix of versatility combined with an ability to drive in runs that will keep opposing pitchers on their toes all season long.
Sophomores Katie Donovan and Miranda Viramontes will anchor things in the circle for Utah in 2016. Donovan was the number one starter last season and won 17 games and is the more overpowering pitcher of the two. She struck out 154 batters in 192.0 Innings. Viramontes won 11 games and did a nice job of limiting homeruns, surrendering eight all season long. The key for both pitchers is going to be building off the confidence gained from strong freshmen seasons and cutting down the amount of walks.
Who to Watch:
Senior infielder Kristen Stewart will be one to watch. Stewart started all 55 games at third base last season. The combination of her experience and steady presence at the plate and in the field will keep the Utes lineup balanced. It also would be a big plus if Stewart was able to generate a little more power to offset the loss of Katie Dickman from last season. Also, keep an eye on sophomore outfielder/utility player Heather Bowen, who had a strong freshman season, hitting .288 and drove in 26 runs while playing in 48 games.
Final Projection:
The schedule is loaded as the season opens at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe against Notre Dame. In that same tournament Utah will face Fresno State and Kentucky. Other key non-conference games will include showdowns with Oklahoma, Florida and UCF. Fast forward to the conference schedule and the Utes will have a back loaded schedule as a trip to Washington followed by a visit from UCLA and a trip to Eugene to face the Ducks will be a very tough nine game stretch to finish the regular season. Thus, it will be very important for Utah to stay healthy and be clicking on all cylinders by the time that stretch rolls around. Overall, look for another return trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2016 for the Utes.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Hannah Flippen, IF, 178
Hits: Hannah Flippen, IF, 62
Home Runs: Hannah Flippen, IF, 7
RBIs: Bridget Castro, IF, 42
Runs: Hannah Flippen, IF, 47
Stolen Bases: Kristen Stewart, IF, 6
Wins: Katie Donovan, P,17
Innings Pitched: Katie Donovan, P, 192.0
Strikeouts: Katie Donovan, P, 154
Saves: Kayce Nieto, P, 2
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#42 Hailey Hilburn
#44 Ally Dickman