Daily Chronicle sports editor Ross Jacobson and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they discuss the choice for the 2013 Daily Chronicle Softball Player of the Year.
Jacobson: Steve, all of our local teams are finished for the year. And that brings us to one of our favorite times: award season.
While some of our area players of the year were clear-cut choices, the discussion for softball player of the year was pretty lengthy. As our unofficial softball beat writer, who were the top candidates we narrowed it down to originally?
Nitz: It was a good year for the area’s softball scene. DeKalb made it to a sectional final, while Kaneland won the Northern Illinois Big 12 East regular season title. Genoa-Kingston lost its first regional game but finished 17-7 – with five of those losses coming against Big Northern East powers Burlington Central and Marengo.
There were plenty of standout players. Ultimately, we decided to go with Cogs catcher Paige Keegan, who set a G-K school record with a .612 average and slugged over 1.000. But, there were a number of other good candidates. DeKalb freshman Morgan Newport hit .384 as the Barbs’ No. 3 hitter, and had a 1.14 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 98 1/3 innings in the circle. DeKalb seniors Sabrina Killeen (.481 average, strong defense in center field) and Hannah Walter (.461 average, .632 slugging) were extremely important to that team. Sycamore’s Jasmyne Taylor had an outstanding year with a .349 average, five home runs and 30 RBIs, while Kaneland’s Allyson O’Herron hit .506 and slugged .697.
Earlier this week, we debated for about an hour or so but Keegan had a year for the ages. You can argue for someone like Newport and not be wrong.
What was the toughest part of picking a Player of the Year this season?
Jacobson: One of the toughest things was evaluating a player’s defense and their contributions outside of the batter’s box. When talking to coaches about our top candidates they all noted how important they were defensively to their teams.
I think that’s one of the factors that put Keegan at the top of my ballot. When building a team, you want to be strong up the middle and it starts with having a backstop that won’t allow many passed balls and can shut down an opposition’s run game.
Another interesting aspect was Newport’s role as DeKalb’s secondary pitcher while also hitting in the middle of the Barbs’ lineup.
Nitz: G-K coach Mike Lauer said teams knew of Keegan’s strong arm behind the plate and just wouldn’t run on her. We talked about that and it certainly played a factor in our decision. That being said, Newport’s pitching was huge for the Barbs with Katie Kowalski fighting through an injury this season. She was also strong in the field, not committing an error all year, whether it was in the circle or the outfield.
Here’s what’s interesting, we could have this same debate next season. Keegan is only a junior while Newport has three years of high school ball left. Taylor will be back in Sycamore’s lineup, and who knows what a healthy Kowalski can accomplish for the Barbs in 2014.