Player of the Year
Amy Hooks, Texas
Texas coach Connie Clark never had any second thoughts about putting the game in senior catcher Amy Hooks’ hands.
With Hooks calling the pitches, sophomore Blaire Luna has been one of the best pitchers in the country.
“We rely on Amy heavily because she’s like an extension of the coaching staff,” Clark said. “She does a great job of keeping Blaire consistent. When you have a veteran catcher, it helps to keep young pitchers calm. Amy has a steady confidence that’s important because a young pitching staff can think too much.”
With her proficiency behind the plate and power at the plate, Hooks is the Tribune-Herald ’s choice for Big 12 player of the year. Hooks was a key component in Texas’ lineup with a .338 batting average, 12 homers and 35 RBIs during the regular season.
Hooks is the Longhorns’ all-time leader with 35 homers, but she was never up there just flailing away at pitches. She’s got a great eye at the plate as she collected 32 walks this season and had a .462 on-base percentage.
“She’s very selective in the pitches she looks for,” Clark said. “She gets good momentum with her swing and doesn’t chase stuff out of the strike zone. She’s real consistent with her approach, attitude and work ethic.”
Hooks was at her best during Big 12 play as she hit .353 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 18 games. She’s come a long way after hitting .193 as a freshman as she hit .280 as a sophomore and .347 as a junior.
Hooks has only committed 14 errors in four seasons, and has an exceptionally strong arm behind the plate.
“She’s a seasoned kid with a lot of poise,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “You don’t see a lot of panic with her and she’s a very consistent producer. A lot of young players have ebbs and flows, but she’s really consistent and that’s important for a catcher.”
Pitcher of the Year
Chelsea Thomas, Missouri
Chelsea Thomas is a powerful right-hander with an array of pitches at her disposal.
The third-year Missouri pitcher has tremendous control for such a hard thrower and the ability to pinpoint pitches in any situation. But she’s also got the mental makeup to win big games.
After leading the Tigers to the Big 12 title, Thomas is the Tribune-Herald ’s pitcher of the year.
“Chelsea has all the ingredients you look for,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “She’s got velocity, movement and location. She can throw her riseball, drop and changeup on any count. When you combine those things with a good presence and demeanor, you’ve got a successful pitcher.”
Thomas finished the regular season with a 27-5 record with a league-best 0.81 ERA. She allowed just 103 hits and 39 walks in 208 innings while striking out 323 batters. Thomas was just as dominating in Big 12 play as she went 13-3 with an 1.09 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 115 2/3 innings.
In the key series of the season, Texas pitcher Blaire Luna outdueled Thomas in the opener. But Thomas came back the next day with a six-hitter to guide the Tigers to a 6-3 win May 8. The Tigers went on to win their next three Big 12 games to win the title.
“She’s very deceptive to the eyes of the hitters and hides her pitches well,” Texas coach Connie Clark said. “It’s hard for hitters to sit on one pitch because she’s got the ability to go up and down and in and out with her pitches.”
Thomas has been a key player since arriving at Missouri two years ago as she went 16-7 with a 1.65 ERA as a freshman to help the Tigers reach the Women’s College World Series.
Thomas shut out Oklahoma to lead the Tigers to the Big 12 tournament title, and then beat Illinois, DePaul and UCLA in the NCAA tournament to make the World Series.
But after opening last season with a 12-1 record, she shut it down due to a stress fracture in her arm and received a medical redshirt.
“It was tough for her to sit and watch,” Earleywine said. “She felt like she let the team down and took it personally. She wanted to redeem herself and the program when she got healthy, and that’s made her strong to the end.”
Coach of the Year
Ehren Earleywine, Texas
It looked like Texas would run away with the Big 12 title after getting off to a 12-0 start in conference play.
But under the guidance of coach Ehren Earleywine, the Tigers came on strong by winning nine of their last 10 games to edge Texas for their first Big 12 title since winning the first in 1997. Missouri finished 15-3 in conference play to edge the Longhorns by one game.
The Tigers are coming off back-to-back World Series appearances, and have an experienced squad.
“We have a lot of veterans who have been through a lot of ups and downs in four years,” Earleywine said. “That allowed them to continue to battle through those 18 conference games. We had been in the hunt previous years, but couldn’t finish the deal.”
Freshman of the Year
Taylor Thom, Texas
There was a lot of pressure on freshman Taylor Thom to step in at shortstop for Texas, but she handled the position with ease.
Thomas played superb defensively, and carried a big stick by hitting .356 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs for the No. 3 national seed Longhorns.
“She’s been exceptional for us,” Texas coach Connie Clark said. “It’s impressive when you put up numbers like that. Most freshmen spend a long time figuring out the grind and the new level of play. But she’s been a leader and everything we’ve hoped for. She’s exceeded expectations with her mentality and grit.”
2011 Tribune-Herald All-Big 12 Softball Team
Player of the year: Amy Hooks, Texas
Pitcher of the year: Chelsea Thomas, Missouri
Freshman of the year: Taylor Thom, Texas
Coach of the year: Ehren Earleywine, Missouri
|C||Amy Hooks||Texas||Sr||.338||12||35||.996 fielding pct.|
|1B||Lexy Bennett||Texas||Jr||.455||9||40||Injured last month|
|2B||Alysia Hamilton||Okla. St.||Sr||.392||5||33||.462 on-base pct.|
|3B||Nicole Hudson||Missouri||So||.342||11||44||97 total bases|
|SS||Dani Leal||Baylor||Sr||.364||14||38||.485 on-base pct.|
|OF||Taylor Hoagland||Texas||So||.353||14||34||24 stolen bases|
|OF||Kathy Shelton||Baylor||So||.353||1||18||30 stolen bases|
|OF||Ashley Fleming||Missouri||Jr||.372||12||55||.738 slugging pct.|
|DP||Rhiannon Kliesing||Texas A&M||Sr||.333||16||49||.722 slugging pct.|
|Chelsea Thomas||Missouri||So||27-5||0.81||208||323||11 shutouts|
|Whitney Canion||Baylor||So||24-9||1.28||208.1||265||.193 opponents BA|
|Blaire Luna||Texas||So||27-6||1.27||215||298||15 shutouts|
|2B||Natalie Villarreal||Texas A&M||Jr||.346||4||26|
|3B||Emily Bledsoe||Texas Tech||Jr||.384||3||33|
|Melissa Dumezich||Texas A&M||So||27-8||1.76||214.2||235|