BOCA RATON – Last season Kylee Hanson rose to the top of several NCAA statistical categories.
This year, coach Joan Joyce doesn’t expect a statistical drop-off. A drop from Hanson’s pitches? Well, that could be something to see.
Hanson’s rise ball has frustrated hitters since her arrival in Boca Raton. Her drop ball? Hanson didn’t believe she needed it.
“Before you get out of here, I said, you are going to love your drop ball,” Joyce said she told Hanson. “Guess what? She’s starting to really like her drop ball.”
That means opposing hitters will no longer be able to key on the riser as her out pitch – not that doing so produced desirable results for opponents anyway. Hanson led the nation with a 0.76 ERA last season. She went 28-5 en route to being named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year and Tournament MVP.
This preseason Joyce is seeing in Hanson a pitcher who is embracing the mental aspects of the game. The senior is no long pitching solely on instinct – recording outs on talent alone. She’s focusing more on pitch strategy.
That, too, should concern opponents.
The Owls were one of only two teams – Florida being the other – to win at least 50 games heading into last year’s NCAA Tournament. FAU’s season ended in the Gainesville Regional, but it was UCF and not the Gators eliminating the Owls.
Hanson’s improvement is a major reason Joyce believes FAU will return to the post-season this year.
Along with the added pitch and enhanced mental approach, Hanson has another surprise for opposing batters.
“I think she’s throwing it a little bit harder,” Joyce said.
Hanson enters the season as the Preseason C-USA Pitcher of the Year. Her Owls are were picked to repeat as C-USA champions.
Does Joyce like being the favorite?
“Of course,” she said. “I voted for us, too.”
FAU, ranked No. 23 nationally, opens its season at home today with a doubleheader against North Florida. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Joyce likes where the Owls are from a pitching and defense standpoint. Hitting may lag a bit in the opening weeks, but Joyce doesn’t seem too concerned.
“We had a real good preseason,” she said.
Owls At A Glance
2016 Record: 51-9
2016 C-USA Record: 22-2 (1st)
Top Returning Players
Kylee Hanson, P, 28-5, 0.76
Amanda Wilson, P, 16-4, 1.69
Emily Lochten, SS, .342, 14 HR
Madisyn Palmer, LF, .432, 27 R
Melissa Martinez, 2B, .357, 49 RBI
Christina Martinez, CF, .333, 43 R
Carnesha Thompson, 3B, 55 R
Games To Watch
Feb. 20 vs. No. 20 Kentucky
March 3 and 5 at No. 5 LSU
March 4 vs. No. 14 Minnesota (in Louisiana)
April 1 and 2 vs FIU (receiving votes)