AZUSA, Calif. -- Freshman third baseman Nicki Sprague led a group of five Azusa Pacific softball players to earn All-Pacific West Conference recipients, winning PacWest co-Player of the Year along with the Freshman of the Year awards after her record-setting regular season.
Sprague and sophomore catcher Madison Hernandez were All-PacWest first team selections, and freshman pitcher Carly Xepoleas earned second-team honors. Junior second baseman Katrina Oviedo and junior shortstop Desiree Chavez earned third-team recognition for the Cougars, who went 39-17 in the regular season and went 13-2 over their final 15 PacWest games to post a 22-10 third-place conference finish.
“Every player on this team exceeded my expectations, from freshmen to juniors, returners to newcomers,” Azusa Pacific head coach Carrie Webber said. “That doesn’t mean I had low expectations for this group, because I certainly expected a lot, but I was overwhelmed by how much everybody exceeded them and did so consistently. You couldn’t ask for anything more from a team, and the best is yet to come for this group because we still have another year together.”
Sprague batted .500 (84-for-168) on the year, setting Azusa Pacific single-season records for hits (84) and runs scored (62). Her .495 batting average in 32 games of conference play was more than 30 points higher than any other PacWest hitter, and she was the conference’s overall leader in both hits and walks (34).
“It’s a tremendous honor to receive this award in such a competitive conference, but the way I look at personal awards is that they are a result of the success the team has had this season,” Sprague said. “We all fed of off each other, and that really helped my confidence as a freshman. My teammates picked me up throughout the lulls of the season, so when I hear about awards and accomplishments, what I think about is how much my teammates have helped me.”
Sprague’s selection as both Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year makes her the second player in PacWest history to win both awards in the same season, and the selection of co-Players of the Year was a first in conference softball history. She is the sixth player from Azusa Pacific to win conference player of the year honors and the first since Rachel Alkire in 2003.
“Even as a freshman, Nicki was truly an impact player who had a phenomenal year,” Webber said. “The way she played helped elevate the play of our entire team. When you have somebody like that in your dugout, it challenges everybody on the team to rise to that level. Nicki is very deserving of these awards, and I’m excited for what the next three years hold for her as she continues to improve.”
Hernandez joined Sprague on the All-PacWest first team after leading the Cougars in doubles (16), home runs (6), RBIs (46), and extra-base hits (23) and ranking second on the team in several other categories including batting average (.371), hits (63), and total bases (99).
Xepoleas, a true freshman lefthander, led Azusa Pacific’s pitching staff in ERA (1.98), wins (17), complete games (11), innings pitched (159.1), and strikeouts (97). She set the program’s single-season saves record with five in 17 relief appearances, and she recorded shutouts in five of her team-high 20 starts.
Oviedo registered the team’s longest hitting streak of the season when she hit safely in 12 consecutive games in the middle of the year, and she posted a season batting average of .309 (50-for-162) with a team-high 15 sacrifices along with a team-best .988 fielding percentage. In conference play, Oviedo batted.325 (27-for-83) and scored 22 runs, second-highest on the team in PacWest play.
Chavez led the Cougars in stolen bases with 19 in 21 attempts, and her eight strikeouts tied Oviedo for the fewest strikeouts on the team (hitters with at least 100 plate appearances). She registered the team’s third-best batting average in conference play (.374).
View the 2014 PacWest Softball Awards:
2014 All-PacWest Softball Team