TUESDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
-Tori Collins corrals opposing batters for Cards
-Can Dullahan do Derby?
As one of the three seniors on the current UofL Softball team, Tori Collins is looked to for leadership, advice and experience. Opponents aren't too excited, though, about having to look out in the pitching circle and see the lefty lined up to pitch against them.
She's on pace to catch Catherine Bishop (2004-07) as the second all-time strikeout leader in Louisville softball history. Tori has sent 572 batters muttering back to the dugout in four years....168 of those coming this season. She needs 13 more "punch-outs" to pass Bishop. Kristen Wadwell (2008-10) leads Louisville with 696 career strikeouts. With a Wednesday game at Tennessee and three left to close out the regular season at St John's...it is possible she'll climb into second before Louisville starts BIG EAST Tournament Play.
Collins is 23-1 on the season and has two no-hitters and two one-hitters to her credit this year. She pitched five strong innings in her most recent outing against Georgetown -- giving up just two hits and striking out five Hoya batters.
Collins came to Louisville as a freshman in 2009 after leading her McCutcheon, IN high school team to the state championship in 2008. She was Miss Indiana Softball and was selected to the 2008 Indiana All-Star team. With strong-arm Kristin Wadwell on the mound for the Cards, Collins' appearances were limited her first year..but she posted a 7-1 record in 81 innings of work. She struck out 57 batters her first year and had shut out wins against Rutgers and Eastern Kentucky. She was also named to the BIG EAST Academic All-Star team.
Collins numbers picked up her sophomore year...going 18-6 and recording 163 strikeouts. Three shutouts and she was named to the All-Big East First team and Tournament team. She set a then career record with 11 strikeouts against Houston. Things looked bright for her and the Cards going into the 2011 season.
She began the season as the Cards 'ace' in the circle. Unfortunately, she missed three weeks with a stress fracture and wasn't able to return to the Cardinal rotation until mid-April. With a 16-12 record and 184 strikeouts, she was key for the Cards in the BIG EAST Tournament...pitching back-to-back complete game shutouts in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the tournament at Ulmer Stadium. She was a BIG EAST All-Tournament selection and was posed to have a great senior year.
And, she has. With several very good and dominating pitchers in the BIG EAST this year, naming Collins the best in the league might draw some protest in Tampa and Syracuse...but Louisville's one game lead in BIG EAST regular-season play going into the final weekend wouldn't have been remotely possible if she hadn't done what she's done this season.
Along with sophomores Caralisa Connell and Chelsea Leonard, she gives the Cards the strongest pitching staff in the BIG EAST and they've combined for 340 strikeouts this year. No one has scored more than seven runs on them this season in a game or gotten more than nine hits (DePaul...back on March 31st.)
Collins' major is elementary education with a emphasis in English.
It's been far from elementary for opposing batters to reach base and score on her this year, though.
One of the most impressive wins on the Road to the Roses has come from Dullahan this spring. He flew down the stretch at Keeneland back on April 14th., and passed Hansen to win the Blue Grass Stakes by one and one fourth lengths.
Owned by Donegal Racing, trained by Dale Romans and getting Kent Desormeaux in the saddle, Dullahan has had an interesting preparation for the 138th Kentucky Derby...with races on the polytrack and turf.
He's also had three trips over the Churchill surface -- the last one coming in the Breeders Cup Juvenile -- where he finished a closing fourth after being last in the backstretch -- behind Hansen, Union Rags and Creative Cause. All three of these are expected to run Saturday.
Dullahan had no chance to win back in November..but has made strides since then and impressed more than a few with the way he relished the extra distance of the Blue Grass Stakes and ran down Hansen two weeks ago. His 1:47.94 winning time was the fastest win time ever in the Blue Grass Stakes since it's been run on Polytrack.
A "dullahan" is translated in Irish mythology as "being without a head." A dullahan is a mystical fairie and rides a black horse with his head under his arm.
Kent Desormeaux would be best advised to have his head about him and his wits keen and sharp if the duo are going to weave their way through the 19 other expected runners in Derby 138. Backers at the window may see 10-1 or better odds on the late-charger...and we'll be watching in the deep stretch at Churchill to see if he comes flying late as he did at Keeneland.
PAUL: The way he dismantled Hansen at Keeneland shows me he's going to love the longer stretch at Churchill. Rain and a sloppy track shouldn't hurt him at all. As of Tuesday, he's my pick to win the Derby. Desormeaux is called "Superman" by racing fans...and he'll have this one flying faster than a speeding bullet down the stretch in front of the Twin Spires
SONJA: I'm afraid it's going to be "too little, too late" for the closer. Weaving through 19 horses is a little different than nine. Still, I like him in the exotics and see a third or fourth place finish for him. If the speed should somehow completely fall apart (and I don't think it will) I wouldn't be surprised if he wins or gets close trying. The big knock against him is this...a horse has never won on the poly-track at Keeneland and then won the Kentucky Derby next time out. It's been since 1991 when a horse winning the Blue Grass Stakes (then on dirt) has won the Derby (Strike the Gold).