Graduation ceremonies are happening again this month all over this great nation of ours.
And with another Western Big 6 Conference softball race in the books, too, it's time to observe another May tradition.
A reminder that these "Best of the Big 6" softball awards are merely one beat writer's opinion, with input from some fellow staffers who have seen league action this season.
- Hitter of the Year: Jordan de los Reyes, Moline. The most dangerous hitter in the league's most potent lineup. Already committed to Illinois State, the junior finished tied for the Big 6 lead in hits (18) and RBIs (18) despite some trying to pitch around Moline's cleanup hitter. The granddaughter of Moline coaching legend Bob Seitz also led the league in doubles (6), tied for second in home runs (4) and shared fourth in batting average (.486). Special mention to United Township's Lizzy Goebel (.345, league-best 5 homers, Big 6-tying 18 RBIs) and Alleman's Chasney Jenkins (league-leading .586, 11 RBIs).
- Pitcher of the Year: Brooke Prior, UT. The junior was a hard-luck 3-2 (with a save) in Big 6 action despite leading the league in earned run average (1.19) and WHIP (1.047 walks-plus-hits per inning pitched). State title-winning Moline coach Mark Gerlach offered the best endorsement last week, though, during a Big 6 doubleheader split with the Panthers. Gerlach said Prior is the sort of state tournament-quality pitcher the Maroons need to overcome this postseason if they hope to defend their Class 4A state title.
- Ironman of the Year: Prior. The Panthers eschewed the normal practice of inserting a courtesy runner for the pitcher because their leadoff batter is such an asset on the bases. Besides leading the Big 6 in runs scored (17), the junior ranked in the Top 10 in hits (14), doubles (4) and batting average (.359). Special mention to Alleman's Avery Nelson, who threw more Big 6 innings than anybody else (48) plus was a middle-of-the-lineup hitter for the Pioneers.
- Defender of the Year: Hayley Marlier, Moline. Unparalleled work behind the plate is why the senior catcher is headed to Illinois State this fall. She also plays a mean right field when de los Reyes spells her behind the dish. Special mention to their senior teammates Brittny Drish (shortstop) and Emily Rasche (left field), who are the league's best in the infield and outfield, respectively, at taking away hits.
- Comeback Player of the Year: Nelson. Bounced back from offseason surgery to power the Pioneers on the mound (6-2, 2.19 ERA) and at the plate (.333, 6 RBIs). Special mention to Jamie VanWatermuelen, who missed all of last season because of knee surgery but battled back to be a regular contributor this spring for UT. Moline's de los Reyes (foot) and Kelcy Reed (back; 3-0, 2.01 ERA) also overcame nagging early season injuries.
- Newcomer of the Year: Reed and Alaina Hofmann, Moline. Stepped up from last season's sophomore team together to answer the preseason questions about the pitching staff for the defending state champs. With Hofmann leading the league with 30 strikeouts, the duo combined to post a 7-0 mark and 2.96 ERA in 45 innings of work. Special mention to Rock Island sophomore Ashlyn Mumma, who ranked among the league leaders in hits (16) and batting average (.410).
- Rookie of the Year: Heather Johnson, UT. The only freshman in a regular pitching role ranked among the Big 6 leaders in ERA (1.95), strikeouts (24) and innings pitched (28.2). A league-best 5-0 record barely trumped a pair of accomplished ninth-grade hitters, though. Alleman's Izzy Anderson (.361, 2 homers, 16 RBIs) and Rocky's Courtney Pearson (.417, 15 hits) finished among the league leaders, too.
- Coach of the Year: Gerlach. To the victor goes the spoils I always say in this category, and Moline kept UT from a title three-peat this season.
- Best in class: Senior: Drish; Junior: de los Reyes; Sophomores: Anna Wetherell, Alleman, over Hailey Feldhahn, Rocky; Freshman: Johnson by an eyelash.
- Ultimate lineup: Jenkins (OF); Rasche (OF); Drish (SS), de los Reyes (1B); Charlotte Park, UT (C); Goebel (OF); Jordan Myers, Moline (DH); Feldhahn (moving from SS to 3B); Erin Walker (moving from SS to 2B); Prior (P). Utility players: Wetherell and Anderson. Pinch-hitter: Lexy VandeMoortel, Alleman. Pinch-runner: Kaitlyn Knary, Moline. Bullpen: Nelson, Reed, Johnson.
- Game of the Year: Moline rallying from a 2-1, fifth-inning deficit in Game 1 of the UT doubleheader, which decided the Big 6 race head-to-head in the league's final weekend. However, the weekend before that, Alleman held off a Panthers' comeback in an opening 7-5 victory to open the door to a decisive showdown between the perennial powers. Most notably, Wetherell made a running catch at the left field wall to take away an RBI and extra bases from Erin Walker to stop a sixth-inning uprising.
Big 6 beat writer Steve Tappa can be reached at (309) 757-4967 or email@example.com.
Today is Saturday, May 18, the 138th day of 2013. There are 227 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: A large variety of children's wagons and gigs have arrived in thecity and are being sold at war prices. 1888 -- 125 years ago: All Rock Island retail houses, with the exception of a clothingstore and a jewelry store, have agreed to early closing hours during the summer months.The store will be closed at 8 p.m. 1913 -- 100 years ago: Baseball enthusiasts in Rock Island are attempting to raise$20,000 to keep the Island City Park open, despite the fact that the city has no franchise inorganized baseball this year. 1938 -- 75 years ago: The organization of a third rural young people's unit will beundertaken tomorrow night at the Milan Presbyterian Church, with Mrs. Mildred K.Wellman, home advisor, and Robert Smith, county farm adviser in charge. 1963 -- 50 years ago: Deere & Co. will begin a "big switch" on its telephone systemMonday morning. The extension numbers of all 1,600 telephones on the firm's EastMoline and Moline exchanges will be changed Monday morning. 1988 -- 25 years ago: East Moline's June Jamboree VI -- Nostalgia Days, will seemlike a '60s revival with the appearance of stars like Bobby Vee, Freddie Cannon, PeterNoone, Turtles, The Grass Roots and Lou Christie. This year's festival has beenexpanded to five days, June 22-26, at the Northeast Park complex.