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LSU Softball Regional Preview

The first leg of the WCWS comes through Baton Rouge.

The Women’s College World Series has officially begun with LSU the beneficiary of hosting a regional. Things look good for the Tigers entering postseason play, with the team having won 15 of last 16, including a great three game run in the SEC Tournament. That last stretch featured some of the most cohesive softball seen all season with the offense, defense and pitching simultaneously performing at a high level. That must continue for the rest of the postseason, starting this weekend.

The Schedule

The Opponents

McNeese State Cowgirls (42-12, 23-4 Southland, 32nd RPI)

This might be the sneaky good team of this regional. Although they might be dismissed as the pushover, automatic qualifier, McNeese went toe-to-toe with some good teams during the regular season. The Cowgirls lost two out of three to then No.16 Baylor, but both losses were one run games. Also on the resume is a win (and loss) against then No.25 Mississippi State, along with a couple of closer than expected losses, noticeably to ULL and a 5-2 loss to LSU on April 26th.

In conference play, McNeese made pretty quick work of its Southland foes, with an offense which led the conference in most statistical categories and a pitching staff which was just as impressive, finishing 11th nationally in team ERA. The Cowgirls come to Baton Rouge having won their last nine games and having set the school record for wins in a single season.

Players to know: Erika Piancastelli (.420 AVG, 21 HR, 47 RBI), Marisa Taunton (60 H, 22 SB, .355 AVG), Emily Vincent (1.60 ERA, 147 K, .210 OPP BA), Jamie Allred (1.71 ERA, 108 K, .213 AVG).

LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds (30-25, 14-2 NEC, 132nd RPI)

Coming all the way from Fort Greene, the Blackbirds punched their ticket by winning the NEC title. Although probably the weakest team in the group, LIU still has victories over current tournament teams Illinois, Valparaiso, Florida A&M, and a narrow 3-1 loss to UCF. However, the Blackbirds also got destroyed by several ranked teams including Georgia and FSU. In the NEC, it wasn’t a runaway for LIU, taking the regular seasons title by just one game.

The best thing going for the Blackbirds is balance. They finished the season ranked near the top of the NEC in several pitching and batting categories. The only really impressive totals is the mere 72 walks allowed by LIU.

Players to know: Celinna Cosio (8 HR, 39 RBI, .566 SLG), Whitney West (.372 AVG, 5 3B, 12 SB), Victoria Zamora (.351 AVG, .507 SLG, .476 OBP), Erynn Sobieski (3.05 ERA, 145 K, .282 OPP BA)

Arizona State Sun Devils (30-24, 6-18 Pac-12, 40th RPI)

The Sun Devils are certainly the biggest name traveling to Baton Rouge this weekend, but they might not have the most impressive resume, especially compared to last year when ASU came to Baton Rouge ranked 24th entering the regional. ASU did secure out of conference wins against current tournament teams in Tennessee and Baylor, but dropped games to tournament teams in Kentucky, Minnesota, Fullerton, Long Beach State, Missouri, Ohio State and James Madison. That was all before conference play. In Pac-12 play, ASU went through a 12-game losing streak right in the middle of the season and finished the month of April with just one win.

On paper, the best component of ASU’s team is its power, slugging .501 on the season with 62 home runs and 723 total bases. The Sun Devil pitching is not too spectacular with a staff ERA at 3.86 and opponents hitting .281 against them.

Players to know: Kelsey Kessler (3.04 ERA, 175 K, .241 OPP BA), Jennifer Soria (.363 AVG, 14 HR, 41 RBI), Chelsea Gonzales (12 HR, 47 RBI, .603 SLG), Abby Spiel (.430 OBP, 36 R, 13 SB)

Stat of the Weekend

LSU has made the postseason for 11th straight seasons.

What to Watch For

Strong in the field

Many things didn’t go right in Saturday’s loss to Auburn, most noticeably the shaky LSU Tiger defense making an appearance and costing the Tigers four unearned runs. Prior to that game, the Tiger defense had been playing significantly better having committed zero errors in the first three games of the SEC Tournament. It’s one thing to have an error, leading to a base runner, but it’s another thing to commit errors with runners on base like LSU had against Auburn or have a four error performance like the one against Washington on May 7th. Good news in this area is that LSU’s pitching can potentially bail out the defense, but that shouldn’t be the mindset entering this weekend.

Pitching will hold

Assuming the defense plays at a serviceable level, LSU’s pitching will have to carry the team to the next round. Last year the staff surrendered just six runs in the five games, a totals which can be matched with Sydney Smith in the fold with Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper. If the SEC Tournament was any indication, the Tiger pitching should be able to keep them in every game for the remainder of the postseason.

Beware of the Cowgirls

If there is a team that could knock off the Tigers, it looks to be McNeese. Although the Tiger offense is talented, at times this year they have been stifled by strong opposition pitching. Even in the SEC Tournament, the Tigers never scored more than five runs. Although, McNeese played against relatively weak competition in conference, they played well against better, non-conference teams in defeat and were never run ruled this year. Aside from a bad three-run, first inning the Cowgirls did a good job managing LSU’s bats earlier this year. On offense, the Cowgirls don’t have a ton of power hitters with just one player in double-figure home runs, but it is a deep lineup with six regulars hitting above .300 on the season.

Estimated Outcome

Although LSU might be the favorite in this group they shouldn’t be considered a runaway favorite. Both McNeese and ASU are top-50 teams nationally and formidable on offense. The edge for the Tigers in this series is pitching. None of the three teams matches the Tigers in quality and quantity arms. If the defense plays well, the pitching could be ultra effective this weekend. Assuming the pitching does its job the offense does not have to carry its team, but still must cash in base runners as they did last weekend. This is a tough group, made more difficult by the NCAA fun police cracking down on dugout props, leaving the status of Juanita up in the air. Even if Juanita cannot make an appearance, the Tiger pitching should perform well enough and advance the team to the next round.