Only three games stand between LSU and a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series. This certainly isn’t the first three game series of the year for the Tigers, but this is the most important of the season and probably one of the few times of the year the Tigers are, at the very least, evenly matched with their opponent: The Dukes of James Madison.
Game One: 2 PM Friday May 27th, ESPNU, 107.3 FM
Game Two: 11 AM Saturday May 28th, ESPN, 107.3FM
*Game Three: 2 PM, Saturday May 28th, ESPNU, 107.3
JMU started out the year as one of the better "mid-major" programs in the country, ranked 19th USA TODAY Poll and 21st in the ESPN Poll. Despite an early 2-1 loss to Alabama, JMU rebounded with wins over tournament teams UCF, Auburn, Nebraska, Ohio State, Nebraska, Arizona State, Tennessee and BYU, en route to the number eight ranking in the latest USA Today ranking. At one point, James Madison had a 17-game winning streak. JMU ran away with the CAA going 18-1 against conference foes and then easily made it through the league tournament. The Dukes took care of Longwood, UNC, and Princeton in the Harrisonburg Regional.
Players to Know
Jailyn Ford (18 W, .88 ERA, 173 K, .154 OPP BA)
Megan Good (31 W, .90 ERA, 217 K, .150 OPP BA)
The JMU pitching staff is just as good as any staff LSU has faced, if not better. Had it not been for two reserve pitchers, whose respective ERA’s are 4.67 and 11.67, the staff ERA of 1.06 would look even more impressive. Since March 25th, JMU has allowed three or more runs just three times. Good starts more games of the two, but Ford is just as important and both will likely be the only two the Tigers face this weekend.
Jailyn Ford (11 HR, .681 SLG, 16 SB)
Morgan Tolle (.333 AVG, 6 HR, .503 SLG)
Madyson Moran (.416 OBP, .336 AVG, 30 RBI)
- Taylor Newton ( 51 RBI, .547 SLG, 29 R)
JMU led the CAA in most offensive categories, and its totals hold up with the best nationally. The Dukes are ranked 31st nationally in scoring at 5.94 runs per game. The main tool on offense is power, with the Dukes ranking in the top-50 of slugging percentage and home runs per game. JMU’s ability to get on base isn’t as impressive, with the team placing outside the top-50 in batting average and on base percentage. Individually, Ford does double-duty being a star in the circle and in the batter's box. Tolle, Newton and Niki Prince all provide some solid power in the lineup. There isn't a ton of speed in this lineup with Ford and Prince being the only players with double-digit steals.
Stat of the Weekend
LSU and James Madison combine for a staff ERA of 1.49, the lowest of any of the remaining Super Regional sites.
What to Watch For
Bring ‘em home
Through the SEC Tournament and the Baton Rouge Regional, the Tigers did a solid job of scoring with runners in scoring position. This must happen in order to advance. With very good pitching this weekend it's unlikely there will be many chances to score runs. It’s not as if LSU has been swinging the bats particularly well entering this weekend, having scored six or more runs just once since May 7th.
Pitch for pitch
All postseason the emphasis has been on the pitching, and that will continue over for this next series. Expect a heavy dose of Carley Hoover but Allie Walljasper and Sydney Smith will also have to be at their best this weekend. All three have the ability to pitch lights out if needed. Their ability has been a luxury all season, but it is a necessity going forward. Although JMU does not appear to have one super dominant hitter in the lineup, it’s still a potentially dangerous group that must be dealt with carefully.
Short series means short leashes. Beth Torina showed some leniency with Smith and Walljasper in the regional, letting them work out of trouble at least early in their respective outings. Torina might rely on those two even less this weekend, or not at all. At the plate, Torina has been using a very similar lineup for the SEC Tournament and Regional but if the offense is completely incompetent in game one, there could be some noticeable changes for the next game or two.
This is where things get serious. Against Florida and Kentucky, two of the best staffs the Tigers faced this year, the results were pretty bad. Once again LSU faces elite, elite pitching and while JMU didn’t play the greatest conference competition, its performance against other SEC foes shows they can play with the best in the country. Assuming both teams pitch to their potential, the winner of this series might be the team with the best offense. Runs will be limited and every base runner will be valuable. For LSU, this means the defense cannot be responsible for any unearned runs. Overall, if the Tigers are the favorite this weekend it is by a slim margin. Still, LSU is playing some of its best ball entering this series, having won 18 of 20. While this is a tough matchup on paper, LSU should feel confident about advancing if the offense and defense can execute when needed.