After 66 games, the Tigers have made it to the Women's College World Series. Make no mistake, this was an obtainable goal entering the season. However, just like last year, LSU will have to navigate a tough group of teams, some of whom LSU has already played earlier this season.
The Opponents-Bracket Two
Michigan (50-5, 21-2 B10, 2nd RPI)
LSU’s opening opponent for the tournament is also the team which eliminated the Tigers from the WCWS last year. The Wolverines are arguably the top offense of the remaining teams, leading the nation in scoring at 8.2 runs per game while ranking in the top-5 nationally in batting average, on base percentage and slugging. The pitching is also pretty good with a staff ERA around 2.04. Although the Wolverines spent most of the year in the top-10, they never beat a team ranked in the top-10 at the time of the matchup. They blitzed through the Big Ten with 15 of the 21 wins coming in run-rule decisions.
Players to know: Sierra Romero (19 HR, 916 SLG, .465 AVG), Tera Blanco, (.762 SLG, .406 AVG, 64 RBI), Sierra Lawrence (.553 OBP, 20 SB, 11 HR), Megan Betsa (1.96 ERA, 27 W, 287 K), Sara Driesenga (2.14 ERA, 95 K, .228 OPP AVG).
Alabama (51-12, 17-8 SEC, 8th RPI)
The Tide’s SEC slate didn’t get off to a great start, dropping their opening series to LSU. That would be the only conference series they would lose all year picking up notable wins over A&M and Kentucky. Like LSU, Bama is playing some of its best ball in the later half of the season, having won 12 of its last 15. Anchoring this run is the pitching duo of Sydney Littlejohn, Alexis Osorio and freshman Madi Moore. Littlejohn and Osorio haven’t matched their sub-two ERA’s from a year ago, but both have seen an increase in strikeouts. Alabama’s offense is a solid unit, averaging 6.24 runs per game.
Players to know: Sydney Littlejohn (2.32 ERA, 23 W, 113 K), Alexis Osorio (.203 OPP BA, 263 K, 2.37 ERA), Madi Moore (1.94 ERA, .246 OPP BA, 45 K), Leona Lafeele (.345 AVG, 15 HR, .667 SLG), Haylie McCleney (.441 AVG, 22 SB, .600 OBP).
Oklahoma (52-7, 17-1 Big 12, 3rd RPI)
Like Michigan, OU feasted on its conference competition, though only one of its opponents, Baylor, was ranked when the two faced off. Still, OU had some solid wins over UCLA, Utah and Tennessee. The strength of the Sooners is the offense, ranking 11th nationally scoring 6.88 runs per game. OU’s power is evident throughout the lineup with six players having recorded six or more home runs. In the circle, the Sooners are a solid group, still ranking in the top-20 nationally with the main hurler being Paige Parker.
Players to know (stats through May 23rd): Shay Knighten (.678 SLG, 11 HR, 52 RBI), Erin Miller (.683 SLG, .398 AVG, 9 HR), Caleigh Clifton (.557 OBP, .602 SLG, 12 SB), Nicole Pendley (.535 SLG, 403 OBP, 38 RBI), Paige Parker (1.36 ERA, 31 W, 235 K).
The Opponents-Bracket One
Georgia (45-18, 12-12 SEC, 19th RPI)
Georgia didn’t do it’s biggest damage in the regular season with just a .500 record in the SEC and had a less than stellar out of conference schedule, highlighted by a win over Cal State Fullerton (29th in RPI). However, the Dawgs probably had the upset of the postseason when they knocked off defending champion and No.1 ranked Florida. The Dawgs enter this tournament with a good balance of pitching and offense, with both units ranking in the top-20 nationally in several categories. Ace Chelsea Wilkinson and fellow pitcher Brittany Gray form a quality one-two combination. UGA does hit for a good average, leading the SEC in average and ranking fifth nationally.
Players to know: Tina Iosefa (.364 AVG, 23 HR, .838 SLG), Sydni Emanuel (.452 AVG, .497 OBP, 14 SB), Cortni Emanuel (.423 AVG, 32 SB, 20 RBI), Chelsea Wilkinson (1.84 ERA, .199 AVG, 209 K), Brittany Gray ( 3.24 ERA, 128 K, 11 W).
Florida State (52-8, 21-2 ACC, 6th RPI)
The Noles come into the tournament as a team with an offense based around getting on base and speed, ranking sixth nationally in stolen bases per game at 2.43 and ninth in on-base percentage at .433. This isn’t to say the Noles are a one dimensional team, with a team slugging percentage and ERA both ranked in the top-20 nationally. FSU enters the WCWS on a ten-game winning streak and, in regular season conference play, only lost two games to an un-ranked opponents during the regular season
Players to know: Jessica Warren (.383 AVG, 18 HR, .760 SLG), Alex Powers (14 HR, 59 RBI, .468 OPB), Morgan Klaevemann (.352 AVG, 50 SB, .509 OBP), Jessica Burroughs (1.93 ERA, 227 K, .170 OPP BA), Meghan King (2.09 ERA, 121 K, 25 W)
UCLA (40-14-1, 16-5-1 Pac-12, 15th RPI)
The Bruins are one of four teams LSU has already played at least once this season. Back in February, Tigers topped the Bruins 10-5. UCLA was the only team out of a loaded Pac-12 that made the final eight. Their resume is one of the more impressive with series wins over Oregon, Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, and single game victories over A&M, UCF and Georgia. Offense is the strength of the Bruins with three players sporting double-digit home run totals and the team ranking 16th nationally in slugging percentage. The Bruins might have the weakest staff of the finalists, ranking outside the top-50 in team ERA.
Players to know: Delaney Spaulding (.709 SLG, 17 HR, 61 RBI), Mysha Sataraka (.374 AVG, .763 SLG, .561 OBP), Allexis Bennett (.412 AVG, 12 SB, .500 OBP), Madeline Jelenicki (.313 AVG, .631 SLG, 13 HR), Selina Ta’amilo (3.39 ERA, 120 K, .275 OPP BA)
Auburn (54-10, 16-7 SEC, 5th RPI)
The other Tigers in the field, Auburn ended LSU’s SEC Tournament run with a 7-1 victory in the title game. Auburn made its big jump in the middle of the season when they ripped off a 17-game winning streak including 13 in a row against SEC competition. The key component to that run and the current WCWS run has been the offense. It ranks second in scoring behind Michigan while ranking in the top-10 in slugging and on-base percentage. Auburn’s pitching staff is also a solid unit, with three regular contributors posting an ERA under 2.50.
Players to know: Kasey Cooper (19 HR, .880 SLG, .589 OBP), Jade Rhodes (.682 SLG, .426 OBP, 17 HR), Tiffany Howard (.392 AVG, 11 SB, .468 SLG), Makayla Martin (1.70 ERA, 63 SO, .207 OPP BA), Kaylee Carson (2.11 ERA, 64 K, 17 W).
More on the WCWS Schedule, Keys to the Matchups, and some Predictions coming in Part 2.