ASU Softball: NCAA Tournament Preview

Sep 18, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky looks on during the first half against the New Mexico Lobos at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky looks on during the first half against the New Mexico Lobos at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite losing 11 of their last 14 games, ASU Softball made the NCAA Tournament.

The Sun Devils were named to the Baton Rouge regional for the second consecutive year as their first game will be Friday vs McNeese State. LSU is the host school as they are 10th-seed overall.

The Tigers will face LIU Brooklyn in their first game on Friday. Last year, ASU’s season ended in Baton Rouge after ASU lost two straight games vs LSU after the Sun Devils eked out a 1-0 win in Game 1.

The Sun Devils finished the season losing two games at Oregon State, with the third game of the series rained out. The Sun Devils got into the tournament with a strong schedule and RPI ranking. ASU is ranked 39th in the RPI rankings due to a 25-12 home record and a strong strength of schedule. In total, the Sun Devils faced 18 teams that made the NCAA Tournament, with seven given a national seed.

With the Pac-12 Conference given three national seeds and seven tournament spots, the Sun Devils have faced some of the toughest competition in the country. This tough schedule has helped prepared them for the tournament, where they will face stiff competition.

The Sun Devils will begin the road to Oklahoma City against the Southland Conference champions McNeese State. The Cowgirls make their first tournament appearance since 2010 after defeating Lamar 5-2 in the championship game.

McNeese State went 39-12 during the regular season, including a 23-4 conference record. McNeese State had the best offense in the Southland, as they were first in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored.

While the hitting has carried this team, they also pitch well. Cowgirls have a team ERA of 2.13 and an opposing batting average of .229, while leading the conference with 275 strikeouts.

LIU Brooklyn is the other unseeded team in the Baton Rouge regional. The Blackbirds qualified for the tournament after winning the Northeast Conference title. They finished the season with a 29-24 record, including a 14-2 conference record.

LIU Brooklyn ranked third in the conference with a .286 batting average and finished second in runs scored. On the pitching side, the Blackbirds ranked third in the NEC with a team ERA of 3.52.

The 10th-seed overall in the NCAA Tournament is the LSU Tigers. The Tigers are coming off another strong season in arguably the toughest conference. LSU finished their season with a loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game as they finished with a 45-15 record, earning them the 10th seed.

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LSU is led by a trio of fielders. Left fielder Sandra Simmons broke out in the SEC Tournament by matching her regular season home run total of two in the SEC Tournament, helping LSU get to the championship game. Third baseman Bianka Bell led the team with a .395 batting average to go along with 12 home runs and 58 RBIs. First baseman Sahvanna Jaquish batted .349 with 12 home runs and driving in a team-high 65 runs. In the pitching circle, they are led by ace pitcher Sydney Smith, who was just named SEC Softball Pitcher of the Week. Smith is 12-3 in 20 appearances with 0.80 ERA. She has thrown a team-high seven shutouts. Carly Hoover is the No.2 pitcher, as she is 18-7 with a 2.37 ERA in 33 appearances.

It’s going to be a difficult road for the Sun Devils if they want to make it to the Super Regional. ASU should be able to beat McNeese State and LIU Brooklyn as they haven’t faced as tough of a competition as ASU has on a night-in and night-out basis. The strength of the Pac-12 will help ASU, but they have to face a strong LSU team after they had a deep run in the SEC Tournament.

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The key for the Sun Devils will be to pitch well against some potent offenses. The Sun Devils had the second worst ERA in the Pac-12 with Stanford being the only team with a higher ERA.

The trio of Kelsey Kessler, Dale Ryndak and Breanna Macha will have to pitch their very best in the tournament. Something ASU does have an advantage is their depth. To have three starting pitchers who can equally contribute is a big advantage, considering the close proximity of games.

Also, the lineup features a lot of depth with Jennifer Soria, Taylor Becerra and Chelsea Gonzales leading the way. While ASU has had their ups and downs this season, their depth could help carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament.