Ahead of the Baton Rouge Regional that begins today, we here at Devils in Detail wanted to get each writer’s varying opinions on some pretty important ASU Softball questions.
Question 1: What area do you think needs to improve most for the Sun Devils if they want to have long-term success in the post season?
Sam: The Sun Devils need to have solid starting pitching. ASU has been able to score runs this season as they rank fourth in the Pac-12 runs scored. However, they have the 2nd-worst team ERA in the conference. It’s essential for the Sun Devils to pitch well, especially if they have to face Louisiana State University.
Zach: For the Sun Devils to make a run this year, they need to have consistent starting pitching. Arizona State scored at least four runs in 12 of their 24 losses. The Baton Rouge regional is open for the taking but if ASU hopes to advance then the pitching staff cannot afford to waste quality run support.
Hunter: I would have to agree with what both of you guys have said. Outside of Kelsey Kessler, ASU’s pitching has been below average. Both Dale Ryndak and Breanna Macha need to get back to their pre-conference-play form. Teams that have been successful in past College Softball World Series have had multiple pitchers who are able to locate their pitches and are able to provide good enough damage control to complement their run support. Being able to have all three of these pitchers last for at least 5 innings a game will be key in ASU having success in regional play.
Question 2: Who is the one player you are looking at that can be the difference maker for ASU?
Sam: Kelsey Kessler is the ace on the pitching staff and will set the tone for the Sun Devils. If she can get off to a strong start vs McNeese State, and put ASU in the winner’s bracket, that will go along way in advancing to the regional final. If ASU advances to the super regional, it will be in large part due to her performance.
Zach: I’m looking at senior outfielder Jennifer Soria to be a consistent offensive force for the Sun Devils. Aside from an outstanding .363 batting average, team-leading 14 home runs and a first team All-Conference selection; Soria is the leader of this team. Talent goes a long way but leadership is crucial especially after the type season ASU has had. If Soria can produce offensively, defensively and can lead the team, then the Sun Devils should prove some skeptics wrong.
Hunter: Chelsea Gonzales is pretty close to the perfect offensive player for the postseason. Highlights from her regular season stats included 47 RBIs along with 12 home runs. She is the second most productive offensive player behind Jennifer Soria and she has the ability to be a difference maker on a consistent basis. She has a knack for being able to drive runs in and she also is a very patient hitter having only 12 strikeouts on the season. She is the one player on this team that I see being able to change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat thanks to her under-the-radar status.
Question 3: If you were a player on ASU, how would you feel going into the postseason?
Sam: I would feel relieved that the long conference season is over. It was disappointing to see them struggle so much in conference play, considering how successful they were in non-conference play. However, as the cliché goes, it’s a brand new season and everybody is 0-0. I think they’ll be confident in their chances, especially the familiarity of facing LSU in the tournament for the second straight season.
Zach: Personally, I would be very motivated. The Sun Devils played outstanding in non-conference play but lost their luster during Pac-12 play. The postseason is a clean slate so while ASU did endure a 12-game losing streak, this is an opportunity to move past it. Potentially having a postseason rematch with LSU is all the more reason to be excited.
Hunter: If I were a player I would be nervous. ASU stumbled to the regular season finish line and they played very poorly against the Pac-12. It is assumed that ASU would have to face LSU in order to advance to the Super Regionals and LSU only lost 2 games this season out of 5 games played against Pac-12 opponents. They lost to U of A once and the University of Washington once, two teams that ASU struggled against heavily. I hope that those players are ready and realize the task they have ahead of them, because LSU could embarrass ASU on a national stage if they aren’t ready.
Sam: Anything less than the regional final would be a disappointing. They should be able to get past McNeese State and LIU Brooklyn. The real challenge is facing LSU in their stadium. The Tigers ended their season last year, and I think that’ll fuel them this time around. If ASU can get solid pitching and get timely hits, they can advance deep in the tournament. In the end, I think LSU is just too strong of a team, especially after their strong run in the SEC Tournament. They have all the momentum right now, and that’s why I have them defeating ASU in the regional final.
Zach: This has been a roller coaster of a season in Tempe. The Sun Devils have played at extreme highs and lows. With that being said, I believe they will end on a high note. Although LSU has played very well down the stretch, I think the Sun Devils will be fueled by last season’s heartbreak and overcome the Tigers. To take it a step further, this team is good enough to upset James Madison in the Super Regionals. ASU lost an eight-inning thriller to the Dukes on March 13. If the Sun Devils get into the groove they showed in non-conference play, it is not impossible to think they will make it to the Women’s College World Series.
Hunter: I think that ASU will suffer the same fate they did last year, a regional loss at the hands of LSU. ASU will win their first game, and so will LSU, so that will set up a huge matchup for momentum in the region. I think due to lack of quality pitchers ASU will lose that game. They will fight all the way back to a winner takes region situation against LSU but again, due to lack of quality pitching, ASU will end up losing in heartbreak