The biggest series of the season begins tonight for the Sun Devils, as they take on the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana in the first game of the Tempe Super Regional.
We spent some time with Cory Weigel, Sports Information Assistant at the University of Louisiana and sportswriting tour de force for the Ragin' Cajuns athletic department. He answered nine questions for us, so here it is: your starting nine for the Tempe Super Regional.
House of Sparky: What stood out to you most about UL's 9-2 victory over ASU on March 15?
Cory Weigel: What I learned most from the first meeting between the two squads was that UL was for real. The team had gotten off to a school record 23-0 start and were the talk around town about how great the softball team was. They had dominated their opponents and even picked up wins over No. 24 Tulsa (19-4) and No. 12 Michigan (10-7). But going into the Arizona State game there was a different feeling. I just knew that if they could beat the Sun Devils then this team would have a chance to do some special things this year.
The Cajuns seemed to play with an extra amount of energy and were ready to play every pitch all seven innings. Freshman pitcher Jordan Wallace stepped up big in the national spotlight and the offense got to Dallas Escobedo early in the game before she was able to get into a groove. The Ragin' Cajuns proved that they were for real and are ready to make a serious run at their first national title.
HoS: This series has two of the top three scoring teams in the nation. do you expect it to be a high-scoring affair?
CW: As good as these two pitching staffs are, I do expect these games to provide plenty of offense. Both lineups are stacked with offensive studs with the Cajuns featuring two of the top three RBI producers in the nation in Christi Orgeron and Nerissa Myers and ASU owning a top three finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year in Katelyn Boyd. The ballpark has shorter dimensions than the Cajun's home park and the warmer weather will make the ball hot jumping off the bat. The key to this series may be which pitchers can keep the ball in the park because both teams are loaded with offensive firepower.
HoS: The Cajuns starting pitcher duo posted nearly identical stat lines this season. What can you tell us about Ashley Brignac and Jordan Wallace?
CW: Ashley Briganc has developed into a complete pitcher throughout her career at UL. She started out winning 31 games her freshman year, while striking out 327 hitters in the process. The fifth-year senior has had to battle back from injuries and change her approach as a result. She has added a changeup to her repertoire and has given oppenents another pitch for them to think about as they step into the box. Although the strikeouts have cut down, Briganc is just as effective as she was before her injuries, winning Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year for the third time this season.
The number one thing that impresses me about Jordan Wallace is her moxie. She seems to never get rattled and for a freshman that is something you rarely see. She has pitched in the big moments, picking up wins over No. 24 Tulsa, No. 12 Michigan, No. 5 Arizona State and No. 16 Stanford. Wallace was named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and it has been well deserved after an astonishing, 26-1 record.
HoS: UL has a trio of players with over 20 steals. How important is the running game to the Cajuns' offensive strategy?
CW: The Cajuns rely heavily on their running game with their speedsters Katie Smith (22 steals), Nerissa Myers (21 steals), Natalie Fernandez (20 steals) and Erikka Murphy (16 steals). When UL runs on the base paths, their offense takes off as well. It sets the table when their slappers are able to reach and wreck havoc on the bases for their big bats to come to the dish for an RBI opportunity. If the Sun Devils can keep the Cajun's running game at bay, it will give ASU a huge lift and possibly be the difference in the series.
HoS: With a lineup featuring Katie Smith's .444 average, Nerissa Myers' NCAA best 80 runs and the country's top RBI machine in Christi Orgeron, how do you stop the Cajun offense?
CW: I just talked about the speed of the Cajuns and their slappers setting the table for the rest of the lineup. The slappers are the real key to the Louisiana offense and their 8.09 runs scored per game. When the Cajuns have lost, the slappers (Smith, Myers, Fernandez and Murphy) have hit .306. I know this sounds like a good batting average but for this UL squad who is hitting .345 as a team that is counted as shutting them down. In the the wins this season, the slappers are hitting .390. Quite a difference.
HoS: Who is one X-factor for UL?
CW: I believe the X-factor for the Ragin' Cajuns in this series will be Matte Haack. Haack is a transfer from Arizona, who has been in these types of situations before. The junior hits in the fourth slot and has done a tremendous job protecting Christi Orgeon this season. With nine homeruns and 53 RBI on the year, she has made pitchers pay for walking Orgeron to get to her. Haack has gotten hot at the right time, hitting two homeruns, including her first career grand slam, in the regionals. The Cajuns are going to need her to stay hot at the plate to make pitchers throw to Orgeron.
HoS: UL seems to be very balanced and from an outsider's perspective, does not have any real weaknesses. Can you say anything to contradict that?
CW: Louisiana is a very balanced squad. The offense speaks for itself, but pitching has not let them down this season, nor has their defense. The left side of the infield with shortstop Nerissa Myers and third baseman Natalie Fernandez creates so much range and has saved Brignac and Wallace many runs. I know it's cliche but I really do think the only thing that can stop the Cajuns is themselves.
HoS: The lights get bright quickly during the Women's College World Series. Are the Ragin' Cajuns ready to make a national statement against the defending champions?
CW: Everytime the Ragin' Cajuns have been up against the "big boys" or the national spotlight they have [risen] to the occasion. The regional in Lafayette proved to be the case as UL rolled through the three games outscoring their opponents, 23-5 in the process. Although the Cajuns will be coming into at hostile environment, they are a senior led team with five fifth-year players. Several of the seniors were members of the 2008 squad that went to the Women's College World Series and I think they will be ready for anything thrown their way.
HoS: Who will win this series, and in how many games?
CW: This series is going to be a dogfight. The 9-2 victory earlier in the season is basically forgotten about and will have zero impact on the outcome of this series. Both squads are flawless in almost every aspect of the game and this may come down to whichever team blinks first.
I expect this to be close in every contest, with the Ragin' Cajuns clinching their sixth Women's College World Series berth in program history. The matchup between the Sun Devils and Cajuns is probably the best on paper than any other super regional around the country. UL has had balls bounce their way all season and have stepped up to every challenge. This could be a series for the ages, with the Cajuns coming out on top in three games.