On Thursday evening, the defending national champion Arizona State Sun Devils will begin their 10th Women's College World Series when they take on the 11th seeded Oregon Ducks.
We've given you a scouting report on the Ducks, so now let's put each team side-by-side and see who has the advantages.
Pitching: For the Ducks, they are pretty much a one-woman pitching staff. As Jessica Moore goes, so often do the fortunes of Oregon. Moore started 44 of the team's 60 games thus far, including all six postseason contests. She posted a 32-13 record and a solid 2.57 ERA, including a sterling four-hit shutout over ASU on March 31st. Moore is a power pitcher who can string together strikeouts, but can lose control at times.
The Sun Devils feature two of the best pitchers in the nation in Hillary Bach and Dallas Escobedo. Bach is more of a technician, utilizing great control and downward movement to post a 21-1 record with a team-leading 1.59 ERA. Escobedo brings more heat and can strikeout batters with the best of them, but as she showed against ULL, she can suffer if her riseball isn't hitting its spots.
Corner Infield: First baseman Kailee Cuico is one of the two power hitters for the Ducks, topping the team with 53 RBI and sharing the team lead in homers with 12. She isn't going to ever hit for an elite average, but she is able to show patience at the plate and draw a walk. At third base, the Ducks had an emerging star in Courtney Ceo, who was hitting .378 before she suffered a torn ACL in mid-April. Lindsey Chambers has taken over since then and not shown much with the bat. This has resulted in Moore taking taking those at bats when she pitches since early May, and she has just a .185 average. This could be a major factor in Thursday's game.
For the Sun Devils, their corners are on opposite ends of the experience spectrum but both have pop. At first, senior Annie Lockwood saw her power numbers drop off significantly over last year, but she rebounded with a strong Super Regional and is hitting .314. Freshman Haley Steele has shown great power recently and while the average is still south of .300, she is riding a nice hot streak into the WCWS.
Middle Infield: One of the strengths of the Oregon lineup is in the middle infield. No. 2 hitter and second baseman Kaylan Howard is a terrific all-around hitter, batting .337 average while also making those hits count with a team-high 29 extra base hits (including 12 home runs). Batting behind her at No. 3 is shortstop Kelsey Chambers, who is a solid, if unspectacular hitter. She's posted a line of .303-10-48 and can make ASU pay if they let Howard aboard.
The big story up the middle for ASU is Player of the Year finalist shortstop Katelyn Boyd, one of the elite of the elite in the nation. Even a quick look at her numbers bears her dominance. A .448 average, 19 home runs, 61 RBI, 49:10 walk-to-strikeout ratio and 22 steals. Yeah, she's awesome. At second, Sam Parlich struggled during the year, but was amazing during the Super Regionals, posting a two-home run game. However, she has had issues defensively, committing 14 errors thus far. Also seeing time at second has been Bailey Wingess, who has been great at the plate, hitting .396.
Oregon's got two good girls up the middle, but that is hard to outshine arguably the nation's best player.
Catcher: The Ducks have one of the best young catchers in the Pac-12 in Alexa Peterson. She is not much in the way of a power threat, but she hits for a good average and has a positive walk-to-strikeout ratio that can be disruptive in the middle of the order.
ASU counters with an excellent young catcher in freshman Amber Freeman. In her debut season, she has hit .338 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI, and continued that strong hitting in the Super Regionals.
Outfield: The Ducks' best player is right fielder Samantha Pappas. Like Boyd, she fills out many columns of the stat sheet, wreaking havoc at the leadoff spot to the tune of a .396 average, nine home runs and a team-high 21 steals. Centerfielder Janie Takeda is the other stolen base threat ASU will need to watch, as she stole 16 bases on 19 attempts. Left fielder Allie Burger has had a miserable year at the plate, and is often replaced by DP Christie Nieto, a potent hitter with a .339-9-34 line.
ASU's outfield, conversely, shows no signs of weakness. Alix Johnson, hero of Game 3 against ULL, is among the best in the country. The first team All-Pac-12 player is currently on fire, with a .407-12-50 line and already has shown a great eye at the dish. Centerfielder Elizabeth Caporuscio was excellent during the Super Regionals and is second only to Boyd in home runs with 16. Talor Haro is a skilled high-average slap hitter.
Bench/DP: The Ducks top option off the bench or as a DP is Nieto. Her versatility allows her to play the outfield and the corner infield spots, but she has seen the most at bats as the DH. After that, it's very thin. Jamie Sullivan (55 at bats) and Hannah Melick (52) have seen the most action among the top reserves, but each is batting under .220.
The Sun Devils are, predictably, deep. Wingess is a very productive player, seeing action in 49 games and hitting .396 as mentioned earlier. It would not be a surprise to see her in the starting lineup during the WCWS. Christina Zambrana is an excellent fielder who has yet to make an error in 134 chances this year.
Coaching: The Ducks' are led by Mike White, an accomplished player and coach of over 30 years. He has done a tremendous job in his three seasons in Eugene, helping Oregon make their first ever Super Regional appearance and now taking them to Oklahoma City.
However, in the other dugout in ASU's Clint Myers and his two national titles. That's hard to top.
Intangibles: Oregon is making their first WCWS appearance since 1989. They do, however, have a shutout win over ASU from earlier in this season on their resume, and their ace has had plenty of time to rest up to replicate her masterful performance.
The Sun Devils come in as the defending national champions and having rallied to win their last two series. This one's easy.
Overall: As should be expected in a battle between a perennial contender and the No. 3 seed against the up-and-comers as the 11th seed, the Sun Devils hold advantages everywhere on and off the diamond. On paper, this should be an easy win.
However, the Ducks proved that they have an ace that can shut down ASU's potent offense, and they have enough offensive talent to scratch out some runs and ASU's staff.
In the end, it should be a good battle, with the Sun Devil talent and experience combination proving to be too much for the Ducks in the end.
Full WCWS Details here.
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