What Would The Addition Of Megan Kleist Mean For UL Softball?
How much better would the addition of Megan Kleist make the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns?
News broke over the weekend that Kleist, a two-time All-American pitcher, had decided to transfer from Oregon, where she spent the first three years of her collegiate career, and that Louisiana was not only a possible landing spot, but a probable one, for the right-hander.
Yes, it might be putting the cart before the horse to talk about what the addition of Kleist would mean to the Cajuns, seeing as how it's not yet official, but it's hard not to, since all signs point to that.
First, Louisiana was likely to be a top 15 team next year, even without Kleist.
This is a program that returns six players who started at least 32 games last season, as well as their top two pitchers, in terms of innings pitched.
It's also a program that returns Brittany Holland, who was the starting second baseman to begin 2018, before a knee injury ended her season, after only three games.
It's also a program that brings in some high-profile transfers, such as Keeli Milligan and Sarah Hudek, who were both starters on a Texas A&M team that appeared in the 2017 Women's College World Series, as well as Bailey Curry, who hit 14 home runs for Toledo last season, Raina O'Neal, who hit 12 homers for Texas Tech in 2017, and Julie Rawls, who hit ten long balls for Northwestern St. last year.
All of that talent is returning to a team that went 41-16 a season ago, spent the entire season in the top 25, and finished one win away from a Super Regional, despite losing two All-Americans and the 2017 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, who all decided to transfer after the fall semester in 2017.
Think about it; in December of last year we didn't even know who was going to be on the roster in 2018, and now here we are, one year later, after another banner year, adding players who were all-conference performers in their respective leagues.
Based upon what they have coming back, and what they added, one would have to consider them a top 15 team, and maybe more, even without Kleist.
And that's no surprise. Louisiana has earned a berth to 20-consecutive regionals, and are only one of nine programs in the entire country that has played in an NCAA Regional every year since 2000.
Success is nothing new to this program.
The addition of Kleist, if it does happen, is a game-changer; one that would make the Cajuns a top five team, in my opinion, and make them a legitimate threat to go deep into the Women's College World Series.
The one question mark that UL had, and still might have, if the Kleist transfer doesn't happen, was/is starting pitching.
There is no doubt that Summer Ellyson is a bonafide ace, but there are questions after her.
Yes, Louisiana is very high on Kandra Lamb, and she may well turn into a future ace, but the bottom line is she's an untested freshman.
And yes, UL still has confidence in Casey Dixon, who won 9 games last year.
Still, if you're going to be an elite team; a top ten team, you normally have to have two aces, who the jury is no longer still out on.
Florida St., who won the national championship last year, had two aces. Meghan King and Kylle Hanson both won over 25 games last year, and both pitched 198 or more innings.
The team the Seminoles beat in the championship series, the Washington Huskies, also had two aces. Gabbie Plain and Taran Avelo both won over 20 games, and both pitched over 165 innings.
The team Louisiana fell to in the Baton Rouge Regional, LSU, had two aces, in Allie Walljasper and Carly Hoover.
Oklahoma, who won the national title in 2017, had two aces, in Paige Lowary and Paige Parker.
Florida, who lost to Oklahoma in the 2017 WCWS Championship Series, really had three aces, with Kelly Barnhill, Delanie Gourley, and Aleshia Ocasio.
Yes, softball is way more of an offensive game nowadays. The balls are livelier, the bats are better, the instruction is more advanced, and more young ladies grow up wanting to become hitters, as opposed to pitchers, which means better athletes now want to hit.
So yes, it's a lot more of a hitters game, but that makes pitching even more important; and to go deep into the postseason, you likely need two aces.
A possible, and dare I say, even likely combination of Kleist and Ellyson, would give Louisiana two aces who could match-up with any duo in the nation.
A 2017 & 2018 NFCA All-American, Kleist went 21-7 with a 1.32 ERA and struck out 221 batters over 179.2 innings last season, while being tabbed the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.
In three seasons at Oregon, Kleist compiled an overall record of 59-18 with a 1.60 ERA., to go along with 475 strikeouts over 477 innings pitched.
She is an elite pitcher; one of the best in the country.
It is also my understanding that Kleist is a quality person, who takes academics very seriously.
As for an adjustment period; well yeah, anytime you transfer, there is an adjustment, and coming from Oregon to Louisiana would be an adjustment.
That being said, Kleist is already very familiar with UL pitching coach Mike Roberts, who was her pitching coach at Oregon, and who is close with her family.
Simply put, Kleist is a premier pitcher, who will likely continue to be one with the Cajuns.
Now, factor in Ellyson, who was fabulous last year, going 23-10 with a 1.53 ERA. last year, while recording wins over Florida, LSU, and Oregon St., becoming a true ace in the process.
I think Ellyson, with the addition of a change-up, and having somebody like Kleist with her, who can save her innings, can be even better in 2019.
The two of them together can be lethal, as Gerry Glasco could do so many things. He could pitch the fresher arm against a high-caliber opponent. He could pitch who he perceives as the better match-up. He could also pitch both of them against a single opponent, forcing hitters to adjust to both.
The addition of Kleist would also allow Lamb, a freshman right-hander with a ton of talent, to develop at a modest pace, without the risk of rushing her.
Dixon, along with Carrie Boswell, Alison Deville, and Kali Kitsinis would all factor in too, as Glasco has talked about using an entire staff, and now would have the necessary arms to do just that.
One thing that the 2019 team will have to deal with, regardless of whether they get Kleist, or not, will be dealing with high expectations.
Last year's group defied some naysayers and put together a sparkling season.
A lot will be expected of the 2019 team, and they will have to learn to deal with that.
Of course, you have to win games on the field, and a lot of things have to come together to become a Women's College World Series team. Just because you're a top ten team, on paper, doesn't mean that will be the way your year plays out.
You just never know how a team is going to jell, how much of a factor injuries will play, how you're playing at the end of the year, how the brackets will look in the postseason, etc.
There are just so many factors involved, in terms of making it to the Women's College World Series, you just can't assume that Louisiana, or anyone else for that matter, will get there.
Still, the addition of Kleist, in my opinion, would arguably make Louisiana a top five team; making them a legitimate WCWS contender, and maybe even more.