What Does Adding Megan Kleist Mean For UL Softball in 2020?
How much better will the addition of Megan Kleist make the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns in 2020?
Well, it's hard to get much better than 52-6. That's not likely to happen.
But in terms of how far Louisiana will advance in the postseason, and how big of a player they are on the national scene, Kleist, as well as a number of talented newcomers, should make them an even bigger threat.
A two-time All-American pitcher, Kleist sat out last season, after electing to transfer from Oregon, where she spent the first three years of her collegiate career.
Understand, Louisiana would be a surefire top 15 team, and a possible top ten squad in 2020, even without Kleist.
This is a program that returns seven players who started at least 41 games last season, as well as their top three 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, prior to suffering yet another season-ending knee injury before the start of last season.
It's also a program that brings in some other quality transfers, such as Kaitlyn Alderink (Texas A&M), Mia Camuso (Oregon), Geana Torres (Missouri), Melissa Mayeaux (junior college), and Kendall Talley, who sat out last season after transferring from Lamar, to go along with a group of talented freshmen, including Taylor Roman and Taylor Fawcett, who were impressive in the fall.
All of that talent is returning to a team that went 52-6 a season ago, spent the entire season in the top 25, ended the regular season ranked in the top ten, went 25-0 in Sun Belt Conference play, and finished just one win away from a Super Regional.
Make no mistake; this is a team with a deep, talented roster that can match up with any in the country.
Based on what they have coming back, and what they added, one would have to consider them a top ten team, and likely more, even without Kleist.
And that's no surprise. Louisiana has earned a berth to 21-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 could help the Cajuns take that next step however; one that could make them a top-five team, and make them a legitimate threat to go deep into the Women's College World Series.
After all, UL now has two aces, with Summer Ellyson and Kleist.
I think that's big because I believe if you're going to be an elite team; a top-five type of team; you normally have to have two aces, who the jury is no longer still out on.
UCLA, who won the national championship last year, had two aces. Rachel Garcia and Megan Faraimo both won 16 or more games last year, both started more than 20 games, and both had ERA's under 1.50.
Garcia would probably be considered UCLA's "ace" last year, but Faraimo could have been an ace at most programs in the country.
The runners-up last year; the Oklahoma Sooners, featured three pitchers in Paige Parker, Paige Lowary, and Mariah Lopez, who all reached ten wins, and combined for 55-5 record.
Again; Parker was undoubtedly the "ace", but OU had a tremendous staff.
Florida St., who won the national championship in 2018, 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 in 2018, 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 2018 Baton Rouge Regional, LSU, had two aces, in Allie Walljasper and Carly Hoover.
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 combination of Kleist and Ellyson now gives 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.
Now, factor in Ellyson, who was fabulous last year, being tabbed an NFCA Third-Team All-American and Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, after going 39-6 with a 1.11 ERA.
That came one year after going 23-10 with a 1.53 ERA. in 2018, while recording wins over Florida, LSU, and Oregon St., legitimizing Ellyson as a true ace in the process.
Ellyson is on her way to becoming one of the all-time pitching greats in school history, and having somebody like Kleist with her, who can save her innings, can make her even better in 2020.
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 a 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 Kandra Lamb, a sophomore right-hander with a ton of talent, along with freshman right-hander Madison Garay, to develop at a modest pace, without the risk of rushing them.
Casey Dixon and Carrie Boswell will factor in too, as Glasco has long talked about using an entire staff, and now would have the necessary arms to do just that.
Ellyson and Kleist could challenge to be the best pitching duo in the nation in 2020.
Even if they are, they'll still need help from everybody else, if this team is to get to where they want to be.
You normally don't get to Oklahoma City with only pitching, or only hitting for that matter.
It really is a team game, and Louisiana is going to need a lot of different players to produce to get there.
Still; having those two young ladies in the circle is a great start.
One thing that the 2020 team will have to deal with is dealing with high expectations.
A lot will be, and is, expected of them in 2020, 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.
It's hard to get there.
Louisiana also plays an incredibly challenging schedule in 2020, so don't expect them to only lose four regular-season games once again.
Still, the addition of Kleist, along with the other newcomers, arguably makes Louisiana a top-five team; making them a legitimate WCWS contender, and maybe even more.