The Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic was the first big test of the season and a chance for the Tigers to establish themselves as one of the elite in softball.
The Tigers didn’t begin the tournament on a great note, getting shutout by Arizona 3-0 on Friday. Zona’s Danielle O’Toole was simply dealing in this matchup, scattering three hits over seven innings while striking out eight. Once again Allie Walljasper was let down by her defense, surrendering three runs but only one earned, due to an error by Sandra Simmons.
Any offensive frustrations the Tigers had against Arizona were taken out against Bethune Cookman. Kellsi Kloss had a historical night becoming the first player ever to hit two grand slams in a game while setting a program record for RBI in a game with nine as the Tigers won 15-6 via run rule. Baylee Corbello was solid on the mound, striking out seven while surrendering three hits.
Against UC-Santa Barbara on Saturday, LSU got another quality outing from freshman Sydney Smith going four innings and striking out four. She got into some trouble in the fifth, allowing three batters to reach base but Walljasper came in to escape the threat and provide three scoreless innings.
The first signature win of the year came Saturday evening against #15 UCF. After UCF took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, LSU countered with three runs off Knight’s ace Shelby Turnier with RBI’s from Bailey Landry, Bianka Bell and Carly Hoover.
Sketchy defense by the Tigers led to four UCF runs when Emily Griggs and Constance Quinn committed errors on back-to-back plays. The defense was not aided by an unexpectedly poor outing by Hoover, who walked seven and surrendered six hits in four innings.
After getting a run back in the third, LSU would capitalize on the Knights’ poor defense when Sahvanna Jaquish scored on a throwing error to tie the game. Kloss singled in the following at bat to score Bell and put LSU ahead. Walljasper took over in the fifth inning, after Hoover let the first two batters reach, and provided three scoreless innings of relief.
As impressive as the UCF win was, it was outdone the next day against #8 UCLA. Hoover had some trouble in the first inning allowing two runners to reach but did not allow a run to score. The momentum carried over to the offense at the top of the next inning when LSU plated four thanks to RBIs from Amber Serrett, Constance Quinn and Griggs.
When Hoover again worked out of trouble in the bottom of the second, LSU’s offense again came through with two more runs. Hoover labored through five and a third innings, surrendering 12 hits but limiting the damage to just five runs.
Once again Walljasper came on to provide some relief and the Tigers took the final game 10-5.
MVP honors for this weekend go to Walljasper. She appeared in four games to provide twelve innings surrendering just one earned and striking out 13. More importantly, she provided shutdown relief in the final two games when Hoover was not her dominant self.
In addition to Kloss, Amber Serrett and Constance Quinn had good weekend’s in Palm Springs.
The two negative takeaways from the weekend were Hoover being off her game and the poor defense. The former requires some patience; the latter is concerning.
Through ten games, the Tigers have 11 errors on the season. Part of this can be players not at their natural positions. However, when players who are not only expected to be regulars but have defined positions it is worrisome. Quinn in particular had defensive issues last year as well and already has three errors on the year.
Prior to the opening weekend, Beth Torina stressed that she was not looking for perfection early in the year. Had she truly felt that the games over this past weekend were the most important, you would t have seen so many different lineups. Torina was still very much mixing and matching throughout the weekend. In the UCLA game, putting Quinn in the leadoff spot payed off as Quinn had two hits and two RBIs. Both Serrett and Shemiah Sanchez continue to put together a strong case for regular playing time.
Ultimately this was a good weekend. Winning four of five proves that. Two victories over two top-15 teams proves that.
A midweek game against No.23 South Alabama gives the Tigers another chance to improve their resume before sub .500 Illinois State and Texas Tech come to Baton Rouge on Feb.26.