After four weeks of play, the No.6 Tigers finally begin the conference season. The Tigers begin SEC play with one of the tougher opponents in the conference when No.4 Alabama comes to Tiger Park for three games.
Game One: Friday - 6 PM, radio only, 107.3 fm in Baton ROuge
Game Two: Saturday - 5 PM, SEC Network
Game Three: Sunday - 2 PM, SEC Network
Expectations in Tuscaloosa are about as high as they are in Baton Rouge. Bama is expected to be a championship contender team and are one of the handful of opponents the Tigers could see in the postseason.
So far things are looking promising for Alabama. At 21-2, the Tide have victories over ranked teams in James Madison and Arizona. Alabama even has a victory over a ranked Tennessee at the Easton Bama Bash, although the win did not count for a conference victory.
Players to know
Sydney Littlejohn ( 1.56 ERA, 58.1 innings, 54 K, .230 OPP BA)
Alexis Osorio ( 1.74 ERA, 48.1 innings, 73 K, .165 OPP BA)
The strength of Alabama is certainly its pitching with both Littlejohn and Osorio back after both were outstanding in 2015. Both are dominant in their respective way. Littlejohn pitches to contact more so than Osorio, with fewer walks, higher hits, and at times has been the victim of poor defense. Osorio already has impressive strikeout totals on the season and has a no hitter, but can be a little more prone to walking batters or giving up an extra base hit.
Good news here is that despite these totals, the Tiger still hold a slight edge over Alabama in ERA, runs allowed, walks allowed and strikeouts.
Peyton Grantham ( 5 HR, 29 RBI, .362 AVG)
Haylie McCleney ( .500 AVG, .810 SLG, .661 OBP)
Leona Lafaele ( 25 H, 24 RBI, .403 AVG)
Demi Turner ( .435 AVG, 25 R, .623 SLG)
Alabama's offense has been formidable this year, outscoring opponents 167-41 and nine of Bama’s wins have come in run-ruled games. Bama comes into this game with a deep lineup which can both manufacture runs by getting on base and can slug its way to wins with power and extra base hits.
The top of the Tide lineup - McCleney, Turner, Grantham, and Lafaele - are a formidable group. All four can hit and hit with power. McCleney and Turner also provide some speed at the top of lineup, combining for 17 stolen bases on the season.
Unlike the pitching, Alabama has the advantage over LSU in double, triples, home runs and strikeouts. This doesn’t mean that the Tigers offense is bad, still holding the edge in batting average and runs scored.
Stat of the weekend
Sahvanna Jaquish leads the SEC with a .633 on base percentage
What to Watch For
Limited time opportunity
On paper, these two teams match up very evenly. With two of the top offenses and pitching staffs in the nation facing off, it is critically important that the Tigers make the most of opportunities. On offense that means not leaving excessive runners on base. The pitching staff needs to limit walks. Most importantly, the Tiger defense must be sound to not allow extra Alabama runners to reach and score.
Allie Walljasper, LSU’s leader in ERA, hasn’t pitched since February 27th and Beth Torina hasn’t confirmed Walljasper is available for this weekend. Sydney Smith has been very good and Baylee Corbello has been serviceable, but without Walljasper the Tigers are in trouble for the weekend. If Walljasper cannot go, the Tigers would likely have to rely even more on Carly Hoover in all three games. Although Hoover has been outstanding, that would be a lot of stress on the LSU Ace early in conference play.
Aside from sharing a conference with, the LSU-Bama softball have some history, especially this decade. LSU eliminated Alabama from the Women’s College World Series last year. In 2011, current Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy had originally agreed to join the Tigers, only to back out of the agreement, eventually leading to the hiring of Torina.
This weekend officially kicks off the most important part of the regular season. The SEC currently sits with eight ranked teams, most of any conference. At least half of those teams have serious championship aspirations. Bama is one of them. Now is the time of year where winning a series is more important than sweeps. Hoover and Walljasper figure to be the deciders this weekend. If both are available and pitch to their potential, two out of three is likely and a sweep seems probable. If not, the Tigers will need to count on their bats to win the series against a tough Bama pitching staff.