It’s roughly the halfway point of the regular season, and the LSU softball team has some reflecting to do. It might be less intensive if the team wasn’t in its worst stretch of the season.
LSU has gone 2-5 over the last seven games, falling to 8th in the Coaches poll, 10th in the USA Softball poll and five back in the loss column for the SEC lead.
Figuring out why the Tigers are in such a funk isn’t crystal clear. The offense hasn’t been great, scoring five or more runs once over that stretch. When the offense isn’t performing, the pitching has been mediocre, allowing four or more runs in three times in the last seven games. Defensively, the Tigers have struggled all year and have committed the second most errors, 43, in the conference.
Good news in all of this is that this current stretch doesn’t spell doom for the remainder of the season. Last year’s team ended the regular season having won just three of its final eight games and still made it to the WCWS finals. If the team is going to struggle, better now at the halfway point than the endpoint. Still, Beth Torina and the rest of the staff have some decisions to make about not only what needs to be done to get out of the funk, but what needs to be done to fulfill LSU’s title hopes.
On offense, the two areas the Tigers struggle in are power and speed. Despite being a top-5 SEC team in average, on base percentage, hits, RBIs and walks, LSU ranks seventh in slugging, seventh in total bases, ninth in home runs and tenth in steals. It’s unlikely the Tigers will find new power in this lineup as Sahvanna Jaquish, Bianka Bell and Kellsi Kloss are the hitters which drive the LSU offense, but you can find a way to make that existing power more effective.
The loss of AJ Andrews and her 25 steals took a chunk out of the LSU speed game. Stealing bases now falls on the shoulders of Constance Quinn, Bailey Landry, Emily Griggs and Amber Serrett and the leader in that group is Quinn with seven, then Landry at six. Since there isn’t a clear cut speedster on this team, the move that might boost the offense is Serrett to the leadoff spot, instead of Quinn or Landry. Serrett could take over for Griggs in the second spot, but that would probably mean four straight righties in the lineup.
Serrett doesn’t draw walks like Quinn – eight to Quinn’s 19 – but has more hits and a higher average, while posting similar stolen base totals with five. In theory, Serrett would see better pitches with the protection of Jaquish, Bell and Kloss hitting behind her. Moving Quinn down would likely pair her and Landry, LSU’s top two base stealers, providing more speed in the bottom of the lineup.
In the circle, there needs to be better management of Carly Hoover and Allie Walljasper. The last two weeks Torina has opted to use Hoover and Walljasper in the series finale, usually after both pitchers had thrown a complete game in their start from earlier that weekend. The results have been mediocre. Even if the outcome has less to do with short-term fatigue and just ineffectiveness, there are still long-term concerns about taxing those two arms.
Part of this can be solved by deploying Sydney Smith more often. Smith has pitched twice during the current slide, for a total 3.1 innings and has yet to allow an earned run. She was a victim of the disastrous defense against Alabama on March 12 and has been awesome as LSU’s midweek starter. Perhaps most impressive, she still is second in the nation in ERA at .59.
It’s unclear why Torina is hesitant to use Smith considering her effectiveness, but it’s a move that is overdue. Even if Smith struggles in a given start, Hoover and Walljasper are still available in relief. More importantly, deploying Smith would likely assure Hoover and Walljasper are less fatigued as the season progresses.
Defensively it’s unclear what the Tigers can do going forward. The biggest offenders are Quinn and Sandra Simmons with eight each. Taking out Simmons would remove one of the three left handed bats in the lineup and there isn’t another clear choice to play first. Simmons is one of four players who has played in every game, which likely says there isn’t anyone else Torina trusts to play first. Quinn has seen her share as the DP, but putting her there full time would force Torina to shuffle Kloss, Landry, Bell and Serrett.
Ultimately, this team is going to win based on its pitching and hitting, ideally working in unison. Based on the schedule it doesn’t look like the Tigers will be able to string together consecutive run-rule victories like earlier in the season, with several daunting SEC games upcoming. That’s fine, so long as both don’t dissolve, this team can do damage.
With or without this current slide, the thought process for this team remains the same. This is a championship caliber team. The players know it. The coaches know it. When that knowledge becomes action, this team is difficult to stop.