With time, the 2016 season will be one which is recognized as one of the greatest in program history. For now, the emotions are much more mixed. In some sense, LSU getting as far as it did was a bit of a miracle. The program had never made back-to-back WCWS appearances to begin with. Not only did it do that, but it made it to the semis in consecutive seasons. It’s all even more remarkable when you consider where LSU was sitting midseason with a losing record in conference play.
What happened Monday in the 7-4 loss to OU, was a microcosm of what had hurt the Tigers all season: Poor defense could not be overcome by the pitching or the offense. OU put the ball in play and used its speed to force the issue. Meanwhile the Tiger offense didn't have much success against Paige Parker, not the first time LSU had struggled against elite pitching.
The narrative seems to be shifting towards LSU lacking the talent this year to take the next step. Perhaps. However, this was a roster with five returning All-Americans and still ended the year with two players, Bianka Bell and Sahvanna Jaquish, being named All-Americans. What is clear is the LSU didn’t execute. It didn’t execute during the losing streak in the middle of the season and it didn’t execute in the loss to Oklahoma.
Good news, bad news going forward. Good news is that some of the poor defense will potentially be solved with the departures of Sandra Simmons and Bell, who combined for 31 of the Tigers’ SEC worst 80 errors. Bad news, is that Simmons and Bell were two of the most important hitters for the Tigers this year, with Bell being arguably the best hitter in Tiger history.
At times in 2015 it appeared the Tiger offense wasn’t as powerful as it was a season ago with the 2016 Tigers slugged .475 compared to .523 in 2015, while also scoring 23 fewer runs. However, the Tigers numbers for OBP and average held relatively stable from a year earlier. Going forward it’s not clear where the power in LSU’s lineup is going to come from next year with Bell, Simmons and Kellsi Kloss accounting for 30 of the team’s 53 home runs this year. Some of that power will have to come from Sahvanna Jaquish but there will need to be some new power whether it be from the upperclassmen like Landry and Constance Quinn, or the younger players like Amber Serrett and some of incoming freshman class.
Despite the loss of the seniors, the rest of the team is back. Most important of which is the pitching staff of Carley Hoover, Allie Walljasper and Sydney Smith. That’s two pitchers with a sub-two ERA, one of which ranked in the top-5 nationally in ERA as a true freshman with another pitcher who posted 225 strikeouts. If this group does well, the Tigers will do well.
The Tigers figure to be a noticeably younger team, with several current freshman expected to take over at a few positions. Akiya Thymes could make the Tigers more aggressive in the run game after leading the team in steals despite having just two at bats all season. Elyse Thornhill could have a larger role after platooning in the outfield.
Then there is the incoming freshman class. This class is considered one of the best groups in program history, headlined by Nicky Dawson. Ryan Clark (That Ryan Clark) described Dawson as "made in a lab", based on her amazing athleticism. Also joining Dawson is Sydney Springfield who was just named as offensive player of the year in her Texas high school district.
OU just won a title with a rookie heavy lineup and veteran starting pitching, which sounds like what LSU’s identity could be in 2017. Granted, making it back to Oklahoma City is not a given, but OU showed it’s certainly possible to win with a heavy dose of youth in the lineup.
Ultimately, LSU’s title window is smaller with the departure of the seniors, but it should still be one of the favorites when 2017 comes around.