After examining the potential opponents, it's time to look at what could happen and how the Tigers could leave Oklahoma City as champions.
A full bracket and schedule can be found here. It’s a double-elimination format, lose two games and you’re out. Following Michigan in the opener Thursday at 8:30 PM, the Tigers will either play the winner of Bama-OU on Friday June 2nd at 8:30 PM or, should the Tigers lose, they would play the loser of Bama-OU at 1:30 PM on Saturday June 3rd. After that it gets a little complicated, updates will be provided.
What to Watch For
Pitching to strengths
The Tiger pitching has carried the team throughout the postseason, having allowed more than three runs just twice in 10 post-season games. They are also one of three staffs remaining in the tournament whose team ERA ranks in the top-10 nationally. Unlike last weekend, where the staff had to match JMU pitch-for-pitch, this tournament will likely be about managing some very explosive lineups, especially in the opener against a great Michigan offense.
Defending the strength
Last series the emphasis was all about the defense not leading to runs, which could not be made up by the LSU offense. This tournament will be about the defense not allowing base runners, since the opposition has some serious power to take advantage of extra outs. So far, the defense has been pretty solid when it comes to not having any multi-error games and not costing the Tigers runs. With several great lineups remaining in the tournament, the defense cannot afford the opposition any extra chances to drive runners home.
Familiar is familiar
Most of these teams have already faced each other and that is no exception for the Tigers. Good news here is that LSU is 5-3 in 2016 against teams the remaining teams, that includes series wins over Georgia and Alabama. Going back even further, LSU has faced every remaining team at least once in the past two seasons, except for Florida State, and has a 9-5 over that period. Of course it isn’t all perfect. LSU has a losing record in the last two seasons against Auburn and was eliminated from last years WCWS by Michigan. While the Tigers should have some confidence in knowing they have beaten some of these teams recently, all of these squads are equally capable of topping the Tigers in one game, even if the record says otherwise.
One of the most important factors during this postseason run, and the later half of the season, has been the performance of Sydney Smith. The freshman has been key in not only giving Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper needed rest, but also providing quality innings. In a field where so many teams have played each other recently, Smith has logged just six innings against the seven other teams in OKC. Those were not her best outings, but she was also the victim of LSU’s defense surrendering surrendering nine unearned runs over those six innings. Of late the defense has backed up Smith and made the freshman that much more effective. With the familiarity factor in play, Smith’s lack of exposure to the other seven teams could be a valuable asset for the Tigers.
Big Time Players, Big Time Games
LSU’s star players will have to have star performances the rest of the way. Specifically, Bianka Bell, Sahvanna Jaquish, Carley Hoover and Sandra Simmons. Bell and Jaquish were both named All-Americans on Wednesday, it was Bell’s third time receiving the recognition. Simmons’ move to the top of the lineup has arguably been the most important adjustment of the year, sparking the Tigers offense in the second half of the season. Hoover has had some rough patches, but is still the unquestioned ace of this team.
Can LSU win the whole thing? Yes. The Tigers will enter Thursday with several key elements working in their favor. An offense which has capitalized on opportunities, after hitting .353 with runners in scoring position in the JMU series. A pitching staff which has been in control all postseason, having not allowed more than three runs since the tournament began. The team is playing its best ball having won 20 of its last 24, and, in the process, has beaten quality teams in the SEC Tournament, Regional and Super Regional. At this point in the season, it will come down to execution. None of these remaining teams has a glaring weakness that can’t be covered up by a different component of the other team. If the pitching is only great, the lineup is amazing. When the offense is only very good, the pitching staff is outstanding. This is exactly the situation LSU wanted to be in at the start of the year, with a championship in sight. Now it’s just a matter of taking the goal and making it a reality.