LSU is back in California as part of the Mary Nutter Classic, in what will be LSU’s toughest stretch of the out of conference slate. This weekend, especially, should be a very good indicator of where the Tigers stand among the teams with championship aspirations.
Feb.23 vs New Mexico State - 12:30 PM
Feb.23 vs Bethune-Cookman - 3 PM
Feb 24 vs Long Beach State - 10 PM
Feb 25 vs #6 UCLA - 7:30 PM
Feb 25 vs #17 Utah - 10 PM
All games will be televised by FloSoftball ($)
New Mexico State, 4-4
Players to Know: Kelsey Horton (.525 AVG, 5 2B, 10 RBI), Merina Ili (368 AVG, 3 2B, 7 RBI), Kayla Greene (4.06 ERA, 13 K, .267 OPP BA).
Although the 4-4 record doesn’t jump-off the page, the Aggies are coming off a solid 2017 season in which they won 38 games. Offensively, NMSU has averaged a respectable five runs a game, but was shutout against Tennessee earlier in the season.
Players to Know: Mariah Davis (.438 AVG, 6 R, 5 SB), Ryan Jackson (.231 AVG, 6 RBI), Mariah Estrada (5.79 ERA, 29 IP, 6 K).
On paper, there aren’t a ton of positives about Wildcats. They have been outscored by their opponents 70-26 through ten games. Those totals aren’t against championship caliber teams either, the toughest opponent so far has been FAU.
Long Beach State, 4-3-1
Players to Know: Christina Clermont (3 Wins, 1.40 ERA, 13 K), Lauren Lombardi (.389 AVG, 4 RBI, 2 2B), Julia Lombardi (.182 AVG, 5 RBI, 7 TB)
Long Beach State is coming off a 33 win season and an appearance in the Eugene regional. Christina Clermont is off to a great start this year. Offense has been limited with the team hitting just .246 on the season.
Players to Know: Rachel Garcia (.23 ERA, 35 K, 4 W), Johanna Grauer (.72 ERA, 33 K, 4 W), Delaney Spaulding (.500 AVG, 3 HR, .917 SLG), Kylee Perez (.564 AVG, 12 RBI, .575 OBP).
The Bruins will be one of the best teams LSU plays all season and with good reason. UCLA’s offense is very impressive (23rd in runs per game) but the pitching is a different monster. Garcia and Grauer lead a staff that is one of just ten teams with a combined ERA under 1.00.
Players to Know: Anissa Urtez ( .542 AVG, 11 RBI, 3 SB), Heather Bowen (.462 AVG, 14 RBI, 2 HR), Katie Donovan (.68 ERA, 5 W, 24 K), Miranda Viramontes (1.50 ERA, 17 K, 18.2 IP).
At 17 in the poll, the Utes are probably just outside of this years softball elite. The Utes have pretty impressive totals across the board, but they don’t have the most impressive resume with the best win being probably Long Beach State. Still, this team made it to the Super Regional last year and should not be underestimated
What to Watch For
Bringing out the Best
While there are five games for this series, success this weekend will ultimately be determined by the outcome against UCLA and Utah. Both teams have the makeup to make a run in the postseason as both possess the offense and pitching depth needed to win a title. UCLA in particular is a team LSU could see in Oklahoma City. Even though Utah may not have beaten the best in the nation yet, they will still be a challenge. Since both teams are complete teams, LSU’s performance against both will have to be just that, complete with the offense and pitching handling their share.
LSU’s pitching has been very good, but not against the best lineups. UCLA and Utah are two of the better offenses in the country, and present a great opportunity for the Tiger trio to lock in their status as one of the best staffs in the nation. Controlling these lineups will be a team effort. Expect lots of Carley Hoover for these two games. Having said that, Allie Walljasper and Sydney Smith are going to be vital, either as starters or relievers, both need to bring their best stuff to the final two games of the weekend.
Usually, when the top of the LSU lineup is on, the rest of the Tiger offense follows suit. In this case, with such dynamic pitching and offense from UCLA and Utah, it will be critical for the Tigers to maximize scoring opportunities. Once a runner reaches, once a runner is in scoring position, it will be critical for the next batter drive in the run, or at the very least, improve on the situation. That goes for everybody as relying only on the top of the lineup makes LSU vulnerable in those last two scheduled games. Runs in those two games will be vital, no matter if it is a pitchers duel or a slugfest.
This series, especially the ending, will be tough. With that said, LSU can absolutely sweep this series. The first three games are very winnable. Winning the last two will likely come down to timing. For the LSU offense that means timely hitting, since scoring opportunities figure to be limited. Managing the opposing lineups will be a team effort, both for the pitching staff and the defense. The Tiger defense in particular cannot afford the kind of sloppy play which gives the opponent additional chances. This weekend is a good early season test for the Tigers. One which they are prepared to pass with high marks.