SEC play has arrived and as LSU hits the road to take on the No.2 Auburn Tigers, SEC and national championship favorites.
Friday 3/10: 6 PM, SECN +, 107.3 FM
Saturday 3/11: 7:30 PM SECN, 107.3 FM
Sunday 3/12: 4 PM, SECN+, 107.3 FM
Last year the Auburn Tigers came within a game of winning a title, losing 2-1 in the WCWS finals to Oklahoma. This year, Auburn boasts an incredibly impressive resume, with a 20-2 record, including wins against Oklahoma, Washington and James Madison, just one loss at home and 11 wins via run rule. Like most teams ranked in the top-10, Auburn has balance both at the plate and in the circle. Auburn hurlers Kaylee Carson (.50 ERA, 39 K, .192 OPBA) and Makayla Martin (.65 ERA, 58 K, .179 OPPBA) lead a staff with a nation’s best .66 team ERA. On offense, Auburn boasts four regular contributors hitting over .400 season and another six hitting .300 above on the season. The team as a whole ranks tenth nationally in scoring, averaging 7.36 runs per contest. Two hitters to keep an eye on would be Carlee Wallace who leads the team in slugging (.788) and on base percentage (.560) and Kasey Cooper who was the lone Auburn player selected to the preseason All-SEC team and who currently leads the Tigers in RBI’s with 25.
What to Watch For
How you feeling?
Safe to say the results the last two series have not been ideal, with LSU dropping three games to ranked teams and at times looking a bit lifeless in wins against inferior competition. Beth Torina has stated that she views SEC play as a 0-0 opportunity. However, it’d be foolish to disregard the last few weeks. Having said that, this series should give us some insight into how desperate the Tigers might be to start an upswing and how active Torina will be in getting that started. On the pitching end, that could mean some shorter than usual outings for Carley Hoover or Allie Walljasper. In the lineup, there could be some more active in-game mixing and matching for players who are in a bit of a slump.
In four games combined against Oklahoma, Washington, and James Madison (twice) Auburn has scored just nine runs. The common thread between these three teams (aside from all being ranked) is outstanding pitching. All three schools rank in the top-50 nationally in team ERA. This is good news for an LSU team whose staff ERA of 1.63 is good for 21st in the nation. If LSU is going to have a chance in the series, Hoover, Walljasper, and Sydney Smith will need to have their best stuff over the weekend.
Plain and simple, LSU’s offensive depth is lacking. It was more digestible when the bottom third of the lineup was the only part was struggling, but with Amanda Doyle and Sydney Springfield both struggling, the entire offense has under performed. It doesn’t help that the Tigers have been shutout in two games against the championship quality pitching of Minnesota and Utah. That doesn’t mean that for this weekend everyone has to have a multi-RBI game. However, the offense cannot be solely reliant on Emily Griggs, Bailey Landry and Sahvanna Jaquish at the top of the order if LSU wants to stand a chance against Auburn’s top-notch pitching.
On paper, this series looks like a pretty even match with Auburn only holding a slight edge on LSU in terms of scoring per game and team ERA. However, LSU’s record against good teams this season doesn’t inspire confidence entering this weekend. Auburn has been a pain in LSU’s side of late, having bounced the Baton Rouge Bengals out of the SEC Tournament last season and a 5-2 record against LSU over the last seven meetings. In this series, don’t expect a ton of offense, maybe one game where the teams combine for more than 10 runs. LSU’s offense struggles against elite pitching, while Auburn also appears to have some challenges against good pitching. It will once again fall on the LSU staff to keep the Tigers competitive throughout the weekend. All runs this weekend figure to be valuable runs and scoring opportunities will be limited. With Auburn playing well of late and having home field advantage, they should be favored to win this series. Regardless of which team wins this series, this weekend could be a strong indicator about the ceiling for the Tigers this season, or at the very least, what needs to happen for LSU to maintain its national title aspirations.