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LSU Softball Preview: 2017 SEC Tournament

Chris Parent / LSUSports.net

LSU enters the SEC Tournament with almost everything going against them. The health of Sydney Smith and Carley Hoover is in question, an offense that hasn’t scored more than four runs in two weeks, and a team as a whole that is just 5-5 over its last ten games.

The Schedule

You can find a full schedule here. LSU starts with Missouri round one, and would face host Tennessee with a win. From there, LSU would face the winner of Auburn-Mississippi State/Ole Miss to reach the semi-finals.

Tournament Outlook

Christopher Novak from TeamSpeedKills joins us to breakdown the rest of the SEC Tournament field.

LSU is a team that, although probably postseason bound, needs a strong tournament to substantially improve its destination. What other teams do you think are in need of a good few days to improve their postseason outlook?

As you mentioned, LSU should be fine, especially with them seated 15th in RPI. South Carolina and Ole Miss are two teams who come to mind that may need some strong runs. They’re both seated 22nd and 23rd right now in the RPI and with each having sub-.500 records in SEC play, the Gamecocks and Rebels are two teams who come to mind with needing big runs. Mississippi State and Kentucky are likely in the same ilk as well.

Pitching was again the strength of the conference and figures to be critical over the tournament. Florida would certainly be the staff to beat but aside from the Gators, which pitchers, either individually or collectively, do you feel could be especially dangerous throughout the tournament?

You certainly can’t overlook the likes of Alexis Osorio, who was as dominant as ever in 2017. Kaylee Carlson of Auburn is also a strong arm to look at as she was just named to the All-SEC First Team on Tuesday with Barnhill and Gourley of Florida. Maybe look towards some youngsters in Autumn Storms of Arkansas and Caylan Arnold of Tennessee, the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, as pitchers who can assert themselves in their first taste of the SEC Tournament.

On the other side, which lineups do you think are best equipped to propel a team through the tournament?

The conversation can start with Tennessee who led the SEC in runs scored with 349 this season. Texas A&M shouldn’t be overlooked either, as the Aggies chalked up 309 this season, good for 6.06 runs/game. Although they’re a bit behind the pace, you can’t discount Auburn with Carlee Wallace and Kasey Cooper still aboard. Florida, of course, is another solid bet.

How do you see the tournament playing out? Anticipating anything surprising?

Anything’s bound to happen in what is likely the best conference in America. But, in the end, I think Florida will emerge victorious. I expect the semifinals to be the best round of the tournament.

When the tournament is complete, how many teams do you think qualify for a regional and which teams would you estimate are hosting?

Eight teams were able to host regionals last year and 11 teams were in the tournament in general. I’d suspect that Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M and Tennessee will almost surely host with them being in the Top 10 right now. A lot of it will likely hinge with what happens out west as the Pac-12 has four terrific teams in Oregon, UCLA, Arizona and Washington. I’ll cop out and set the O/U to 5.5 for regional hosts and 9.5 for teams in the tournament.

Keys to a deep tournament run

Pitching Depth

Back in the pre-season when LSU was considered a title contender, it was clear the main reason for such status was the depth of pitchers, one through three. Allie Walljasper is the only one of LSU’s top hurlers who hasn't had an injury issue in the final weeks of the season. Sydney Smith is good to go according to Beth Torina, though you have to imagine Smith will be monitored heavily over the weekend. Meanwhile, Hoover is still day-to-day according to Torina. With a postseason spot seemingly locked up, Hoover might only see limited action over the tournament.

Stars Coming Through

For most of this season this team has been driven by Emily Griggs, Bailey Landry, and Sahvanna Jaquish. The latter two being named All-SEC on Tuesday. With the rest of the lineup consistently going through its ups and downs, that top of the lineup trio will have to come up big in this series. This is especially true in the first inning when the three are hitting consecutively.

Winning Opportunities

The next few games figure to be tightly contested with scoring opportunities limited for every team. In the case of LSU this means not affording extra chances for the opposition, in all three areas. Limit walks, prevent poor defensive plays, make pitchers work. On the flip side, it will be absolutely critical for the Tigers to capitalize when opposing teams make mistakes. This is especially true on the offensive end where the Tiger hitters have to turn defensive miscues by opposing defenses into runs.

Estimated Outcome

While last year’s LSU team played on the first day of the tournament, their playoff situation looked much more favorable to this years. Last year’s team made a run to the finals behind outstanding pitching and excellent, veteran hitters. This team certainly lacks the volume of experienced hitters and appears to be short on at least one of those elite hurlers. In order for LSU to really improve its postseason outlook, it would have to win three games this tournament. That would mean beating a Mizzou team LSU narrowly escaped two weeks ago, then Tennessee, a team which had success against Tiger pitching, and then probably an Auburn squad which took two-of-three from LSU during the regular season. With that said, LSU should have some confidence heading into the tournament opener. They won the series against Missouri and came very close to sweeping the three games set. If Walljasper can steady the pitching, LSU should be through to the next round.

The SEC Softball Tournament begins today at 11am. LSU will face Mizzou in the 4th game of the day, scheduled to start at 6:30 pm. All games of the tournament will be carried live on the SEC Network.