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LSU Softball Weekend Preview: South Carolina

Regular season concludes with three against the Gamecocks

MG Miller / LSUSports.net

LSU’s regular season comes to an end this weekend with three games against South Carolina in Columbia.

The Schedule

Friday 5/5 6 PM, SECN+, 107.3 FM

Saturday 5/6 5 PM, SECN, 107.3 FM

Sunday 5/7 11 AM, SECN, 107.3 FM

The Opponent

Joining us this week to help us breakdown South Carolina is Chris Stanley from Garnet and Black Attack

There seemed to be a sense of optimism entering the season that South Carolina could be a force in the SEC. With the regular season coming to a close have the results so far lived up to those positive vibes at the start of the year?

I don't think so, and this is coming from someone who got his start in sports media from covering Bev Smith in her early years as head coach. The goal for South Carolina softball this year was to prove they could compete with the best teams in the SEC, but so far they're 3-11 against the ranked teams in the conference. But even as I say that, South Carolina is still receiving votes in both national polls and are ranked No. 24 in the softball RPI. So while the Gamecocks didn't quite meet the goal they set out for in preseason, by no means are they having a bad season either.

Statistically, the Gamecock pitching ranks near the bottom of the SEC in several areas, what has been the main factor behind these totals?

In any other league in the country, South Carolina ace Nicki Blue is a top of the line pitcher. However in the SEC she's merely average, which has been the biggest malefactor against the Gamecocks this year. When you look at her FIP, WHIP and opponent OPS, she holds her own as an above average SEC pitcher. However the big drop off happens when you get to the other two pitchers. Jessica Elliot and Cayla Drotar have struggled mightily against SEC competition, and if weren't for the good infield defense their numbers might be worse. Drotar has a ton of potential as one of the top freshman recruits in the country, but right now Blue has been having to tow the line to not much avail.

Shifting to this series, who is the South Carolina player that will make the difference over the next three games?

LSU's pitching is the biggest asset for either team, so if South Carolina wants to tip the balance in this series it'll have to come from their offense. Kaylea Snaer has one of the five best OPS's in SEC play this year and will have to get the extra base hits to score the runs LSU normally prevents. This is of course assuming the top of the lineup of Mackenzie Boesel, Victoria Williams, and Tiara Duffy can get on base to produce those runs. But Snaer is without a doubt the fire that makes the engine run.

Finally, including this weekend, SEC Tournament and postseason, what do you see in the immediate future of this South Carolina team?

Being optimistic, I think SC can take one game of this series to give them seven conference wins to lock them into the SEC tournament. As far as the SEC tournament goes, if the Gamecocks were capable of winning a first round game last year I fully expect they'll be able to do the same this season. They should make for a strong No. 2 seed in a regional and like last season should be able to take whoever the regional host is to the final game of the series.

What to Watch For

Locking in

The postseason is essentially here and while LSU is set to earn a spot, optimism doesn’t appear to be higher entering the final stages of the regular season. For the players this series is the final chance to solidify playing time in the postseason. This is probably less geared towards the pitching staff as Sydney Smith, Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper will all get looks in the postseason. The lineup isn’t so clear. There probably won’t be a ton of experimentation this weekend but Aliyah Andrews, Nicky Dawson, Sydney Springfield, Amanda Doyle and perhaps even Elyse Thornhill and Walljasper would certainly gain favor in the eyes of Torina entering the SEC Tournament with strong performances over the next three games.

Closing out

Although there are doubts about this team, the end of the regular season is a time to reflect on some remarkable accomplishments that are about to unfold. Offensively, Bailey Landry enters the weekend leading the SEC batting title race by one point. It’s understandable to think that Torina has a plan to ensure Landry secures that recognition. Landry also enters this weekend second in the conference in hits and total bases, fifth in runs scored, and leads the conference in triples. Meanwhile, Hoover and Walljasper both rank in the top-10 nationally in earned run average.

Estimated Outcome

On paper this looks like a potential sweep, but that’s probably not going to be the case. This series is probably set to play out like last weekend (and most of the season): frustratingly low amounts of offense, but just enough to give LSU a lead while the pitching is effective for most of the weekend. The key for this weekend is just to win the games at hand. Any big time statements LSU wants to make prior to the start of the Women’s College World Series will likely have to come during the SEC Tournament later in the week. For now, winning the series, in whatever way possible, is the key.