Seasons are long in order to reveal. The regular season reveals the good teams from the bad teams. The postseason reveals the great from the good team. LSU may have spent a portion of the regular season hiding its true form, it certainly demonstrated a form fitting for Oklahoma City once the postseason began.
Throughout the regular season it was unclear if the Tiger team was suited for a deep playoff run. Talent was never in short supply, but consistency was. Baton Rouge being picked to host was an that opportunity that likely would not have come had the Tigers not had a deep SEC Tournament run.
However, what this team should be remembered for was the final month. Making it to Oklahoma City for three straight years is an outstanding accomplishment and credit must be given to Beth Torina and the players for executing when needed over the last stretch. Even if the end results did not equal the preseason expectations, it would be incredibly difficult to call the season a disappointment.
Do not mistake disappointment for imperfection. The Tiger’s struggles offensively were apparent, certainly in the regular season and certainly in the final two games in Oklahoma City. Good news is that figuring out why the offense struggled is pretty clear. The losses of Bianka Bell, Kellsi Kloss and Sandra Simmons from a season earlier were far too much to overcome. Meanwhile the highly regarded freshman could not provide the stability needed, due in some capacity to the inexperience playing at the college level. While the more established players like Emily Griggs, Connie Quinn and Amber Serrett simply lacked the offensive potency to overcome the shortage of high caliber bats.
While the collective offense was a sore point, there were plenty of other individual and unit positives out of this season. What consistent offense LSU did get came from its seniors in Bailey Landry and Sahvanna Jaquish. Landry refound that sophomore year swing and led the Tigers in hitting. Jaquish posted another great year at the plate (and behind it as the catcher) while securing her status as one of the best players in program history. Both Jaquish and Landry leave with the records and accolades to ensure their individual and collective legacies are not forgotten.
On the other side of the ball, LSU’s pitching was once again outstanding. Even with more distributed innings, LSU’s staff ERA improved from a season ago. Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper continued to flash their brilliance. Sydney Smith and Maribeth Gorsuch were also promising in their developments. Of course, the most apparent improvement was on defense. A season after the Tigers were one of the worst units in the conference, the unit made solid strides in 2017.
Once the accomplishments of the past have been memorialized, it’s only natural to look towards the future. 2018 could be a very tense season. Next spring will mark the final year of eligibility for Hoover and Walljasper, arguably the most critical component of LSU’s success the last three season. While Hoover and Walljasper will bring the most veteran presence, the rest of the team will be quite young.
At the moment, Griggs figures to be only senior position player with a guaranteed spot next year. Griggs has good speed, but hasn’t demonstrated the hitting or power component to carry a lineup. Both Amber Serrett and Shemiah Sanchez figure to be back, but both players haven't shown much of a plus offensive tool in their two years.
The underclassmen offer promise and inexperience. Amanda Doyle and Sydney Springfield have the power component and both also had incredible struggles, with each being benched during the season. It would be unfair to expect either or both to morph into Sahvanna Jaquish by next season, but both will likely be expected to demonstrate the qualities of the third or fourth batter in the lineup.
Aliyah Andrews didn’t show much power, but locked down left field defensively and quietly became one of LSU’s best hitters on the season. Her speed and contact ability make her a prime candidate to hit first or second next year. Nicky Dawson also quietly improved in the limited at bats she got later in the season.
Through all of this it's important to remember the names that aren’t on campus and will be leaving campus. LSU landed a top-10 recruiting class according to FloSoftball. A player or two could be departing Baton Rouge this off-season.
Following Saturday’s game, Torina candidly said how she didn’t know how close or how far she felt the team was from winning a championship since she hadn’t won one, but felt the team was progressing in that direction. That seems to be a pretty accurate assessment of next year’s team, at least at this early stage. There should be confidence that Hoover and Walljasper bring an extra gear for their senior seasons. On the flip side, uncertainty about the offense will be looming throughout the off-season and probably into the season.
The Tigers figure to be good next year. SEC good, which in turn means nationally good. How good and how much closer to a national title, are questions that can only be answered with time.