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2018 Softball Preview: Schedule & Outlook

Getting to Oklahoma City is a challenge, 2018 is no different

Beth Torina was frank following LSU’s elimination from the 2017 Women’s College World Series when she said that she didn’t know what steps were needed to win a title, since she had never won a championship as a coach.

As the Tigers enter the 2018 season, ranked 8th in the top-25 and picked fourth in the pre-season SEC poll, there are certainly a few things Torina likely knows this LSU team will have to do in order to make another trip to Oklahoma City.

Of course, it starts with the pitching. Specifically, Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper. The two have been keeping the Tigers in contention for the last three years and it will have to be the same in 2018. While not as critical to the long-term success, finding a third starter will be important come the postseason. If both Maribeth Gorsuch and Shelbi Sunseri can step up, even better, though Torina hasn’t regularly used a four-person rotation since Hoover and Walljasper arrived.

On the other side of the ball, the offense really looks like it’s in need for a reset. The Tiger offense has been inconsistent over the last two seasons, and with the last of the All-American, All-SEC big bats graduated, it does allow Torina the opportunity to shift the offensive strategy. 2018 will be about locating that missing consistency. That consistency will likely need to be in the middle and bottom of the lineup. Without a defined one or two dominant hitters in this lineup, it is even more critical that those hitting outside of the top-three are able to extend innings, by the long ball or station-to-station.

There is certainly reason to have optimism about the LSU lineup. Cautious optimism at least. Amber Serrett, Alyiah Andrews, and Emily Griggs certainly have enough of a resume to be confident going into the season. Others like Amanda Doyle and Sydney Springfield certainly had their flashes of brilliance. The transfers, Michaela Schlattman and Becca Schulte are coming off strong seasons at their respective former schools.

Torina will have some time to work out her lineup as the schedule matches up pretty favorably for the Tigers. LSU doesn’t play a true road game until the middle of March and will be at Tiger Park for the 18 of the first 24 games of the season. Of those games, Illinois-Chicago, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State, BYU, and McNeese qualified for at least an NCAA Regional berth last season. Even against those teams, LSU should be viewed as a favorite.

The best OOC team LSU will face in Tiger park will be Baylor, who also made an appearance in Oklahoma City last year. There will also be the annual trip to the Mary Nutter Classic where the Tigers will face any of the always tough UCLA, who the Tigers beat in Oklahoma City last year, and Oregon, who the Tigers lost to in Oklahoma City last year.

For the SEC, the schedule works out pretty good, at least as of right now. Two daunting road tests against Florida (No.1 in the pre-season SEC poll) and Tennessee (No.2) certainly would qualify as the toughest six games of the conference slate. To even things out a bit, the Tigers will have to travel to Kentucky who were picked 8th in the conference, and Missouri, who was selected 11th, and just fired its head coach. Meanwhile tough SEC home games for LSU feature Auburn (6th) and Texas A&M (3rd) along with Arkansas (10th) and Ole Miss (7th).

Torina will certainly experiment early, and she might be forced to experiment late as well. The Tigers are saying everything you’d want to hear entering the season: They are hungry and confident. But this is also a team whose window is this season as Hoover and Walljasper begin their final campaign. It’d be foolish to think that there isn’t some, however minor, level of desperation for Torina. Not only are Hoover and Walljasper two of the greatest players in program history, they have been two of the most valuable as well.

Although there could be some doubt and concern entering the season, this is still one of the best teams in the country and still a team with a great chance of making another trip to Oklahoma City. It’s the last run for two of LSU’s elite and it figures to be a fun one.