The Tigers were in a bit of a pickle entering the season. On the one hand, they had one last season of Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper, which would position them to compete with the best in the SEC and the country. On the other hand, they had lost two of the best hitters in program history in Savannah Jaquish and Bailey Landry, with no apparent replacements.
Much of those pre-season concerns played out as expected. LSU had a team ERA of 1.57, best since 2010. Maribeth Gorsuch emerged as a viable starting option after an average freshman campaign. Walljasper posted a career best in strikeouts. On offense the Tigers struggled, setting team lows in batting average, runs scored, slugging and on base percentage in the four years Hoover and Walljasper were with the team.
The season was plagued with games where the Tigers scored one or no runs, while the pitching staff did everything its power to keep the offense in striking difference.
Despite all this, the Tigers still made it within a game of the Women’s College Series, a place they had visited each of the past three seasons. There are many awesome programs that could not claim such an accomplishment entering the season. For a season that straddled the line between rebuild and reload, the results were still pretty awesome.
Of course, reality will soon set in with this team. The offseason losses of Hoover and Walljasper are massive. The Tigers have seen their share of excellent hitters depart, but Hoover and Walljasper provided a level of game-to-game consistency and excellence that, at the moment, doesn’t have a clear replacement on the roster.
Rather than try and recreate a dominant staff, the solution might be to look at the otherside the ball and build up the Tiger offense. It would likely be a project based more on upside than results, but one that could still find away to be the driving force behind the Tigers in 2019.
It starts with sophomores Amanda Doyle and Aliyah Andrews who proved to be LSU’s best and most consistent bats throughout the year, finishing one-two in hitting. Andrews was great at the top of the lineup. Doyle added consistency to her power, morphing into LSU’s top overall offensive players.
Throw in a Taryn Antoine who went from pinch-runner and platoon player to hitting well enough to bat second in the lineup, Shelbi Sunseri who showed promise offensively despite missing a chunk of the season, and the likes of Michaela Schlattman and Shemiah Sanchez who proved are each are capable of launching some pitches out of the park. Maybe not the perfect lineup, but one that certainly has the ability to score some runs as several of the players enter their upper class seasons.
The lone vacancy in the Tiger lineup will be Emily Griggs’ position in center. Andrews figures to slide over to take over the position her sister, AJ, held prior to Griggs. It also opens up a slot for Claire Weinberger, who had some solid moments as a reserve, as the favorite to take over in left.
Even with a lineup that appears mostly set for 2019, the Tigers will need some pitchers next season. Maribeth Gorsuch is the de facto staff ace. She made major strides from her freshman campaign and there is healthy optimism she can be an effective option out of the circle next season. The only other pitcher on the Tiger staff is Shelbi Sunseri, who looked okay in her first season, but her bat might be the more valuable commodity.
It’s unknown how Beth Torina plans to fill the rest of her staff. Of the incoming freshman class, three players have pitching experience led by Shelby Wickersham, who was the No.9 player on the FloSoftball Hot 100 list. The transfer route is also a viable option.
Entering the post-Hoover-Walljasper era, with good reason, is a bit intimidating. That’s all it should be. LSU softball excellence will not leave with its accomplished hurlers. 2019 and beyond will be tough, though certainly one Tigers of next season and seasons beyond will be equipped to tackle.