Falling to Florida State in Game Three of the Tallahassee Super Regional, LSU Softball’s 2018 campaign failed to reach the Women’s College World Series Championship, breaking a three year streak of trips to Oklahoma City. While the loss to the Noles hurt, the graduation of ace pitchers Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper is one that will be felt throughout the year.
Hoover and Walljasper anchored a team that for the last four seasons had been defined more so by pitching than offense. This year, the formula appears to be switched. The switch might be easier said than done. Last year the Tigers finished second to last in the SEC in average, on base percentage, slugging, runs scored, and home runs. Although the Tigers don’t return many players with eye popping 2018 totals, they do return lots of experience from 2018, having only lost one regular player, centerfielder Emily Griggs, to graduation.
LSU’s offense figures to center around Aliyah Andrews, Amanda Doyle, Shelbi Sunseri and Amanda Sanchez.
The pre-season All SEC selection Andrews, who is shifting from left field to centerfield with Griggs’ departure, led the Tigers in hitting last year at a .329 clip and also stole 42 bases, second most in the SEC. At first base, Doyle is the power to the Tiger lineup, the returning leader in slugging, on-base percentage, RBI’s, and tied for first in home runs.
As a freshman, Sunseri took over the DP spot from incumbent Sydney Springfield (Transfer to Oklahoma State) and logged seven home runs in just 36 games played. Sunseri projects as a regular bat in the lineup after her 2018 campaign and without injuries that limited her last season.
Missouri transfer and pre-season All SEC member Amanda Sanchez figures to be an important part of the Tiger offense. Sanchez is coming off a 2018 season where she posted a .670 slugging percentage with 12 home runs to go along with All-SEC Defensive team honors. Sanchez is expected to take over third base, which had been held by Shemiah Sanchez for the last two seasons.
Behind the plate Michaela Schlattman is expected to return at catcher, but will yield some time to freshman Morgan Cummins, who slugged .734 as a high school junior. Schlattman was a solid offensive player in 2018 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs, and was noted by Torina at media day as a noticeably improved player from last season, particularly as a receiver.
Up the middle, senior Amber Serrett is back at shortstop. She won’t be asked to carry the load offensively, though she logged five home runs in 2018. At second, incumbent Becca Schulte will be challenged by Shemiah Sanchez. Schulte hit just .199 last season and although she offered some speed on the base path, Shemiah Sanchez was second on the team with seven home runs and figures to be the favorite to take over at second.
LSU landed six freshman named to FloSoftball’s top-100 or top-200 list. The top offensive player in the group looks to be infielder Georgia Clark, who twice posted an OBP over 1.000 in her high school career. Torina singled out Clark and Taylor Tidwell as players who have impressed since arriving on campus. Outfielder Savannah Stewart brings a speed element with 39 steals in her sophomore season. A name many may recognize is Karrington Houshmandzadeh, daughter of former Bengal receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh.
With Taryn Antoine returning in right field, the only position without a defined starter is left field. If one of the freshman does not take the position, the other likely candidates figure to be Claire Weinberger or Elyse Thornhill. The senior Thornhill played a chunk of the season in left field during her freshman season while the sophomore Weinberger was splitting time in right with Antoine early last season, before Antoine took over full time.
Beth Torina likes to mix up the lineups early in the season and hasn’t hesitated to give freshmen time over older players. Expect to see a few distinct lineups the opening weekend and in some of the midweeks games.
Even if Hoover and Walljasper were returning, the Tiger offense would still have entered this year needing to make notable improvements in order to be a WCWS contender. This year’s team has a compelling mix of experienced veterans and upside newcomers that could jumpstart the Tiger offense.