At media day Beth Torina did nothing to downplay the WCWS standard that LSU had set during the Carley Hoover- Allie Walljasper era, with good reason. LSU still projects as one of the nations elite teams, even if they are not favorites. Among the inaugural polls, the Tiger placed eleventh on coaches poll, tenth in the ESPN poll, ninth by College Madness, and 19th by FloSoftball. In the SEC, the Tigers were picked to finish sixth with Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee selected one through three respectively.
The 2019 Tigers will have to grow up quickly as the schedule is one of the toughest in the country. LSU plays thirteen teams ranked in the first poll of 2019 and 36 games in total against 2018 Women’s College World Series qualifiers. The first test of the season will be at the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Elite Invitational which will feature five games in four days including games against 2018 National Champs and pre-season No. 1 Florida State, 2018 WCWS finalists No.25 Oregon, and matchups against tournament qualifiers, No.22 Oklahoma State, No.16 Texas, and Ohio State.
LSU will open with 17-of-22 games at home. Notable out of conference opponents from that stretch include 2018 tournament qualifiers, Tulsa, No.19 Michigan, and McNeese. The Tigers only play in three true road games against non-SEC teams. The two games of note will be near the end of the season in Waco against No.18 Baylor.
The conference slate appears to be somewhat manageable. No.5 Florida, No.9 Bama, No.9 South Carolina and No.13 Kentucky will all be played in Baton Rouge. The toughest road test will be in Athens against No.6 Georgia and later against a promising No.14 Arkansas team. Road series against No.20 Texas A&M and No.24 Mississippi State look manageable at the moment. LSU avoids Tennessee entirely.
The glass half full approach to the upcoming season see’s a lineup filled with returning upperclassmen who can provide leadership for a very promising freshman crop resulting in a noticeably improved offense, while simultaneously Torina quickly molds a mostly unproven pitching staff into elite status, ultimately resulting in a deep postseason run. On the flip side, most of a mediocre 2018 lineup is returning and Maribeth Gorsuch is the only pitcher to have logged more than 100 innings at the college level against a schedule that is one of the tougher ones in recent memory.
Offensively, the key for the Tiger will be cohesion. Last season saw too many games, and series, where the Tiger offense was held to just one or two run. This was a theme throughout the season, including games against significantly lesser opponents. If the Tigers are serious about being one of the best teams in the nation, consistent run production has to be a priority. Especially since it is unclear if the Tigers have the pitching to alleviate a struggling offense. The combination of Aliyah Andrews, Amanda Doyle, Amanda Sanchez, and Shelbi Sunseri form a potentially great lineup, though they and the other position players, must consistently be able to drive in runs.
Inexperience in the circle is the most apparent concern for the pitching staff entering the season. Torina has shown the ability to get the most out of freshman pitchers given her success with Hoover, Walljasper, Sydney Smith, Baylee Corbello, and even the modest totals by Sunseri last year. If Shelby Wickersham and Ali Kilponen are as advertised, along with the improvements by Gorsuch and Sunseri, the Tigers have the makings of another strong group of hurlers.
On paper, this Tiger’s team might not project as favorably as teams of recent memory. However, all the elements are in place for another deep postseason run, as the Tigers have come to expect.
The 2019 Tigers make their debut Thursday in (the newly upgraded) Tiger Park at 6 PM against Tulsa as part of the 6-game Tiger Classic which includes matchups against Bucknell and Iowa. All 6 games this weekend will be carried live on SECN+.