Although No.10 LSU picked up four more wins over the weekend as part of the Purple & Gold Challenge, it is the 7-3 loss to No.17 Indiana, in which the Tigers committed five errors leading to four unearned runs, that is most concerning.
Shelbi Sunseri got the start and surrendered her only earned run of the game following an RBI single in the first inning. The timing of the errors was particularly frustrating. Sunseri was credited with a two-out throwing error that scored a run in the second, and Shemiah Sanchez made a two-out throwing error that cost two runs in the third inning.
Maribeth Gorsuch came on in relief in the third after the Sanchez error and was not a notable improvement. After pitching a scoreless fourth, Gorsuch allowed an RBI sac-fly, which scored a run from an error earlier in the inning also by Sanchez. In the sixth Gorsuch allowed a single and then an RBI double, and was pulled for Shelby Wickersham. She would allow the earlier double to score, after surrendering a single two batters later.
The Tiger offense was not much more effective, scoring just three runs on nine hits. Georgia Clark had an RBI double and Elyse Thornhill hit an RBI single in the second to tie the game at two. In the bottom of the sixth Amanda Doyle launched a solo home run.
What made this game particularly painful was that Indiana was the best team the Tigers faced this weekend, and with that, the most important game of the weekend.
The remainder of the four games were not too eventful. Wickersham was LSU’s pitching MVP of the weekend, making four appearances with two starts and picking up the win in the 2-0 over USC Upstate and 13-3 win over Stephen F. Austin. The freshman posted 14.1 innings striking out seven, allowing two earned runs on 10 hits and four walks. Gorsuch had a strong bounce back game in a 6-0 over Stephen F Austin, with complete game shutout including seven strikeouts. Ali Kilponen earned the win for the 6-2 victory over Illinois State, pitching 6.1 innings allowing two runs, one earned.
LSU offense thrived on strong weekend’s from Sunseri and Amber Serrett. Sunseri went 5-for-10 with six walks, two home runs, and four RBI, giving her an SEC best 32. Tiger shortstop Serrett was 6-for-9 blasting two home runs and driving in six. Doyle and Aliyah Andrews combined for eight runs over the series. Andrews now leads the SEC with 28 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. Amanda Sanchez upped her batting average to .455, ninth best in the conference. Shemiah Sanchez had a grand slam in the finale against SFA.
With the Tigers entering the most important part of the season, SEC play, a few components of the Tigers strengths are coming into focus.
Entering the season there were questions about the pitching. The Tigers have the fifth best team ERA in the SEC at 1.62 and second best opponents batting average at .167. LSU doesn’t have an ace so much as it has ace 1a and ace 1b. Beth Torina usually taps Sunseri for the bigger games, but uses Wickersham with more frequency over the weekend series, and also gives Wickersham some starts against better teams.
LSU’s lineup averages around 9.5 runs per seven, and there is a general confidence this team can score four plus runs with frequency thanks in part to great plate discipline, second the conference with 87 walks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are three concerns with the team. The one that was most obvious this weekend is the defense. LSU’s 21 errors is fourth worst in the conference.
While the Tigers are disciplined at the dish, the pitching staff is walk prone. They have allowed the third most walks in the conference, 51, averaging 2.6 per seven. It’s a trade-off that the team can live with given the staff’s ability to prevent hits, but it is likely not the ideal pitching strategy going forward.
Although Taryn Antoine figured to be LSU’s starting right fielder this year, it looks like the position is still very much open, as she is hitting just .237 with a .395 slugging percentage. Torina opted for Akiya Thymes and Claire Weinberger in right field, respectively, in the final two games of the weekend series. Weinberger would be the favorite to take over a bulk of the playing time if Antonie is benched for a period.
LSU has wrapped up the first part of the season having established themselves as one of the elite teams in the nation and strong performances in SEC play should solidify that.
Tuesday night the Tigers are at Northwestern State, and then head to Texas a&M to face an Aggie pitching staff that ranks last in the conference in team ERA.