Things have not been looking great for LSU softball of late, having won their last game on April 27. The postseason format is not conducive for losing streaks. On the flip side, it is the best time for a team to hit its stride. With these next few games, the Tigers hope they can join the latter as they challenge for a place in Oklahoma City.
LSU opens play Friday at 4:30 PM against Monmouth, and with a win will face the winner of Texas Tech - Louisiana Tech on Saturday, with the title game(s) happening on Sunday.
Texas Tech, RPI #19
The Red Raiders come to Baton Rouge with an impressive 39-14 record, with non conference wins against current WCWS participants, Auburn, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Long Beach, and Oregon to name a few, but with an underwhelming 8-10 record in Big 12 play. TTU’s offense is a versatile unit, headlined by its speed game with a Big 12 best 81 steals on the year. Heaven Burton and Jessica Hartwell lead the group, with 21 and 16 swipes, respectively. On the power end, the Red Raiders ranked second in the conference in slugging and on base percentage. Tech’s ace is Missy Zoch, who has 152 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA.
Louisiana Tech, RPI #50
Making the trip down from Ruston, the Lady Techsters have good wins over WCWS qualifiers Auburn and SE Missouri State. LA Tech’s offensive approach compares well with Texas Tech, great speed (115 steals on the year) and the ability to hit for power (.471 slugging, third best in C-USA). Morgan Turkoly and Jazlyn Crowder each carry an OPS over 1.000. The bulk of the pitching duties are handled by Krystal De La Cruz (2.18 ERA, 131 K) and Preslee Gallaway (2.95 ERA, 122 K).
Monmouth, RPI #151.
The automatic qualifier out of the MAAC, the Hawks are led by Kayla Rosado and Lindsey Baron who rank one-two in average, slugging, and on base percentage. Katie Harrington provides the speed component for the team with 19 swipes on the year. Alyssa Irons is the Monmouth ace sporting a 1.47 ERA and 225 strikeouts.
Hitting the reset...again
LSU didn’t show much return to form in its lone SEC game. The two best things LSU has entering the first round of the WCWS is that they will be well rested, with a week since the SEC Tournament, and they will be playing at home, a place where the Tigers have only lost one series. Tactically, Beth Torina figures to make some moves with the lineup. Those could include but not be limited to, putting Savannah Stewart back at the top of the lineup or dropping a struggling Elyse Thornhill (1-for-16) or Michaela Schlattman (1-for-9). Perhaps even a rearrangement of Shelbi Sunseri, Amanda Sanchez and Shemiah Sanchez in the middle of the lineup. There is no questioning the talent of the team, the spark to reignite that talent is still unclear.
Off the bases
Both Texas Tech and Louisiana Tech, arguably the two biggest challengers to LSU in the regional, are phenomenal when it comes to causing havoc on the base paths. While the Tiger pitching on the whole has been good all year, the pitching staff isn’t great at getting outs at the plate, ranking second to last in the SEC in strikeouts and third to last in walks allowed. Teams with strong speed units, notable Alabama and Indiana, have given the Tigers problems this year. It will take a strong performance from both the pitching staff and defense to keep both teams from generating chaos between bases.
LSU’s offense can be a versatile one, that can strike with speed and with power. This weekend, the power needs to be at its best. None of the three teams boast an overly impressive pitching staff. When Sunseri, Amanda Sanchez, and Shemiah Sanchez get hits, they need to be for extra bases. If the general hitting for the Tigers remains in the tank, that will put further pressure on the limited hits the Tigers can generate to move runners through multiple bases.
Although the Tigers are, and should be, the favorites for this next set of games, this is not a particularly good matchup for the Tigers. Had the offense been clicking these past few weeks, there could be full confidence in LSU making quick work of this series. At the moment it looks as if the series will come down to pitching, as been the case for the Tigers each of the last three seasons. Good news is that on paper the Tigers have a pitching advantage. However, unlike earlier years where pitching was backbone of a title run, this year is not the case. Although better compared to the field of teams in the regional, Thursday’s loss to Florida marked the first time in four games LSU held an opponent to under four runs. There is also the matter of pitching depth as beyond Sunseri, neither Maribeth Gorsuch nor Shelby Wickersham have been consistent of late. Still, this is a series LSU can and should ultimately win. Over the current losing streak, the Tigers have faced some of the best pitching in the nation in Bama and Florida. None of these three regional teams profile in that category. On the other side, the Tigers should be able to piece together enough pitching to limit the opposing offenses. These next few games might not show total domination on the part of the Tigers, but LSU’s depth and talent should lead to a Super Regional appearance.