The 2019 regular season did not end the way the Tigers would have liked, being swept by Alabama at home and entering the tournament on a 4-game losing streak. Good news is that the Tigers will have a first round bye, as the No. 3 seed, with their first opponent coming from the winner of Auburn-Florida. The 2018 tournament was pretty short lived, after beating Ole Miss in the opener and then losing to Tennessee a round later. That was preceded in 2017 where the Tigers went on a tournament run as the five seed, beating then No.3 Auburn and No.2 Tennessee, eventually losing in the title game to Ole Miss.
Schedule and Bracket.
LSU opens its tournament campaign on Thursday at 11 AM in College Station. The SEC doesn’t reseed, so it’s not too hard to project future Tiger opponents.
The full bracket can be found here. This year’s tournament is in College Station, with the tournament site rotating between SEC teams. Game One will be available on the SEC Network at the WatchESPN App.
Safe to say, the Tigers are not playing their best ball entering the tournament, and the struggles are not exclusive to one side of the ball. The offense has scored five runs just once in the last nine games. The pitching has also struggled, having allowed five runs or more in four of the last ten games. Whether the struggles are due to fatigue, injuries, better opposition, or just bad luck, it will be important not to dwell on the issues of the recent struggles. Single elimination tournaments don’t really allow for a ton of experimentation or long term thought. Success for these next few days won’t be so much about finding new talent as much as being confident in the talent that has brought the Tigers this far.
Next in the circle
Although her totals might not compare with Allie Walljasper or Carley Hoover from last year, Shelbi Sunseri has distinguished herself this season as the Tigers’ ace. LSU’s next best pitcher is more open to debate. The favorite would likely be Shelby Wickersham, who is coming off two solid relief outings against Alabama, though prior to Bama she was coming off two dismal starts where she had allowed eight runs over a combined five innings. Maribeth Gorsuch hasn’t made it past the fifth inning in four of her last five starts, and the time she did was a run-rule win, yet she is the only pitcher on the roster with postseason experience. Ali Kilponen has seen a respectable amount of time and Kara Goff has been used more of late, though neither has been particularly awesome. The Tigers are going to need another pitcher in this tournament. It would seem Wickersham is going to be next in line, though all LSU hurlers should be ready.
Stars being Stars
The Tigers did not spend most of the season leading the league in most offensive catagories due to one or two high level performers. With that said, the 1-4 combination of Aliyah Andrews, Amanda Sanchez, Sunseri, and Shemiah Sanchez have don’t much of the heavy lifting for the Tigers at the plate. The bats at the top of the lineup cannot come up small these next few games. Particularly important given the Tigers more recent offensive struggles.
Stewart Spark Plug
Freshman Savannah Stewart has slowly been proving her worth to the Tiger lineup. In a similar way that Aliyah Andrews did her freshman year, Stewart has been using her time at the bottom of the order to rack up an impressive .366 average with six doubles and three triples in 82 at bats. She was moved to second in the lineup, and while the move might not have jump started the Tiger lineup, she has been a rather consistent player when the rest of the lineup has been a bit up and down. It is quite the pressure move to go to the top of the order, but Stewart’s ascension could be just what is needed to kick start the LSU offense.
Estimating LSU’s out come for this tournament depends on which LSU team on shows up to the tournament. The larger body of work says LSU has the bats and enough pitching to win the tournament. The more immediate outlook sees a team playing some of its worst ball at the worst possible time, making them particularly vulnerable to a one and done tournament.
A week ago, the Tigers seemed poised to earn a top eight seed, enough to have home field through the Super Regional and a first round bye in the SEC tournament. An appearance in the tournament title game would probably provide enough of a boost to get a top-8 seed.
On paper there is not a glaring deficiency (except for walks allowed) that makes the Tigers vulnerable. At the start of the year, Beth Torina described the team as being both experienced, with not many young players expected to take over, but also young, with a fair amount of new starters. That mix of experience and inexperience seems to be showing, given where the Tigers stand entering the tournament.
Ultimately, what will get the Tigers furthest in the tournament is the offense. The unit is multifaceted in its ability to get on base, hit with power, and use speed. If the Tigers can tap into that versatility, a deep run, and a top-8 seed for the WCWS, should be in the works.