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2021 Softball Preview: Pitching

The Tigers will have one of the deepest staffs in recent history

NCAA BASEBALL: MAR 04 Liberty at LSU Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beth Torina has never had difficulty finding quality pitching for the Tigers in her decade leading the team. The 2021 season will be her most challenging year when it comes to managing LSU’s throwers. However, it’s the kind of problem you love to have.

Two years ago was a down season for the Tigers, at least by the standards established by the program. The 2020 team was showing a return to form. When the season ended last spring the Tigers led the nation in team ERA with a minuscule .95 earned run average, almost a quarter run better than the second best team and half a run better than the next closest team in the SEC. Not to mention the Tigers were also best in the SEC in opponents hit percentage.

Not only is the entire staff from last year returning, it also adds two touted freshmen; it’s not far fetched to say, on paper, this is the deepest rotation in program history.

The ace leading this years team? You pick.

Based on experience Maribeth Gorsuch, going into her second senior season, figures to be the top hurler. The 2020 season saw Gorsuch put together easily her best totals since joining the Tigers with a 1.15 ERA, .68 WHIP, .143 opponents’ batting average and 42 strikeouts. Not to mention, Gorsuch threw the first perfect game in program history.

Right behind Gorsuch would likely be Ali Kilponen. After limited appearances in her rookie season, Kilponen finished the season as the Tiger leader in strikeouts with 49 along with a .58 ERA and .83 WHIP. Not to be overlooked, Shelby Wickersham built on her impressive freshman campaign by posting 31 strikeouts, a .79 WHIP and a team best .40 ERA, a figure that was also second best in the nation. Fifth best nationally belonged to Kilponen.

Arguably the “worst” pitcher from last season was Shelbi Sunseri, who still had a 1.20 ERA, a career best, and 26 strikeouts. Still those are totals most other teams would kill for out of a “worst” pitcher.

Throw in Taylor Edwards and Victoria Abrams who combined to throw five innings last year, and the Tigers will have six starters who have faced collegiate hitting. Even better news was how evenly Torina distributed the workload. In spite of such good numbers, no pitcher threw more than 36 innings. For reference, of the top-15 SEC pitchers to throw the most innings, No. 15, Lauren Mathis of UGA, had 46 innings, roughly a game and a half more of work.

The two unknowns in this mix are freshmen Morgan Smith and Emilee Casanova. Out of high school, Smith was ranked as the 28th best player in the country according to FloSoftball. As a junior she went 15-0 with 187 strikeouts in 100.2 innings. Casanova logged 126 innings with 145 strikeouts in her senior season.

If you want to find flaws in the team from a year ago it would be that they did not have a dominant strikeout pitcher, with no pitcher ranking in the top-15 in the SEC in strikeouts. However, the team did rank fifth in the conference.

In previous seasons, Torina relied heavily on one or two starters to carry the bulk of the workload. But 2019 and last season saw a shift away from that. More splitting of the workload means more pitchers Torina trusts to have quality outings. If the season started it’s difficult to seeing Torina lean too heavily on one pitcher or another, given how last year played out. At the same time pre-conference play has usually been Torina’s time to figure out the go to players for conference play.

All this to say is that pitching, the backbone of the Tiger program, figures to power this team once again towards a deep postseason run. If the toughest decision throughout the year is which top-flight pitcher the Tigers can turn to, things are going well in Tiger Park.