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NCAA Softball Tournament Preview: Baton Rouge Super Regional

Tigers and the Noles square off

The Tigers are in a familiar situation, with a familiar opponent, in a familiar venue: The Baton Rouge Super Regional against Florida State in Tiger Park. LSU faced the Seminoles in the Tallahassee Super Regional in 2017 and 2018, with the Tigers winning in ‘17 and losing in ‘18. Now however, LSU will be in the friendly confides of Tiger Park. Let’s take a look at the challenger and how the Tigers can make a return appearance to Oklahoma City.

Florida State Seminoles (42-10-1, 26-5-1 ACC)

Like the Tigers, FSU is no stranger to college softball elite. The 2018 team that beat LSU went onto win the national championship and this year’s Noles rank eight or ninth, depending which poll you look at. FSU did not play a ton of non-conference opponents, just 21 out of 54 total games (By contrast LSU played 31 non-SEC teams out 55 total games) but that doesn’t mean they didn’t face good opponents. The Noles have wins over ranked Missouri, Florida and Arizona. They blitzed through conference play winning eight of nine series against ACC foes.

The Seminoles offense is tricky to project. On the one hand they didn’t rank highly in the ACC in most statistical categories, and yet they finished in the top-five in runs scored. Perhaps the best word to describe the group is balance. No player has more than ten home runs but five have at least five. No player has twenty or more stolen bases but six players have swiped at least ten bags. The strength of the lineup is their plate discipline, leading the ACC in walks. All this is to say that Noles get timely hits and make the most of chances with runners on. If you were to focus on a player you might look to Cassidy Davis or Kalei Harding who provide most of the FSU power, or Devyn Flaherty who leads the Seminoles in speed.

What the Seminoles may lack in offense they make up for in pitching. This group of Seminole pitchers is elite, with a combined ERA of 1.17 which is seventh best in the nation entering the regionals. The ace of the group is Kathryn Sandercock who sports a 1.15 ERA, a .183 opponents batting average, and 103 strikeouts. Not to be overlooked Caylan Arnold leads the team in strikeouts with 130 while also sporting a 1.60 ERA and a .187 opponents batting average. If both Sandercock and Arnold falter, Danielle Watson has pitched 78 innings with a 2.24 ERA.

LSU keys to success

Balance versus balance

The Tiger offense did a good job at getting production throughout the lineup over the regional. It’s a little bit of the same game that FSU is doing with its lineup. However, the numbers suggest that if the Tiger lineup is balancing out run creation it can do so at a higher level compared to the Noles. Balance is particularly important given that the Seminole pitching staff is so effective, run opportunities will be limited placing added emphasis on cashing in when the opportunity arises.

Ks for Kilponen, Stirkeouts for Sunseri

Beth Torina opted for a one-two punch in the regional relying exclusively on Ali Kilponen and Shelbi Sunseri and it worked for the most part. This FSU team is by no stretch a slugging team but they are good at moving runners and getting on base. As a result it is critically important that the Tiger pitching staff get the Noles out at the plate. Neither Kilponen or Sunseri racked up big strikeout totals over the regional, but both have the capability to do so.

Error free

As noted ad nauseam, the Noles get on base and are opportune at driving runners in. This is to say that the Tigers need extra emphasis on playing a sharp game defensively. LSU committed the fourth most errors in the SEC this past season, so defense has been something of a problem this year. In what could very well come down to a pitching battle every batter will count and the Tigers can ill afford giving FSU extra cracks to score.

Outlook

This is a good matchup for the Tigers. From a pitching stand point Kilponen and Sunseri might not be able to match the Seminoles pitch for pitch, but combined with an FSU offense that isn’t particularly loaded, that should keep the Tigers in the game.

Offensively, if the balanced approach the Tigers have been employing from the last round carries over, enough runs should sway things for LSU. The big word here is if. Far too often the Tiger bats have gone absolutely silent when even just a few runs would have made a difference. Having said that, I’ll be optimistic and believe the new Tiger offense is the one which will show up these next few games, and send the Tigers to the Women’s College World Series.

Schedule

Game 1: Thur, 6 PM, ESPN

Game 2: Fri, 6 PM, ESPN 2

Game 3 (if necessary): Sat, ESPN 2