The most overt totals of the 2021 LSU softball season might not scream that this team was one of the best in program history. However, a deeper dive proves that what this team accomplished is flat out remarkable.
LSU isn’t the type of program that is going to be over the moon for finishing just short of a title, but this was a gauntlet of a schedule for the Tigers. The Tigers entered Memorial Day weekend fifth in RPI, with three of the four teams ranked ahead of them having won their Super Regional. The Tigers still had an impressive enough resume to host a Super Regional even though they had 21 losses, most of any team in the top-10 of the RPI with the top-4 teams having a combined 23 losses.
All this to say that the Tigers got beat up this season and still managed to get within a series of the Women’s College World Series.
If one were to look at how the Tigers reached that series it was by a tried and true formula which has been a backbone of Beth Torina teams: pitching. Even though, by LSU standards, this was not one of their best group of hurlers with the team ERA ranking outside of the top-5 in the SEC. The arguable downfall of the program was the one that has plagued the team in recent years: hitting.
Of the group of departing seniors, this group might not have the most impressive career resumé as a unit, but they collectively have seen a lot of playing time. Aliyah Andrews, Amanda Doyle, and Maribeth Gorsuch in particular were major contributors over the last three seasons.
With Shelbi Sunseri being the one of the only rising seniors and with 14 players with freshman eligibility this past year, and six new freshmen set to enter for 2022, next year’s team will be all about youth.
The group that will arguably have to carry the bulk of the weight are this years group of current sophomores, a group whose legacy is still very much unclear. Ali Kilponen has the makings of LSU’s next great starter after a huge jump in production in 2021, while Georgia Clark is primed for another season anchoring the middle of the Tiger lineup.
On the flip side Shelby Wickersham looks to have regressed after strong freshman campaign. Taylor Tidwell was the starter at second most of the season but hitting .154 leaves obvious room for improvement. Similar could be said for Morgan Cummins at catcher. Savannah Stewart also had a promising rookie season but has not been able to build from that.
As for the 14 rising freshman, the names that standout the most were Taylor Pleasants and Ciara Briggs. Pleasants is going to the main cog in the Tiger offense for the next few years while Briggs figures to comfortably slide into Andrews spot at the top of the lineup next season. Throw in some flashes from Raeleen Gutierrez and Ali Newland and the Tigers have the formation of a starting lineup for next season.
Ultimately though, it is difficult to project this teams make up on opening day 2022. The pitching numbers suggest this staff could be good but it’s not clear how high that ceiling is. Similarly, the lineup returns some promising bats but it’s by no means easy to figure out the group one through nine.
Sure, some things seem obvious, Sunseri and Kilponen figure to handle a bulk of the pitching responsibility, Pleasants and Briggs will hit near the top of the order, but beyond that the picture is foggy.
This uncertainty by no means designates the Tigers as a rebuild. LSU will start the year near the top of the national softball landscape, but for LSU it’s about finishing at the top. Maybe next year isn’t the year, or maybe it is. The games will be played and ideally, the Tigers will finally win the last one.