In what figures to be LSU’s toughest test before conference play begins, the Tiger pitching struggled as LSU dropping two of three games of the St. Pete Invitational.
The weekend started out on a strong note for the Tigers, with a 10-2 run-rule win over No.7 Oklahoma State. Ali Kilponen was strong from the circle, throwing a complete game allowing two runs on eight hits and striking out two. After Oklahoma State took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third, the Tigers scored nine unanswered runs. Shelbi Sunseri and McKenzie Redoutey had each had a home run and three RBI. Sunseri also added two walks on the day. Daneica Coffey went two-of-four from the lead off spot with a two hit, one run, and an RBI. Ciara Briggs and Savannah Stewart each picked up two runs each.
In the second game of the series the Tigers turned to Shelby Wickersham who was rocked by the Husky offense, surrendering five runs in just one and a third innings pitched. She was relieved by Raelin Chaffin who allowed three runs in an inning and two thirds. Briggs, Redoutey and Coffey built off their performance in game one with the trio combining for three hits and four RBI. No.4 Washington would win the game 9-4
Game three saw both teams slugging it out in the first three innings, with the Tigers and Irish combining for eight runs in the first. The Tiger share of that output came from a Redoutey bases loaded walk and an Ali Newland grand slam. From there, Notre Dame clawed back scoring eight runs total off of Sunseri, who pitched the entire seven inning game, allowing seven earned and striking out four.
Against No.16 Michigan, Wickersham got the start once again and struggled again, though was not helped by her defense, allowing five unearned, two earned, and striking out two in her 3.2 innings of work. She was relieved by Kilponen who finished the game allowing just an unearned run and striking out four. The lone Tiger offense in the 6-1 loss came on a Coffey RBI double.
The final of the weekend saw the Tigers make a return to form in a 2-0 win over Texas Tech. Anchored by a truly dominant performance by Kilponen, who had eight strikeout in seven innings, it only took a Georgia Clark RBI sac fly and a Hayden Brown RBI single to give the Tigers the win. Even with Kilponen, the highlight of the game came in the top of the seventh when Briggs ran through the centerfield wall, tracking down a deep fly ball to make one of the more spectacular catches of the season.
Even just 11 games into the season, there is a fair amount to unpack. The Tigers appear to have four quality bats in Sunseri, Clark, Coffey, Briggs and Redoutey, who are all sporting an OPS above .880. Redoutey doesn’t have as nearly a big sample size, with just 18 at bats, but the fact she did so well against top flight competition bodes well. On the other side, Taylor Pleasants appears to very much be in struggle mode with a .121 average and .368 OPS through 11 games. Thankfully, other players have picked up the slack, but LSU will still need improvements out of its star shortstop.
The pitching side is a bit more to analyze. Kilponen is clearly the staff ace and has pitched like it through her first six appearances. Sunseri is close behind, but her performance against Notre Dame skews her totals a bit. Beyond those two it’s questions. Wickersham is a prime candidate, but her numbers are not where they need to be, especially for a team that could be offensively challenged as LSU has been in years past. Neither Raelin Chaffin nor Taylor Edwards have made a substantial claim for the third starter role.
LSU starts a six game weekend series at Tiger Park as part of the Purple & Gold Challenge.