Editor’s Note: I want to take some time to thank Eric for all he’s done with us over the years, especially on the softball beat. Eric’s moving on from ATVS and, in my opinion, we’re losing the best softball writer out there. Not only that we’re losing someone who has been integral to this community the past few seasons. Thank you for everything, Eric. I’ll hopefully see you at Tiger Park next season.
For most other programs, making it to a regional is a big win, let alone making it to the regional finals. But most other programs are not LSU.
By Tiger standards the 2022 season will likely be regarded as a disappointment. Then again, this season was a bit hard to figure out. On the one hand, the Tigers only lost three players from 2021. But it appears those veteran presences carried more weight than their stat line. In her final press conference, Torina alluded to distractions the team was not able to overcome. “It’s not always about talent,” comment by Torina could either be seen as a motivation for next season or a reaction to a problem which dogged the team the entire season.
The season itself was frustrating by the Tigers. Although the Tigers won the series against Alabama, they struggled against most of the other big opponents, going 8-11 against ranked teams. That doesn’t include poor performances such as losing two to Central Arkansas and getting swept by a then unranked Longhorns squad. The 34 wins was the fewest in the Torina era and this was the first time in program history the Tigers failed to record a win in a regional.
Statistically, nothing about the Tigers was really great. Pitching was once again the backbone and a 2.90 team ERA was good, but it seemed too often the Tigers had inconsistent outings, especially against the best teams. Offense was in a similar situation, ranking league average but struggling against some of the topflight competition. Defense was a sore spot with the Tigers ranking near the bottom of the SEC in errors committed.
All this to say is that the Tigers enter 2022-2023 offseason at something of a crossroad.
It would be unwise to suggest that the Tigers are not one of the best programs in the country. But it seems the last couple of years the Tigers have been knocking at the door to be an elite team and have not entered that category. It’s been five seasons since the Tigers were in Oklahoma City and seven years since the Tigers hosted a Super Regional.
So what is the root cause of all of this? Well it’s not one thing or another. More recently, the Tigers haven’t had the program defining players like Bianka Bell, Carly Hoover, Savannah Jaquish and Allie Walljasper who were on the roster earlier in Torina’s tenure. While the Tiger pitching has usually been good, the offense has always been a pain point for the team, although some individuals have had strong LSU careers, there has not been the lineup depth the Tigers had from several years back.
As Zach eluded to, these issues are going to be amplified as Oklahoma, arguably the best program in college softball, will join the conference shortly, making the Tigers task that much more difficult.
Perhaps the more pressing topic is how to solve the problems of a team that is at best stagnant and at worse regressing? The big headline move would be to fire Torina which seems unlikely given her success and that the Tigers have yet to make a move. Recruiting is obviously part of it. Torina has had the same set of core assistants, Howard Dobson and Lindsay Leftwich, for her entire 11 seasons so a departure of them would also seem unlikely.
Unfortunately, sometimes results are just the result of things that are out of your control. That can either be extremely comforting or discomforting.
If things with the program leadership stay status quo, this is still a team which on paper, should be strong. The only graduating player will be Shelbi Sunseri. At the same time Sunseri was a key cog in the Tiger offense and one of the more reliable pitchers.
The formula Torina and the Tigers have used the past 11 seasons has helped the program reach great heights. However, as the softball landscape changes that formula must adapt to ensure the Tigers continue to flourish.