Jacques Talk: Smashing start, yet huge challenges ahead for LSU softball

Jacques Talk: Smashing start, yet huge challenges ahead for LSU softball

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In case you've missed it, something pretty special is brewing with the LSU softball team, with the Lady Tigers winning all of their first 21 games, many by devastating margins.

LSU cruised and crushed its way through the Purple & Gold Challenge this past weekend, posting a 5-0 mark and pulverizing those opponents by a combined score of 57-8. In Sunday's 14-0, five-inning massacre of Stephen F. Austin, senior outfielder AJ Andrews smashed a three-run triple off the center field wall and finished the afternoon with six RBI. Andrews leads the team with a stout batting average of .531, while junior short stop Bianka Bell is not only capable of squatting small cars, but also raking at a .477 clip. Bell is tied for the school's all-time home run mark with 33 and already has seven bombs this season. However, it's sophomore slugger and catcher Sahvanna Jaquish leading the team in homers with nine, including a three-run walk-off in the bottom of the 7th to beat upset-minded Louisiana Tech back on Mardi Gras night.

Here's some quick perspective on LSU's power evolution. During Beth Torina's first season as head coach in 2012, the Lady Tigers batted an anemic .220 with just 13 home runs, eight triples and 46 doubles in 65 games. To its credit, that team somehow reached the Women's College World Series and actually won a game in Oklahoma City. This season, LSU owns a robust team batting average of .373 and has already launched a whopping 24 home runs, with 10 triples and 31 doubles in just 21 contests. Remember all the "it's impossible to hit home runs in the new Tiger Park" talk? The dimensions of the park were too deep and the crosswind off the Mississippi River stunted the flight of the ball. Well, those words have been thoroughly debunked with solid recruiting, intense weight training and hitting coach Howard Dobson's instruction.

The pitching staff could be the deepest in the program's history. While legendary head coach Yvette Girouard rode hurlers Britni Sneed to the College World Series in 2001 (36-6 record, .66 ERA in 273 innings of work) and then Kristin Schmidt to the WCWS in 2004 (38-7 record, 1.28 ERA in a staggering 318 frames), the current LSU Lady Tigers won't be placing such an enormous workload on one pitcher. That's hardly a slight to Girouard, simply an evolution of the game and the way it's being played. Freshman Allie Walljasper, sophomore Baylee Corbello, freshman transfer Carley Hoover (Stanford) and sophomore Kelsee Selman have teamed for a 1.02 ERA this year, while already posting nine shutouts. Opponents are batting just .197 off the feared foursome, while the variety of arms also lends Torina the ability to mix and match against different lineups.

Fans should certainly get excited about this team and attend future home games. This, by far, is LSU's most complete team in years and appears to have all the firepower necessary to reach the Women's College World Series. However, there's also a stern truth and something the players should probably be cognizant of to avoid potential overconfidence. A rough, rough road lies ahead.

LSU travels to No. 1 Florida, No. 10 Kentucky, No. 11 Tennessee and No. 20 Missouri in the coming weeks and months, while also hosting No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 22 Texas A&M before the end of the regular season. To their credit, the Lady Tigers have already defeated a trio of ranked teams this season, including clearing a huge emotional hurdle by topping perennial powerhouse and No. 13 Arizona 4-3. But as you can see, a high-volume, menacing opponents loom around the corner. It will certainly be fascinating to see how LSU matches up and competes with such highly-ranked competition. And, to any of the Lady Tigers' detractors, the schedule provides many opportunities to prove how great this team can be.

But for Torina, it's all about one game and challenge at a time. This week that means home games against Northwestern State on Tuesday, before welcoming Arkansas for the start of SEC play this weekend.

Hop on the bandwagon before it gets too full.

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